Outline Numbering Variations – Best Practices

In my last post, I translated the classic method of outline numbering for macOS. But Shauna Kelly’s original steps have an element of personal preference them. We can also get reliable results from outline numbering variations.

Unfortunately, Shauna passed away a few years ago. I’m glad her site is still kept running by volunteers. If you’re formatting for Windows, you should read her article first: How to create numbered headings or outline numbering in Word 2007 and Word 2010

I think one notable restriction of Shauna’s procedure is that she relies on the built-in Heading styles. Often a numbering scheme is required that has nothing to do with headings. Here’s how we can separate these concepts and create solid numbering using an arbitrary style set. This applies to both Windows and OS X versions of Word.

Outline Numbering Variation – Alternative Styles

In Shauna’s classic technique, the first step is to revise the built-in Headings 1 to 9 so that Heading 1 is independent of other styles, then all the subsequent headings inherit characteristics from Heading 1. We’ll reuse this basic concept for a different style set.

First create a style that will be the basis for the first level of your outline numbering. For a start, this style should be based on No Style (Word OSX: Format>Style>Modify>Style based on:>(no style) Word for Windows: Ctrl + Alt + Shift + S to open the Styles list>Click on Manage Styles button>Modify>Style based on:>(no style)). This style really only needs to include the font, font size, line spacing, space before and after the paragraph. Any indenting or number style will be handled later. For this article, let’s call it Number Style 1. There is one essential parameter you must set. In the Paragraph format for the style, you must set the Outline level to Level 1 (With the Modify Style dialog still open, click on Format>Paragraph>Outline level. This is the key to making this work!

Next, we’ll create the second style. Start by basing it on Number Style 1, then format whatever variation it might have, staying away from indentation or numbering. Outline numbered styles are often very similar, this style might be exactly the same as Number Style 1. However, in Format>Paragraph, Outline level must be set to Level 2. Are we picking up the pattern yet?

Each additional style in the outline numbered series must be:

  • based on the previous style, and
  • have an outline level that is one level down from the previous style.

As long as you can format a chain of styles following these principles, you should be able to get it to work with the technique on this page for OS X (replace the first section Outline Numbering in Word for OS X – The Classic Method with the procedure on this page) or Windows (replace section 3. Set up your Heading paragraph styles with this page’s technique instead.

Outline Numbering Variation – Nested Bullet Styles

You can create nested sets of bullet styles by following the same steps as above. When the Define new Multilevel list dialog is open, use the dropdown called Number style for this level, scroll all the way down and you’ll find 6 bullet presets and options for choosing a different bullet or a picture bullet. Nested bullet styles work like outline numbering for bullets, though they’re a new concept for most users.

Feel free to post constructive comments suggesting improvements, I’m always trying to make these articles better.

Nested Bullet List Dialog

Outline Numbering in Word for macOS – Best Practices

Unlike most of my articles, this one is not a piece of original research. Shauna Kelly wrote the definitive method for producing outline numbering in Word several years ago. Unlike most of what you’ll read about techniques for creating numbering in Word, Shauna’s procedures actually work reliably. Unfortunately, Ms. Kelly passed away several years ago, though her web site has been kept going by volunteers. You can read her original posts here: How to create numbered headings or outline numbering in Word 2007 and Word 2010. My contribution is to document the steps needed to produce outline numbering in Word for macOS.

The names of some commands are different, or they’re found in a different place. I’m sticking to the step-by-step approach. For an in-depth explanation of why the steps work, please consult Shauna’s original pages. These instructions are quite specific. Please don’t include any steps not on the list below, or you’re on your own for the results.

Shauna argued strongly for using the built-in heading styles Headings 1 through 9. There’s nothing wrong with this and it can save a few steps. Sometimes, however, I prefer to save heading styles for headings and create a separate set of styles for numbering. In this article, I’ll translate Shauna’s classic method. The next post shows some optional variations: Outline Numbering Variations. If this is to be the basis for future documents, you want to be making these changes in a template. If you do this in a document and don’t apply the changes to the source template, you’ll have to redo all these steps for the next document or copy the styles using Word’s Organizer (Tools>Templates and Add-ins>Organizer in Word for Mac). Whenever you copy outline numbered sequences, you need to copy the styles that are linked (Headings 1 to 9 in this example) plus the List style (Numberings in this case).

