We’ve simply dealt with too many damn distractions over the past year. Politics. Climate change. Kids pestering you for a snack. And just two days after Microsoft tells us that the fundamental principle of Windows 11 is “calm,” another Microsoft designer tells us that Microsoft is going to spray spinning, twirling, animated emoji all over Windows and Teams.
I mean, what the heck, people? Does Microsoft even pay attention to what its own employees are doing?
Microsoft’s Claire Anderson, the “emojiologist” (sigh) for Microsoft, outlines the new emoji plan in a blog post today. More than 1,800 new emoji exist within the Microsoft ecosystem, and the company is redesigning each with “uplifting and inspiring” designs, and “bright, saturated colors and bold forms.” Microsoft even sandbagged us all, promising that they would replace the “paperclip” icon with Clippy if we liked the company’s tweet. (Well played.) Microsoft says that the new emoji are coming to Flipgrid today, and that’s fine. But they’re arriving on Teams and Windows this holiday season, and I’m really not okay with that.
“We opted for 3D designs over 2D and chose to animate the majority of our emoji,” Anderson writes. (Emphasis added.) And here we go.
I’ll be candid: I’m a jaded old white dude who refuses to mentally admit that he’s staring down middle age. If you’ve seen my Twitter feed, though, you know I actually favor dumb GIFs and emoji and memes as much as I do blunt, honest commentary. I am somewhat fun at parties.
But there’s a place for fun, and a place to get things done. Teams doesn’t know which place it is. On one hand, Teams is a business tool that Microsoft is bunding with Windows and Microsoft 365, and pushing Fortune 500 companies to adopt. On the other hand, it’s apparently a fun, edgy little program that Microsoft is pushing into the Windows 11 taskbar and encouraging classrooms to adopt as a way for students to connect.
Conflicted Microsoft messaging
Until now, Microsoft has generally used the language that we associate with business. If you’ve seen his presentations, you know that Microsoft chief product officer Panos Panay will launch a new Surface by talking about focus, flow, and his kids.
And just two days ago, Microsoft’s design team wrote about how we already have too many damn distractions in this world: “This has been one of our most people-driven releases ever and a guiding design principle was based on a key theme surfaced during research: calm technology that makes our lives genuinely better,” Microsoft’s design team wrote about Windows 11. “Calmness is much needed in today’s world, and it tends to hinge on our ability to feel in control, at ease, and trustful.”
But animated emoji are not calm. They’re distracting, especially in a Teams app that Microsoft encourages us to leave open and in focus as a communications tool. An animated emoji will use the same visual tricks to attract the eye as ads and notifications, and we simply don’t need more. Remember My People? Popping up an animated emoji unexpectedly on the taskbar was the entire point of the app, and Microsoft killed it off long ago.
I’ve asked Microsoft whether there will be a way out—ideally, a way to turn the animations off. I’m not the Grinch that’s going to tell Microsoft that they can’t redesign their UI, or emoji, or other parts of their OS. But I am going to say that I think a bunch of newly animated emoji are the last thing we need right now, and I would encourage you to tell Microsoft the same.
It could be worse: Microsoft could have added emoji with sounds attached. Oh wait.
Updated at 12:10 PM to note Facebook's own "improvement" to emoji.