Posey's Tips & Tricks

Is Designer a Game Changer for Microsoft 365?

The success of the new app depends on if Microsoft has learned the lessons of the past.

Although I am admittedly still catching up on all of the announcements from Microsoft Ignite, one of the announcements that I found the most intriguing was a new app that barely received a mention during the Ignite keynote. I'm talking about Microsoft Designer. In spite of this app's super bland name, it has the potential to be a total game changer for Microsoft 365. Conversely, Microsoft Designer also has the potential to become a punchline, much like the ill-fated Microsoft Bob. Only time will tell how Microsoft Designer will ultimately be received.

For those who have not heard about Microsoft Designer, it is a soon to be released Microsoft 365 app that will use AI to simplify graphic design. All you have to do is to type a few words describing what it is that you are trying to create and Microsoft Designer will do the rest. In a short demo for example, someone entered the phrase "baking recipes for the fall." Upon doing so, Microsoft Designer automatically created a picture of a large mixing bowl, a few baking utensils and some fall-themed garnishes. After refining the keywords a bit, the resulting image was turned into a flyer, complete with text. It looked a lot like something that might currently be created in Microsoft Publisher.

At the beginning of this blog post, I described Microsoft Designer as being one of the most intriguing things seen at Ignite. There are a couple of reasons for that. For starters, Microsoft Designer has the potential to vastly simplify graphic design work. For those who lack any kind of meaningful artistic talent, Microsoft Designer could make it possible to create imagery that would have previously been far beyond their capabilities. Even for those who do have some artistic abilities however, Microsoft Designer could end up acting as a huge shortcut.

I tend to do quite a bit of drawing related to some of the work that I do. Even though I can usually get the job done eventually, I am not one of these people who can sit down and do a drawing in a matter of minutes. It normally takes me quite a few hours to produce a single drawing. I can only imagine how a tool like Microsoft Designer might expedite the process. Sure, there is always the chance that Microsoft Designer might not give you exactly what it is that you need, but then again there is no rule saying that you have to use Microsoft Designer. You could always use Microsoft Designer where it makes sense to do so and continue to manually create designs when necessary.

The other thing that I found intriguing about Microsoft Designer is how the technology might be used in other ways in the future. Roughly about 30 years ago I saw a technology demo in which a presenter verbally instructed a computer to draw a circle and color it red (voice control really wasn't a thing back then). The presenter then told the computer to "put it over there" and pointed in the general direction where he wanted to circle to be moved. With that in mind, consider how the AI used in Microsoft Designer might eventually be combined with Web cams and microphones. If Microsoft Designer does not initially give you what you want, you may be able to refine the image using voice commands, hand gestures or some combination of the two.

Of course there is also the possibility that Microsoft Designer could go horribly wrong. Imagine the most vulgar, offensive, or disgusting thing that you can possibly think of. It's a safe bet that someone will attempt to get Microsoft Designer to produce something that is just a little bit worse than whatever it was that you came up with. Presumably Microsoft Designer will be equipped with filters to keep things from getting out of hand, but I seriously doubt that the creators of Designer have thought of everything. Something is bound to slip through the cracks, and depending on how much publicity it gets it could deal a heavy blow to Designer.

The other way that I could see Designer going wrong is if there is not enough variation in the designs that it produces. Back in the '80s for example, Broderbund Print Shop was often the go-to tool for creating greeting banners, greeting cards and that sort of thing. Even though Print Shop was a decent product, the content created with it had a very distinct look. You could just look at a print out and know that it was generated by Print Shop. It got to the point that Print Shop (at least back then) practically became a parody of itself.

Print Shop was far from being unique in this regard. Early PowerPoint presentations also had a really distinct look, as did the clipart that was included with early '90s versions of Corel Draw.

All of this is to say that if all of the artwork created by Microsoft Designer has a similar look and feel then people may shy away from using it, particularly for anything that is to be released to the public. After all, marketing departments generally prefer to avoid the perception that they took a shortcut rather than producing professional, quality materials.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen how well Microsoft Designer will work and how it will be received by Microsoft 365 users. My guess is that the initial version will probably be a lightweight proof of concept app, but by version 3 Microsoft Designer will be a force to be reckoned with.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 21-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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