Outline Numbering in Word for macOS – The Classic Method

Setting up the Styles

  1. Choose Format>Style and select Heading 1. (If you’re not already using Heading 1 in your document, change the List: dropdown to All styles)
  2. Click on the Modify button.
  3. Change the Style based on: dropdown from Normal to (no style) at the top of the list, then click on OK. While the dialog is open, choose Format>Paragraph and set the Left indent to 0 and the Special indent to (none). If there is any indenting, these will be set later. If you had already formatted Heading 1, you may need to make some changes after detaching it from Normal.
  4. Select Heading 2, click on Modify and change Style based on: to Heading 1. OK out.
  5. Repeat step 3 for each built-in Heading style, for as many levels of outline numbering as you require. Each style should be based on the one before.

Opening the Right Dialog Box

  1. In the Paragraph section of the Home tab, choose Multilevel List>Define New List Style. Avoid starting from Numbered List, that is not reliable.
    Multilevel List>Define New List Style in Word 2011 and 2016
    Outline Numbering in Word for OS X - Multilevel List 2011 (left) + 2016 (right)
  2. In the Define New List Style dialog, give your style a plural name like Headings or Numberings, since this will apply to several styles.
  3. Click on the Format button and choose Numbering.
  4. Set the style name and click on Format>Numbering in Word 2011
    Name + Numbering in Word 2011
    Word 2016 for Mac:
    Name + Numbering in Word 2016
  5. Now the Bullets and Numbering dialog opens, an extra step that doesn’t happen in Word for Windows. If you need straightforward legal-style numbering, there is a preset shown in the window that can save you many of the steps in the routine outlined below. Click on the Customize button.
    Bullets and Numbering Customize Button

Link a Paragraph Style to a List Style

  1. Finally we get to the Customize Outline Numbered List dialog. Once this dialog is open, we will leave it open until all levels are set up. Start by clicking on the dialog expander button to see all the options (circled in red):
    Word 2011:
    Customize Outline Numbered List in Word 2011
    Word 2016 for Mac:
    Customize Outline Numbered List in Word 2016
  2. Start by selecting 1 in the Level list.
  3. Next, we attach the paragraph style to the list style. Select Heading 1 in the Link level to style dropdown:
    Word 2011:
    Attach Paragraph Style to List Style in Word 2011
    Word 2016 for Mac:
    Attach Paragraph Style to List Style in Word 2016
  4. Now set the numbering for the style. In the Number format: (Word 2011) or Enter formatting for number: (Word 2016/2019) field, delete any content displayed. If the first outline numbering level starts with text, like Chapter 1 or Section 1, type in the text and a space.
  5. Using the Number style: (Word 2011) or Number style for this level: (Word 2016/2019) dropdown, choose the number appearance. Outline Numbering in Word for OS X has a quirk: the Level 1 choice is already displayed, even if no number appears in the Enter formatting for number: box. Just click on the dropdown and re-select the Level 1 that already appears selected and Word will do the right thing. A number appears in the Number format: or Enter formatting for number: field.
  6. Add any punctuation or symbol that is to follow the number.
  7. Set the Number position and Text position. Both numbers are the distance from the left margin. Left alignment for numbers is most common, but Roman numerals can look better right-aligned, since their width varies more. Normally the tab and indent are set for the same amount. The tab controls the position of the first line and the indent all the lines in the paragraph after that.

Repetition for All Levels (Legal-style Numbering)

Doing the rest of the levels involves repetitive steps that get a little longer with each level. Here are the steps for level 2:

  1. Select 2 from the Level list.
  2. Choose Heading 2 from the Link level to style: dropdown.
  3. Delete the contents of Number Format: (Word 2011) or Enter formatting for number: (Word 2016/2019).
  4. Set Previous level number: (Word 2011) or Include level from: (Word 2016/2019) to Level 1.
  5. Type a period.
  6. Click on the Number style: (Word 2011) or Number style for this level: (Word 2016/2019) dropdown and choose 1,2,3, ….
  7. Set the Number position and Text position.

