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Azure Icon Is Changing, So Far No Backlash

Microsoft might be dipping its toes into dangerous waters with an upcoming change to its Azure icon.

While innocuous announcements like "A fluent new look for the Azure icon" wouldn't normally warrant more than a passing glance, developers are notoriously finicky -- and vociferous -- about their icons. Whether that holds true for Microsoft's cloud computing platform remains to be seen.

"As your ally in the cloud, our Azure mission is to deliver thoughtfully designed products and services that equip you to solve challenges and invent what's next," Microsoft said earlier this month in announcing the icon change. "Our ability to meet your business and innovation needs is in part due to our growth mindset -- which extends from front-end user experiences to small details like graphics and icons.

"One detail updating today is the Azure 'A' icon, which will be rolled out in product experiences and across related sites in the coming weeks. The new Azure icon represents the unity of Azure within the larger Microsoft family of product icons. It's part of Microsoft's Fluent Design System, carefully crafted to produce icons that look familiar to what customers know and love, while representing the agile future of our business."

Here is what the old (current) Azure "A" icon looks like compared to the one bespeaking the "growth mindset" and "agile future" of Microsoft:

Current Azure Icon
Current Azure Icon (source: Microsoft).
New Azure Icon
New Azure Icon (source: Microsoft).

The post invites commentary to help the company identify and prioritize updates, but so far there is no backlash against the icon change in the feedback forum. In fact, no mention at all. A quiet bunch, these Azure users.

That's quite a change from reactions in the VS Code community that thwarted an attempted icon coup by Microsoft back in 2017.

"We feel that the icon denotes 'openness,'" Microsoft's Chris Dias said at the time (see "New Visual Studio Code Icons Unveiled" ). "It conveys that VS Code is (in a good way) a subset of our big brother, the Visual Studio IDE. And, if you look hard enough, you'll find a small tribute to a great mind."

Microsoft asked for user input on the effort, and readers of Dias' post were quick to comply, with comments such as:

  • "Why orange? Why not blue as same? I think blue is look better than orange."
  • "The old green Icon was much more minimalistic, is there somewhere I can get it to swap it out manually? This new one doesn't stand out and just blends in with the rest making it harder to see."
  • "It's also really difficult to tell the two icons apart at small sizes, especially on MacOS. I like the concept, and I think the two icons look fantastic, but I don't think they are an improvement."

Our coverage of that move also resulted in the predictable volley of comments, mostly negative. Reader comments included:

  • "OMG I hate this icon. Everything was so clean before. I had VS Code, Express and Studio all lined up in pretty order. Messing up my feng shui man!"
  • "I don't like this new icon at all .. look stupid and not nice colors .. why mimic sublime text icon actually .. I want the blue icon back"
  • "Went from a nice blue to rust-puke orange...."
  • "We feel that the icon denotes incompetence from Microsoft, taking 4 months to design an icon that is simple, ugly and with only one color that any children could realize in less than an hour. Also, seeing the very buggy, inestable, incomplete, etc. of Visual Studio 2017 denotes the incompetence from Microsoft too. Futhermore, every new Visual Studio 2017 minor release like 15.1, 15.2, 15.3 adds a more big number of bugs. Never in my life see a product with that bad quality."

Those feelings were apparently widespread, because a couple months later we reported "Developers Revolt Against New VS Code Icons." That revolt included complaining GitHub issues and petitions to revert back to the original scheme.

The outrage continued in other places, like Reddit and Hacker News, and even GitHub, where issues were posted like:

There were more reasoned responses, however, with one Hacker News reader saying, "Really? It's an icon. An icon! And we are spending time deliberating on this? Stop being petty and worry about things that actually matter."

Microsoft apparently received a lot negative comments, however, because a couple months later we reported, "Facing Developer Anger, Microsoft Reverses VS Code Icon Color Change."

"Each day there were additional comments, each expressing a dislike of the new icon in new and interesting ways," Dias said at the time in a post titled "The Icon Journey." "After the first couple of days, we thought the feedback would slow and we would be able to address the individual issues. Turns out, we were wrong. The feedback just kept coming in. New issues were opened, comments came in faster than we could respond. Hacker News, Visual Studio Magazine. High School friends posted comments on FaceBook. Awesome."

Paraphrasing a capsule summation of the top issues, Dias listed:

  • The color change was far too drastic, orange is the opposite color of blue, making that which looked good before, look horrible now.
  • A flat single color icon that relies entirely on transparency to create negative space makes it less distinct and aggravates the distinguishability problems.
  • The new border is so large and bold that it's more distinct to the eye than the infinity symbol is.

"All of this feedback urged us go back and see if we could do a better job while still creating a family of products," Dias said. "As a result, we are going change the Stable icon to the much-loved blue."

Eventually, a couple years later, Microsoft did manage to slam through new VS Code icons, as reported in the August 2019 article "Visual Studio Code Icon Change Completed in July 2019 Update."

One reader commented, "We developers are NOT finicky about our tool icons; we're pissed that you waste time on icons instead of fixing actual bugs and then crowing about it."

While the above brouhaha was just for VS Code, Microsoft in 2018 did change Visual Studio IDE icons without too much uproar. Visual Studio devs did, however, kick up quite a fuss about Microsoft's decision to switch to ALL-CAPS MENUS way back in 2012.

Maybe VS Code attracts a different kind of audience, with its open source emphasis and polyglot functionality. Maybe Visual Studio IDE users are more like "company people," going with whatever flow is dictated by Microsoft management

Does that hold true for Azure users? So far, it seems.

I may have to find something else to write about.

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.

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