Microsoft is bringing its infamous Clippy character back to life as an emoji in Office. After a successful campaign to get some Twitter and Instagram likes, Clippy will now replace the paperclip emoji that exists across Windows, Office, Microsoft Teams, and other Microsoft 365 products. It’s part of a bigger update that will see 1,800 emoji in Microsoft 365 updated with 3D designs and the company’s Fluent Design language.
Clippy is the star of the show, with 3D emoji that have been redesigned to add a lot more personality. “I grew up using Clippy, and it just seemed like a fun little Easter egg,” says Claire Anderson, Microsoft’s official “Emoji-ologist,” in an interview with The Verge. “We just all imagined that delight when you put the paperclip in a Microsoft product and then all of a sudden, you get this dose of nostalgia.” Clippy, with its Groucho eyebrows, will now replace the flat and boring paperclip.
The big change with Microsoft’s emoji is a move to 3D that will show up across Windows and elsewhere. “We opted for 3D designs over 2D and chose to animate the majority of our emoji,” explains Anderson. The emoji have been redesigned to include bright and saturated colors, with a focus on fun in the workplace. The 3D element really makes them pop, and they look a lot more modern than what’s currently available in Windows.
Around 900 of these overhauled emoji will also be animated in products like Microsoft Teams. “We loved that element of Skype legacy, so we wanted to bring that into this new system and bring that to life for more of our users,” says Anderson.
Emoji have increasingly been an important part of online communications in recent years, adding emotion to what would otherwise be lifeless computer-based interactions. Microsoft says it has worked to “rethink graphical expressions of professionalism” with this big emoji update, something that’s particularly relevant during a pandemic that has blurred the lines between work and life.
“Because being playful or highly expressive doesn’t come easily to everyone, emoji are the perfect little helpers,” says Anderson. “Far from being frivolous or ornamental, they’re extensions of our own humanity and an important communication tool.”
Microsoft’s renewed focus on fun with its emoji is a far cry from the company’s previous effort to resurrect Clippy. Some employees working on Microsoft Teams released a fun sticker pack in 2019 featuring animated Clippy GIFs, but Microsoft quickly removed them after a few days. An insider at Microsoft told The Verge at the time that the “brand police” inside the company weren’t happy that Clippy had appeared in Microsoft Teams. It’s likely that there were legal or copyright issues behind the decision, and interestingly, Microsoft actually filed for a Clippy trademark just last month.
Microsoft’s new emoji might be a minor addition to the company’s online services, but they also speak to a broader design ambition at the software maker. Microsoft has been challenging itself to adopt an “open design” philosophy in recent years, a more coherent and human approach to how it designs software and hardware across its various teams. We’ve seen a greater focus on iconography, and a Fluent Design system that spans across Microsoft’s services. Windows 11 is the latest example of Microsoft’s design changes.
The refreshed emoji will start to appear across all of Microsoft 365 in the coming months. Flipgrid will get access to the new emoji next month, with Microsoft Teams and Windows getting updated in the holiday season. Yammer, Outlook, and other Office apps will see the emoji updates soon after, too.