So far, so good. Now let’s do level 3:

  1. Select 3 from the Level list.
  2. Choose Heading 3 from the Link level to style: dropdown.
  3. Delete the contents of Number Format: or Enter formatting for number:.
  4. Set Previous level number: or Include level from: to Level 1.
  5. Type a period.
  6. Set Previous level number: or Include level from: to Level 2.
  7. Type a period.
  8. Click on the Number style: or Number style for this level: dropdown and choose 1,2,3, ….
  9. Set the Number position and Text position.

Steps for Level 4:

  1. Select 4 from the Level list.
  2. Choose Heading 4 from the Link level to style: dropdown.
  3. Delete the contents of Number Format: or Enter formatting for number:.
  4. Set Previous level number: or Include level from: to Level 1.
  5. Type a period.
  6. Set Previous level number: or Include level from: to Level 2.
  7. Type a period.
  8. Set Previous level number: or Include level from: to Level 3.
  9. Type a period.
  10. Click on the Number style: or Number style for this level: dropdown and choose 1,2,3, ….
  11. Set the Number position and Text position.

Are you seeing the pattern? Each additional level repeats the previous steps and adds 2 new steps. By the time you get to level 9, you’ll have set the previous level and typed a period 8 times before setting the last number!

Editing Outline Numbering in Word for OS X

Like every good designer, you’ll probably want to tweak these styles later. For paragraph styling, like the amount of space before or after, you can simply modify the paragraph parameters. That’s easy. But anything to do with the numbering or its positioning relative to the paragraph should be done in the Outline Numbering dialog. Unfortunately, both Word 2011 and 2016 have a completely non-intuitive method for getting a list style into editing mode.

  1. In the Quick Style Gallery, right-click on Heading 1 and choose Modify Style.
  2. Click on the Format button and choose Numbering. The Bullets and Numbering dialog opens to the List Styles tab, where you can’t Add, Modify or Delete anything: the buttons are permanently disabled. Serious bug!
    Word bug: the Plus, Minus and Modify buttons are permanently disabled.
    Outline Numbering in Word for macOS - Ineditable List Style
  3. Click on the Outline Numbered tab. None is highlighted, which is not helpful. Examine the tiles carefully, you have to choose the correct one. Since you have linked styles to levels, the tile you are looking for will show the first 3 of those style names, but then several other tiles will also show the heading names as well.
  4. Click on it the most likely suspect and see if the Reset button becomes enabled. That only happens with user-created list styles, so that’s an indication of the correct tile.
  5. Now click on the Customize button. This will only work if you are editing the outline numbering on the same installation of Word on which you originally created it. Open in a different installation or version and the Bullets and Numbering tiles do not show your custom list.
  6. Edit the numbering, then exit when you are finished. Instead of editing your named List Style, Word has created a new list style autonamed Current List1.

If you’re using a different installation of the program than what you created the list on, you can’t even use the Outline Numbered tab. All the tiles will display the stock numberings. Instead of editing your list style, you must start all over and get it right in one editing pass.

Outline Numbering in Word for OS X: The Customize Outline Numbered list Dialog

Here are the final results for an outline numbered style as created in Word 2011. These shots are from the same dialog, only the Level number has been changed.

Level 1 in 2011
Level 2 in 2011
Level 3 in 2011
Level 4 in 2011
Level 5 in 2011
Level 6 in 2011
Level 7 in 2011
Level 8 in 2011
Level 9 in 2011

You can use Brandwares’ expertise to set up your outline numbering. Contact me at production@brandwares.com for an estimate.

5 Word Formatting Mistakes – Best Practices

Word is found everywhere, but Word users with training are a scarce commodity. It’s a shame, because a little training can go a long way to get really nice results. This article will cover the most common formatting mistakes that Word users make. If you’re a designer, you could still benefit, I see plenty of these errors from design companies as well.

Formatting Mistake #1: Not making the Non-printing Characters Visible

Pretty View, formatting mistakes paradise

Pretty View

By default Word is set up to show “pretty” documents. Microsoft has decided that users want to see what the printed output will look like on-screen. So Word hides all the control characters that are vital for reliable formatting. Users can’t see the hidden formatting that they are inserting or deleting. Result: formatting mistakes! The only way you can provide professional documents for clients is by making these visible so you can deal with them. When you want to see the printed result, do a Print Preview. It’s fast and more accurate than the “pretty” screen display.

