Legacy Slides – Brandwares Best Practices

To be honest, I’ve never met a designer who, on their own, gave a moment’s consideration to designing the latest corporate template so it could handle all the presentations that the client already has. It just doesn’t seem to be part of today’s design esthetic to consider anything but the today and the future.

That’s not how your client sees it. For rapid production of new presentations, the last thing they want it to have to re-invent their presentations every time the brand is overhauled. It’s far more efficient to reuse slides that already tell the story. But to reuse those slides easily, the designer must be an integral part of the process.


Legacy Slides – Everything You Know is Wrong

Despite the hyperbole of my headline borrowed from Firesign Theater (look it up, youngsters!), most designers create presentation template incorrectly, for the purpose of importing of legacy slides. Almost universal infractions include deleting or renaming the default slide layouts, and deleting or adding placeholders on whatever default slide layouts are left. Less common methods that designers use to wreck templates include deleting all placeholders on the master slide, and deleting all default layouts, then trying to replace them

To understand why these actions could cause problems, we need to understand the PowerPoint file structure. All new blank PowerPoint files contain the following:

  • 1 Master Slide (in Slide Master view, the larger slide at the top). The parent to all the layouts, to which the slide layouts are children.
  • 11 default slide layouts, which inherit the formatting set in the master slide. These 11 comprise:
  • Title Slide, for the presentation title.
  • Title and Content, for the bulk of the presentation content.
  • Section Header, to divide the deck into relevant sections.
  • Two Content, with 2 content areas.
  • Comparison, similar to Two Content, but each content area also has a corresponding heading placeholder.
  • Title Only, displaying only a Title field, with the rest of the slide blank.
  • Blank, with not even a Title field.
  • Content with Caption, a little-used layout the includes a Title, Text and Content placeholder.
  • Picture with Caption, similar to Content with Caption, but with a Picture placeholder replacing the Content one.
  • Title and Vertical Text This layout is intended for Asian language use and is only displayed as a choice if your operating system has an Asian language set up.
  • Vertical Title and Text Similar to the previous layout, only available on systems with Asian language available.
Mandatory default layouts (Asian-language-enabled system).
Legacy Slides Default Layouts

Each of these layouts has a specific layout type, set in XML and not alterable in the program interface. AFAIK, you can only create the correct placeholder types by generating a new, blank PowerPoint file. Each of these layouts contains placeholders for the date and slide number, plus a footer field. All but 1 have a title placeholder.

Here’s the second line of a default layout. In this example, obj is the XML type for a Title and Content layout:

<p:sldLayout xmlns:a="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/drawingml/2006/main"
xmlns:r="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/officeDocument/2006/relationships"
xmlns:p="http://schemas.openxmlformats.org/presentationml/2006/main"
type="obj" preserve="1">

Legacy Slides – What Actually Works

PowerPoint, like most programs, is bonehead stupid. When you paste in old slides, and you want them to map to your new slide layouts, they must meet all of these criteria:

  • The slide layout name must be the same.
  • The slide layout type (as set in XML) must be the same. This means that if you have already deleted the default slide layouts, then realize you made a mistake, you are hosed. You have to redo the template, for all practical purposes.
  • The number of placeholders must be the same. When there is a different number of placeholders on the slide being pasted, PowerPoint goes mental and will reassign content randomly.
  • The types of placeholders must be the same. If a user is pasting a Title and Content slide, PowerPoint is looking for 1 Title, 1 Content, 1 Date, 1 Footer and 1 Page Number placeholder. No more, no less.

If a pasted slide does not meet all of these criteria, PowerPoint imports the slide layout from the old deck, prepending it’s name with “1_”, if it’s the first time it’s importing that layout. Very quickly, the client’s deck is polluted with multiple spurious slide layouts. When face with choices like Title and Content, 1_Title and Content, 2_Title and Content, 3_Title and Content, the user will simply give up trying to decide which one to use. Branding goes down the drain.

After 3 pastes from “designer” decks, this is what your client is struggling with:
After 3 pastes from designer decks

Here are the recommendations that Microsoft should have published with the release of PowerPoint 2007: All new PowerPoint templates should include all default slide layouts and placeholders. That would have saved so much grief!

Please note, I am not suggesting that you restrict your design to only these layouts and placeholders. As long as you have the default layouts with the default placeholders, the rest of the master slide can be filled with all kinds of special-purpose layouts with any number of placeholders. Just remember, what ever you create today must be supported in the future. Restraint in slide layout numbers is best for your client’s users. Too many layouts and they just don’t know which one to pick!

To extend this to today, all new templates you create for a client should include the slide layouts and placeholders of all previous templates they have commissioned. Sometimes it’s feasible to segregate these using different slide masters, one for each previous template they have used. Each slide master includes exactly the layouts and placeholders used in a previous version. Then in the receiving template, the user is instructed to paste immediately after a slide based on an earlier version. This method can reduce the user’s pain of having to follow your shiny new template.

6:47 pm

2 thoughts on “Legacy Slides – Brandwares Best Practices

  1. Is it really (technically) necessary to maintain all default layouts, even if their use isn’t feasible or discouraged? This can be hard, because often enough customers insist on cleaning up the template and renaming the layouts (not only the design agencies).

    Does the sequence of layouts matter, or can “unwanted” default layouts shifted down and other layouts been interspersed (I guess that it will have no effect)?

    Oh, and BTW: Keep on the good work! Absolutely invaluable to have a resource like this (so that I don’t have to find everything out myself – sometimes it is hard to figure what’s going on, even with digging in the XML code ;)).

    • After you delete default layouts, if a user pastes in a legacy slide that needs a deleted layout, the paste will bring that layout into the host presentation. But now the layout is not formatted with your new design. Instead, it brings in the old formatting of the legacy presentation. Most designers aren’t aware of this issue and never experience the consequences of their design choices. It’s the users who must suffer. Usually, if a client is informed that this could happen, they will elect to prevent it.

      When we are redoing a client’s template, we ask for samples of previous presentations. Then we run a macro on them to find the incidence of different layout names used in the legacy presentations. This gives us a better idea of what layouts are likely to be pasted. This allows us to safely reduce the number of default layouts that are needed.

      The order of layouts makes no difference to the function of the program. But we try to keep the same order for Title Slide, Title and Content and Section Header layouts and also for Title Only and Blank, since those are used a lot and users are conditioned to find those in a particular place.

      Thanks for your kind words! I still have lots of ideas for articles in the future.

Leave a Reply

*Required fields. Your email address will not be published.

Posting XML? To enter XML code, please replace all less than signs "<" with "&lt;" and greater than signs ">" with "&gt;". Otherwise, Wordpress will strip them out and you will see only a blank area where your code would have appeared.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.