I don’t like answering the question “So, what do you do?” It’s never an easy answer. I am not a lawyer, I am not a teacher. I am the Director of Network Engagement and Collaboration for the Union for Reform Judaism, and even people at the Union for Reform Judaism are not sure what that means.

From the very beginning of our professional careers, we are encouraged to always have an “elevator speech” ready to go. Something we can share, in a short period of time, that describes our skills, experience and what we could bring to an organization, or what we are trying to sell. However, when I’m waiting in boarding group 2 to get on an airplane to come home on Thursday night, and I begin to talk to the weary traveler carrying two heavy bags next to me, even an elevator speech is too long. I need to find a quick, simple way to convey what I do. I need the verbal equivalency of an icon. Something that, almost at a glance, describes what I do and what I’m here for.

An icon. I need to be an icon.

I was thinking about this when I recently saw that Microsoft has begun to introduce new icons for many of their most widely used applications. I think the evolution from the old icons to the new icons serves as a wonderful opportunity for us to do some self-reflection. When we are talking about what we do, are we being clear? Are we being succinct? Are people able to easily get the information they need quickly and effectively?

The old Microsoft icons are fine, and they do follow a common graphic language. The first letter of the application name serves as almost a book cover, and then at a slight angle behind it we get a little insight into the functionality of the tool. The Outlook icon shows 2/3 of an envelope. The Word icon shows lines on a page. Excel shows small blocks, like cells on a spreadsheet. You have to look pretty closely at the OneNote icon, but it seems tabbed pages are part of the design. Pretty straightforward, and not very exciting. Maybe that is enough.

The new icons build on that level of familiarity while being more direct about associated functionality. There is a new visual language introduced.

In fact, if I found myself at an airport gate with the Microsoft applications, waiting to get on a plane, I would barely have to talk to them to realize what their role, their functionality, their job.

Outlook shows three elements now in its icon. A blue “O” for Outlook, behind which is an open envelope with a letter coming out the top. Communication is happening. A message is being sent.

The OneNote icon is better defined than its predecessor. The tabs are larger, easier to see, giving the user more specific information about application functionality.

The Yammer icon shows three different colored triangle shapes emanating, from left to right, from the “Y.” Information is going to many places from one place. Information is easy to find, and information is easy to share.

Word shows a page with shaded horizontal lines behind the “W.” The shades get darker the further down on the page you look, almost like you are seeing an idea, or a concept, get more clearly defined the further down the page you look.

There is still more work to do, as the icons for Sway, Forms, Smartsheet and Stream all look more like the older icons, but this is a good start. The conversation has begun.

I am still thinking about my job, and how I talk about what I do. I recently accompanied my wife to an event for her job, and I knew I would be asked the question. I am never hesitant to talk about my job, and my passion for what I do, but I also need to be able to talk about my job succinctly and efficiently.

“Hi Larry. What do you do?” This time I was prepared.

“I manage online community engagement for a North American non-profit organization.”

Yes, got it! I tried that new language out while meeting my wife’s work colleagues, and my description provided enough information that someone could walk away with an idea of what I do, and an effective means of introduction if someone wanted to learn more.

Imagine you are an icon. What do you do?

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