Useful View, showing formatting characters

Useful View

The exact steps for show the control characters is slightly different for each version of Word, so I’m not going to list them all here. To start in OS X, look for Word>Preferences>View, in Windows, choose File>Options>Display. Make all the non-printing or formatting characters visible. It’s also helpful to display Bookmarks, Object anchors and in Word 2010/2011 or earlier, Text Boundaries. In Windows, these last three are found on the Advanced tab of Options.

Now you can see Paragraph Marks, which hold the paragraph formatting for the text that precedes it. You can see the Section Breaks that hold all the header/footer, margins and page orientation information for the paragraphs preceding it. And you can see the Anchors for text boxes and floating pictures, which makes it much easier to anchor to a paragraph that is likely to stay on the same page.

Formatting Mistake #2: Creating New Pages with Multiple Carriage Returns

This is the classic hallmark of the Word user who has never taken a course or cracked a book. At the end of a topic, they’ll type enough carriage returns to get to the next page, then type a new heading. It looks perfectly fine on the original computer:

How it looks on your computer

How it looks on your computer.

But then it’s sent to a different computer with different fonts or a different printer. The heading that supposed to be at the top of a page either moves to the bottom of the preceding page, or moves down so it’s not at the top of the page anymore. It doesn’t matter much which one happens, because the formatting mistakes scream Amateur Hour:

Your formatting mistakes are clear to everyone but you.

How it looks on a different computer.

Text flow in Word depends heavily on the font being used and the printer that has been selected. If you move the document to a different computer, they might not have the same font. Even a change in the version of a font is enough to make the text break differently. As for the printer, Word fabricates pages on the fly by using the metrics of the selected printer. These metrics come from the printer driver. So if the user who receives the documents has a different printer, or even a different driver for the same printer, the pages will be laid out differently.

The knowledgeable Word worker will insert a Page Break (not a Section Break) at the end of a text block to create a new page:

Page break: How it looks on every computer.

Page break: How it looks on every computer.

A really clever user will create a heading style that includes the paragraph attribute Page break before, so that whenever the heading style is applied to text, it automatically pops to the top of a new page:

Heading Style using Page Break Before Setting

Heading Style using Page Break Before Setting

Formatting Mistake #3: Using Tabs to Arrange Data in a Grid or Table

Whenever you need to arrange comparative information in rows and columns, you’re creating tabular arrangement. It’s always a good idea to pause for a moment and really look at the kind of data you want to present, so that you can choose the best format for that. If you find yourself using tabs and spaces to create a grid of data, STOP.

Making formatting mistakes with tabs

Making a lame table with tabs and spaces.

Information in a grid is tabular data (from which the tab key takes its name), but tabular data should go in a table. That’s what they’re for! Tab keys are left over from typewriters, when there was no other way to create a data grid. Designers are also guilty of creating grids with tabs, because table tools are relative newcomers to page layout software.

Use a table to arrange tabular information.

Use a table to arrange tabular information.

Tables are also the only professional way to make forms, which brings us to our next common mistake:

Formatting Mistake #4: Using Typewriter Techniques to Make Forms

Word, especially Windows versions, is loaded with excellent form-creation tools. But you’d never know it from the forms I almost invariably see created in that program. The common approach is to type a text heading, then dozens of underscores to indicate where the form-filler is to enter their data. This could pass for forms that are printed out and filled with a a pencil. You know, like people used to do 50 years ago:

Typewriter-style Form, serious formatting mistakes

Typewriter-style Form

Open the Word “form” on your computer and try filling it in. As you type, the underscores remain, trailing after your text. Type a couple of line of text: the left side of the filled portion falls underneath the heading, not to its right. The professional term for this is “a dog’s breakfast”.

Formatting mistakes: The form falls apart when filled.

The form falls apart when filled.

For forms that are filled on a computer, you need a much more robust method. Create a table with a cell for the heading and a separate cell for the filled-in area. If the form will only be filled out on the computer, you don’t need any horizontal rules to guide your text. The computer does that for you. If the form is intended to be dual purpose computer or hand-filled, add a thin border to the bottom of the filled-in cell. No other border are necessary or desirable. All of a sudden you have a form that is neat before and after filling, easy to read, even, dare we say, good-looking!

