Posey's Tips & Tricks

The Impact that Designer May Have on the Future of Microsoft 365

Microsoft is just getting started with AI integration into its product line.

Recently, I've teased the idea that I believe Microsoft Designer to be the most significant Microsoft 365 innovation to be made in quite some time. As such, I wanted to take the opportunity to fully explain why I believe that Designer is so important and what it may mean for Microsoft 365 going forward.

For those who aren't familiar with Microsoft Designer, it is a new Microsoft 365 application that was announced at Ignite 2022. It's an AI based design tool that allows you to describe what it is that you want to create, and Designer does all of the artistic work for you.

Early on, I had some reservations about Designer. I was concerned that there wouldn't be any artistic variety in the designs created with Designer, making its use immediately obvious. I was also concerned with all of the ways that Designer could potentially be abused (use your imagination).

Recently, I was given the opportunity to test drive a pre-release build of Designer. All of my fears were unfounded and I discovered that Designer really does live up to the hype. I even tried to stump Designer by asking for really random and completely implausible things, and yet Designer consistently delivered. I have no doubt that Designer will be a tremendous asset to Microsoft 365. What intrigues me even more is what Microsoft could potentially do with the technology in the future.

 My guess is that Microsoft is going to immediately begin looking for ways to integrate Designer like technology into other Microsoft 365 applications. Although I have no first-hand knowledge of anything that Microsoft might be working on, my guess is that Designer's technology will initially be used as an alternative to the design templates that have been a part of Microsoft Office for what seems like forever. I realize that using Designer technology to create glorified templates sounds incredibly boring, but here me out on this one.

In recent years, Microsoft has been investing heavily in natural language processing. To date, natural language processing has been mostly used for things like classifying documents, assessing customer sentiment and automatically generating a document summary. Even so, Designer has proven that Microsoft's natural language processing technology works well enough for Azure to be able to understand what someone writes. That being the case, I can envision a situation in which a user creates raw content in Word and then uses technology similar to what is baked into Designer to format the document using natural language requests. A user might, for example, tell Word to make their document look like a newspaper or to create a flyer based on the document.

Think about that one for a moment. In a situation like this, Word would have to be intelligent enough to condense a document's content to the point that it would be short enough to fit on a flyer (while still making sense and emphasizing the most important points). It would also have to know how to produce a visually appealing layout that is appropriate for whatever it is that is being advertised. You wouldn't want an advertisement for an accounting office or for a mortuary for example, to look like an advertisement for a Mardi Gras party. At the same time, if you were planning a Mardi Gras party, you wouldn't want your advertisements to be boring and sterile looking.

Along those same lines, think about the example that I gave in which a user asks Word to make a document look like a newspaper. Word would have to know what a newspaper looks like and how to format the document accordingly. It may even need to create graphical images on the fly, based on the document's text, just to keep the finished document from being all text. In doing so, Word would, of course, need to figure out the document's main points so that it knows what to draw.

The examples that I have described sound simple, but would be extraordinarily difficult to pull off. After all, in these examples the user has given Word almost no instructions. Even so, the ability to interpret both a document and a user's vague instructions and then create a document that meets the user's expectations is within the realm of possibility for today's technology.

Another thing that I suspect Microsoft will do with the technology that is built into Designer is to improve Microsoft Viva. Today, Microsoft Viva acts as a sort of personal assistant. It helps you to keep track of the commitments that you have made to others and reminds you when you aren't getting enough rest or are at risk of spending too much time in meetings and not enough time focusing on your main tasks. While such information can be useful, my guess is that we are going to see Microsoft Viva change big time.

If you were to try to use a single word to describe everything that Microsoft has been working on for the last three years, that word would undoubtedly be "collaboration." The entire Microsoft 365 suite is designed for collaboration, and Microsoft 365 seems to have no trouble with keeping track of what you have been working on and who you have been collaborating with. Given the importance that Microsoft places on collaboration and data sharing, I wouldn't be surprised to see Microsoft use technology from Designer and natural language processing to analyze everything that you and your colleagues have been working on. I'm talking about documents, email messages and anything else done through the Microsoft 365 platform. All of that information could then be digested and then automatically summarized in a paragraph or two to be used by Microsoft Viva. Each morning users could receive a short email summarizing what they need to know for the day ahead based on what everyone on their team has been working on and any issues that they may be experiencing.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen what Microsoft will do with the technology used in Designer. It's even possible that Designer will be a one off product and that Microsoft will not attempt to incorporate AI into its other applications. Given Microsoft's track record however, that seems highly unlikely. My guess is that we will soon see Microsoft 365 applications getting an AI makeover.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-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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