Do Outlook 2010's Design Changes Make Sense?

Like most of Office 2010, the new version of Outlook sports a slightly refined look. But do those changes actually serve a purpose?

The official Outlook 2010 blog has a fairly lengthy post explaining the design changes between Office 2010 and its predecessors. Quite aside from rolling out the Ribbon throughout the product, there's also been a lot of colour and design tweaking:

We have removed the glassy blue gradients and bright orange selection color so that the buttons are less distracting and more refined.

Not everyone seems to agree; several respondents on the site have noted that the new all-grey look seems uninspiring and depressing.

None of these changes seem wildly objectionable to me, and I'm all for a fairly minimal design aesthetic. At the same time, I can't help feeling that some alterations are more change for change's sake -- an easy way of saying the product has "improved" -- than something that would make any real difference to the end user. My own experience offering informal tech support to family and friends suggests that even minor changes can be disorienting, so that kind of switch isn't always welcome.

What do you think? Does the new Outlook 2010 look like a welcome shift, or is it a last gasp for a product rapidly being eclipsed by online mail? Do you want more colour in your inbox? Share your visions in the comments.

The Look and Feel of Outlook 2010 [Microsoft Outlook 2010 Blog]


    I feel the change to the user interface in Office 2010 fall into two key categories:

    1. The flattening of the user interface. The style and amount of beveling, gradients, shadows and shading has changed with every release of Microsoft Office since 1.0 and this in part reflects the trends at the time. For example, Office 4.0 and 95 had signficant beveling as dictated by the style of Windows 3.1 and Windows 95, flattening in Office 97, 2000 and XP, followed by the introductions of gradients in Office 2003 and 2007. As well depicted in the original post in the Outlook blog comparing Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010 interface elements, this flattening of the user interface is in line with reducing the noise of interface elements to draw more attention to the content. I feel this is a good thing because the content is key, not the user interface around it.

    Interestingly, the navigation pane you've pictured features a heavy divider bar at the top of the image and a heavy border on the current button - I think it sticks out sorely with the flattening of the rest of the interface in Office 2010 and it could have been redesigned with a flatter appearance.

    2. Different themes available in Office 2010, including changing the default theme to silver. These themes brand each release of Office 2010, therefore it is understandable that Microsoft want to visually change the theme with each release to create a distinctive style for each release. The default theme was changed from blue to silver as justified as continuing to remove distraction from the content. One theme will not satisfy everyone, so Microsoft have supplied a (small) selection of themes in recent releases of Office to try and meet the tastes of most users. If you don't find the default silver inspiring or you find it depressing, change it to something that appeals to you.

    "Not everyone seems to agree; several respondents on the site have noted that the new all-grey look seems uninspiring and depressing."

    Not necessarily the colour. I feel depressed whenever I use (or have to support) Outlook.

    The new outlook 2010 user interface definitely seems bad and it has taken it back to 2000 design and color interface . The 2007 outlook is by far the best user interface that has come up in outlook.

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