Table Form

The right way to make a form: with a table.

Here’s a comparison of a table form and a typewriter-style form when filled with longer text:

Form Comparison - Spot the formatting mistakes

Inserting long text

Formatting Mistake #5: Local Formatting Instead of Styles

Another giveaway of the Word amateur is when you click on different types of text and heading, but the Style always says Normal. This means the creator of the document made no use of Styles. Perhaps they think they are saving time, but the opposite is true. Repurposing or updating an unstyled document takes almost as long as creating it in the first place. Plus, useful Word features like a Table of Contents or the Navigation Pane don’t work well without using styles.

Local formatting mistakes

Using local formatting to imitate true styles.

After taking just a few minutes to create some basic styles everything about document creation and revisions is much faster. Styles are a true productivity booster. If you’re not using them, either you are wasting a lot of time, or you’re making someone else fritter away hours of their work day. Styles ensure your documents have a consistent, professional appearance. Updating their appearance in the future takes only a few minutes. It’s what the pros do!

Styled Text: formatting mistakes avoided!

A Heading Style applied.

We’re Word professionals! Brandwares will create technically perfect templates and documents for your company. For bullet-proof files, contact me at production@brandwares.com.

Mac PowerPoint: Accurate Colors – Best Practices

With the advent of Yosemite, the Mac color picker has acquired color management. While this may be a godsend to users in a color-management workstream, everyone else is put in a tough spot. You can’t create accurate color values for apps that are not color-managed, which is the majority. This isn’t such a big deal in, say, BBEdit, where the color only has to be close. But for corporate presentation software like PowerPoint, it’s a disaster. It’s simply impossible to set accurate corporate RGB colors in a presentation.

You can see this in action if you have PowerPoint on a Mac. Open it up, select any text or shape and set the color. RGB Sliders is the place to do this. Enter R50 G100 B200, then click on OK. Now, reopen the color panel: the values have changed! Continuing the test, enter R50 G100 B200 again. Click on the gear icon beside the RGB Slider dropdown and select a different color profile. The color values change before your very eyes! Yikes!

Color Picker

When I first ran across this issue, the only 2 workarounds I could think of were to run PowerPoint on an older OS or on Windows. I have a couple of machines on Snow Leopard and there is no problem settings colors accurately. I also use Bootcamp and Parallels and PowerPoint under Windows sets colors correctly. But both of those a clunky options, so I kept researching.

I’ve found several alternative color pickers that solve the problem. Today I’m writing about Developer Color Picker. While this is aimed at web developers, it works well for graphic designers as well. There instructions that come with the download, but basically you just copy the downloaded file into your user Library>Color Pickers folder, then restart your applications. (If your Library folder is hidden, hold down the Alt key and click on Go in the Finder. Library will be in the list.)

Developer Color Picker

When you restart PowerPoint, you’ll discover an additional panel in the picker. The colors you enter on this panel are accurate and stable, unaffected by color management. Use this to set your PowerPoint theme colors and you’ll have happy clients once again!


Since publishing the above, a client mentioned a similar problem area: exporting client logos from Adobe Illustrator. It’s not enough to set RGB colors in Illustrator. You also have to use File>Document Color Mode to change the default CMYK mode to RGB. Otherwise, Illustrator’s color management will alter your RGB values and the resulting logo will not match brand standards.

Cross-platform Fonts from Small Foundries: Beware! – Best Practices

Specifying fonts for electronic documents creates more hassle for clients and users than designing for print or web. This is because desktop applications need to have the font installed on each computer creating the documents. The cost can be high and installation by the client’s I.T. department is usually required. But these are technical hurdles that can be overcome if the client buys into a perceived necessity to have a different look than the competition.

There are 2 inter-related problems that crop up next: font families and cross-platform use. Font families are grouping of fonts that are linked so the user can switch between regular, italic and bold variants by clicking on attribute buttons. This is different from standard usage in the design world, where single fonts predominate. Designers are used to switching to a bold or italic look by picking a different font from the font menu, rather than by clicking on a bold or italic button. I’ve previously discussed font family issues here.

