Designing the New Office App for Mobile

Jon Friedman
Feb 19 · 4 min read

How we hit “Ctrl + N” on mobile productivity

Co-authored with Deepak Menon, Partner Director of Design at Microsoft India

Putting the incredible power of Office in your pocket.

Over 3 billion smartphone owners across the world use their devices to get things done in a matter of seconds. With the rise of smartphone use and the increase in global connectivity, we wanted to reimagine how people can efficiently and intuitively get work done on a phone or tablet.

Our designers and researchers from around the world convened in a metaphorical global huddle to learn how our customers use these micro-moments and to develop a mobile-focused design strategy for the new Office app on iOS and Android.

We studied customers in mobile-first and mobile-only markets to understand how people organically use their phones to create content and complete tasks. We observed people who were inherently on the go, like students, and looked at how they used their phones to efficiently complete tasks. We also studied people who were never at a desk, like shop floor workers, and noted how they got work done without a computer.

The new Office app is more than a mere translation of a desktop app to a mobile one. We wanted to design an experience that would harness the strength of mobile devices and help you to complete your tasks in uniquely mobile ways.

Here’s a peek in our design and research journey. We can’t wait to hear what you think!

Seeing the camera from a new angle

“A picture is worth a thousand words” is an overused cliché for a reason: it’s true.

We observed students in the Philippines who converted handwritten notes into PDFs to share with their friends. And factory workers in China sent annotated photos of a faulty part to their supervisor. On a smartphone, the camera rivals the keyboard as the dominant input mechanism and proved to be a crucial part of people’s workflows.

No longer a tool used solely for capturing memories, the camera is fundamental to creating and editing on the phone, which is why we’ve incorporated Office Lens into the Office app. Now, you get all the benefits of Lens coupled with the ability to intuitively create Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents starting from your camera.

Prioritizing intuitive mobile actions

During our research, we discovered that productivity on phones and tablets means exchanging bite-sized content in communication apps. This kind of content tends to look like people sending short texts, emojis, gifs, photos, videos, and locations.

This insight informed the home screen, which specifically focuses on mobile-born methods of creation. When you first open the app, you’ll see a + button, which gives you a flying start to take notes, snap photos, or create new documents. By adopting this style of interaction, we’ve optimized for quick capture and creation.

To keep the interface as simple as possible, we consolidated Word, Excel, and PowerPoint into one area called “documents.” Within the “documents” section, we kept mobile-first mechanisms at the forefront by showing actions first, like scanning text, tables, or an image. It’s a perspective of working that prioritizes on-the-go productivity.

Create and engage with content in distinctly mobile ways.

Harnessing the power of Office on your phone

Customers who already use Office have high expectations for the look and feel of our products. It was critical for the app to feel familiar, while designing with a mobile-born UX in mind. We needed to build on the Office brand while moving it forward.

Like the other Office experiences, we’re helping you pick up where you left off with recent documents and immediately jump to the right place to collaborate with commenting. And, we’re making it easier than ever to create content in new yet natural ways with the camera on your phone.

We’ve combined Word, Excel and PowerPoint into a single app that brings all your documents into one place. This reduces the need to switch between multiple apps and significantly reduces the amount of space used on your phone. We also added a PDF component, where you can sign, scan, or create PDFs on your phone or tablet.

As the Office experience evolves, so does our icon.

This is just the beginning of reimagining Microsoft Office for the phone. As we release the Office app for iOS and Android, we are actively looking to engage with you, excited to learn from you, and are approaching this with an open and curious mind. We invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below!

To stay in-the-know with Microsoft Design, follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, or join our Windows Insider program. And if you are interested in joining our team at Microsoft, head over to

Microsoft Design

Putting technology on a more human path, one design story…

Jon Friedman

Written by

Head of Microsoft Office design, leading the next generation of experiences for work & life. Opinions expressed here are my own, even the few good ones;-)

Microsoft Design

Putting technology on a more human path, one design story at a time.

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