Celebratory Settings

The architecture of information:

June is LGBTQ Pride Month in the U.S., and organizations are expressing support in various ways. Some have overlaid rainbow Pride flags on their logos. Others have created dedicated marketing campaigns. Microsoft is celebrating by adding a new option to its Office app preference panels.

Some preference panels are more complex than others, depending on the complexity of the app. Apps with more features usually have richer preference panels. Still, most are utilitarian: they offer options simply and without fuss.

Also, preference panels tend to change infrequently. UI redesigns usually focus on headlining features. Preference panels are a necessity, not a differentiator, so you don’t often see them trumpeted in app marketing materials.

Which is why I was surprised a few days ago when I opened OneNote’s preferences and saw a new option.

I’ve seen this panel many times, so the colorful option on the right caught my eye immediately.

Windows versions of MS Office apps have rich preference panels. But the Apple platform (macOS, iOS, iPadOS) versions of these apps don’t offer as many choices. Their preferences panels also don’t change often. In particular, OneNote’s preferences in macOS haven’t changed much in years. This makes the new option category stand out even more.

I say “option category” because that’s what these icons represent: General, Spelling, Navigation, etc. all reveal more detailed choices.

Some categories, such as Edit & View shown above, allow you to configure several aspects of the application. Alas, Show Your Pride only offers one choice: a single checkbox labeled “Show Your Pride.”

As a macOS user, it’s unclear to me what this checkbox does. A short text below the control offers a bit more clarity: this setting turns on a special Pride theme. I turned it on, and the only effect I see is a rainbow frame around my user avatar.

In other Office apps, such as Word, the setting also affects some object selection borders in addition to the user avatar.

The effect of this setting is clearer on the iPadOS version of OneNote. For one thing, the setting appears as a binary toggle at the menu’s top level. (I.e., no need to dive into a dedicated category.) For another, this version shows the user avatar at the top, so the toggle’s effects are immediately apparent.

(The iOS version of this panel also shows a top-level toggle, but it doesn’t show the user avatar. As a result, its effects aren’t as clear.)

The Show Your Pride setting is a fun yet subtle way of celebrating and bringing attention to a social cause. But it mostly works because the app had so few options to begin with. Windows versions of Office apps have many more settings, so I wonder if this approach would work as well there. (I haven’t used Windows in a long time, so I haven’t checked.)

I also wonder if this setting is temporary or if it’ll stick around after Pride Month is over. While it seems like a feature some people may want year-round, it has a lot of prominence in these sparse preference panels — especially given how subtle the effect is. If it’s temporary, will it be used to mark other special occasions or support other causes? Time will tell. In any case, it’s an original way to celebrate.