Microsoft Office and the amazing shrinking help icon

I wanted to create an Outlook 2013 email rule to respond to emails sent to a specific account. The rule requires an email template. Not knowing how to create one, I looked for the help icon. And kept looking. I felt old. And as a tech writer, I almost, almost yearned for the days of Clippy.

Then, in the top-right corner, it appeared. Sort of. Now don’t get me started about the ALL CAPS MENUS in Office 2013 (and also Adobe’s Creative Suite), but it’s surprising how the help icon is almost an afterthought.

Microsoft Office 2013 window bar - can you see the help icon?
Microsoft Office 2013 window bar – can you find the help icon? Also, Why all caps menus, why?!

So why the change? Do people need help less, or are they just looking at help less? Are they Googling more? Or is it because flat design is in?

Microsoft went with a minimalist design, but I wonder if it’s too simple. Or if the icons are just too small. Especially with the fairly low contrast between the background and the icons.

For context, here is how the help icon appears in Office 2010 and 2013. In Office 2010, the icon is in color, and in Office 2013 it’s in greyscale. The Office 2010 icon is also larger; in Office 2013, the icon is less than half the width and almost one-third shorter.

Help icon sizes in Office 2010 and Office 2013
Help icon sizes in Office 2010 and Office 2013

Is the help icon going the way of Clippy and the Help menu, or is this just a design choice? Let us know what you think in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Microsoft Office and the amazing shrinking help icon”

  1. No! Not Clippy!

    I’m guessing that Microsoft was going for a sleek, minimalist design. The proof of the pudding, however, is in what happens when you click the help icon. Compared to Office 2010, do you see help content that’s perfunctory or sparse? If that’s the case (and I don’t know, because I rarely use Office help) then I’d say the smaller icon is their way of trying to hide the help content.

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