Exchange Server 2007 - The Making of an icon
Published Nov 30 2006 06:57 PM 2,394 Views


By now you've probably noticed that Exchange Server 2007 has a brand spankin' new icon. Gone is the familiar "Globe and Mail" icon of Exchange versions past, replaced with a new, dynamic and somewhat abstract "X." So how did we come up with this icon?

The Old Icon

We started looking at the icon in October of 2005. It's funny how such a highly visible part of the product can become so familiar that you never think to stop and look at it. But we did, and when we did we were left a little bit puzzled. What was the globe for? Why only an email envelope? What about voice access and all the other great features of Exchange?  The old icon no longer made sense and was dragging along in low color. It was time for a new, dynamic icon that could carry Exchange into the 2007 release and beyond.

The Exchange "Personality"

Brainstorming notes for the new icon:

With all the great features of Exchange it was going to be impossible to represent them literally – but if we could gather a sense of the product's "personality" we felt we'd be able to create an abstract symbol that conveyed not only what Exchange does, but the way it does it.

A small team of designers lead by Blaine Carpenter sat down with Terry Myerson, Jason Mayans and KC Lemson and a group of Exchange users to try to get at the essence of Exchange. The result of these conversations was a set of characteristics: Informed, Human, Customer-Focused, Driven, Respectable, Powerful, Flexible and Focused, which designers used to inform their work.  A set of sketches was completed to illustrate the characteristics, and a range of options from literal to abstract.

Early Design Iterations

Designers Sketches:

Some early concepts:

There's a saying: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Designers seldom intend for their first sketches to be final – rather they use them as raw material for a conversation with other experts that help ensure the finished product is a success. Conversations about the early sketches with users and Exchange team members helped eliminate the literal directions and focused the design team on creating an abstract symbol which emphasized three characteristics: Powerful, Flexible and Focused. Armed with this feedback the design team tackled another round of sketches:

Clouding our Outlook?

While Feedback on the second round indicated that the design team was on the right track, a concern began to circulate that the new icon didn't convey partnership with Outlook. Unfortunately the Office design team hadn't yet decided on a new style for the Outlook 2007 icon. The Exchange design team decided to complete a series of investigations based on the style of the existing Office icons.

Series of sketches based on the Office style:

Finding Focus

After a series of debates it was decided that it was o.k. for the Exchange icon to have its own style, though criteria was added that it should "play well" with icons in the Office family. Also, it was decided that the orange and silver predominant in the Microsoft Server identity should be used to communicate Exchange's relationship to Microsoft's other server products.

With beta 2 fast approaching, we stepped up our efforts. A design firm was brought in to pick up the final phase of the project. They conducted further interviews with Exchange team members and users, and under the direction of the Exchange design team started development of the final concepts.

After a few rounds of exploration, the "X" shape was decided on, for its strength, dynamism, and allusion to the first syllable of the name "Exchange."  We worked with the design firm to refine the shape, lighting and shading – constantly measuring against the original characteristics: Powerful, Flexible and Focused.

The final phases of icon development:

The New Icon

The final round of revisions saw the addition of the gray background "chiclet" and glassy surface reflection. Though originally intended only to be used for an icon to launch Exchange Management Console, it was decided that these two elements brought the final Exchange icon closer to the new Office visual style, as well as bringing it in line with other new Microsoft icons. With the decision made, the design studio set about rendering the final icon in the variety of sizes required to bring it to life both inside and outside of Exchange Server 2007.

The Exchange Server 2007 Icon:

- Blaine Carpenter

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