Windows vs OSX Linespacing

Same font, same document, different platform.
The small-foundry font displays and prints with tighter linespacing on a Mac (at right).

Today I’m focussing on the awful things that can happen when font families are specced for use with both Windows and Mac OS X. Surprisingly, it is not easy or simple to create families that work well on both platforms. The most popular software used by independent font designers doesn’t do this correctly, though we have filed numerous bug reports with the company. The net result is that if you spec a font from a small foundry that is going to be used on both Mac and Windows, it’s very likely not going to work. It’s not universal, there are some very skilled individual font jockeys who have the knowledge and skill to do it right. But you’re only going to find out the hard way, by buying the font and trying to use it.

Let me clarify, these fonts will work fine on either Windows or Mac. We can set up a template to make it work for either platform. You only see the anomalies when you move a document from one platform to the other.

Brandwares can provide fonts for your client’s project. Our service includes speccing the correct family groupings and supporting installation and troubleshooting. This includes working with the foundry to create correct families for cross-platform fonts.

I also encourage designers to ask your client the Mac/Windows question sooner rather than later. Call the foundry and ask if they can test on both platforms. I’ve known type designers who only own a Mac and don’t have any way of testing on Windows. When files are going to be used on both, speccing fonts from a large foundry is a good solution. They use different software and we have never seen a bad Mac/Windows family from one of the big companies. But the most practical solution is to stick with the wide variety of fonts that come free with Microsoft Office. They are high-quality faces, already installed and FREE! Your client appreciates a bargain, too!

Windows Macintosh Font Test

Testing Light and Regular font families from a small foundry.
Windows on the left, OS X on the right.
Yes, they’re supposed to be the same. No, they’re not.

Modular Documents – Best Practices

Corporate users in marketing and sales departments frequently need to produce complex documents. Proposals and RFQ/RFPs fit into this category. Modular documents make it easier to produce these files, but Microsoft Word is is not modular by nature.

Users need to add and remove sections of the document to increase the relevance to the potential buyer. If you’ve used Microsoft Word for more than a few minutes, you’ve noticed that its documents are not modular in the least. Each section in a document is dependent on information from other sections. Even the trained Word users find it difficult to remove a Word section or set of pages without trashing the whole file.

The wrong path: Trying to use PowerPoint for Modular Documents

For some clients, this leads them down the wrong road. They notice that PowerPoint has great page modularity. You can remove slides, move them around and add new ones without having any effect on the existing ones. So they request that their proposal template be formatted in PowerPoint. Genius brainwave? NOT!

PowerPoint is missing so many long-document functions that this is a terrible solution. What you gain in modularity, you more than lose in productivity. PowerPoint is missing typestyles, automatic tables of contents, page margins, end notes, table styles, cross-referencing, bookmarks and much more. Users can get around all of these by spending more time manually formatting, but isn’t that what the client was trying to avoid in the first place?

There are 2 alternatives for modular documents. Both are better than the PowerPoint “solution”. One is Microsoft Publisher, and the other is good old Word, used in a slightly different way.

Microsoft Publisher for Modular Documents

First, I’ll cover Publisher, because it’s less well known and deserves to be used more. Microsoft Publisher is included with many versions of Office, so it’s likely your client already has it installed. It follows many Microsoft conventions, so the learning curve is not too steep. Publisher is a full-fledged desktop publisher program with an interface similar to Adobe PageMaker, if you’ve been around that long.

Unlike Word, Publisher uses CMYK and Pantone colors, does color separations, has measurements to 1/1000″ and, most germane to our discussion, has Master Pages! This latter feature makes it easy to create a modular document. All pages are completely independent of one another. No section or page breaks to foul up formatting. No pictures anchored to text that move around. The main catch with Publisher is that people don’t know it’s there, so they have to do some learning.

OK, so maybe learning is a roadblock. That’s OK, there is another way that’s still better than PowerPoint for proposals. Word!

Using Word for Modular Documents

Word is useable for modular documents as long as you know about Master Documents. A Master Document is like a super file that links a number of Word documents. Simply put, you create separate Word files for each section of your long document. Then you use a Master Document to link them for printing. The sub-documents can be edited, moved and deleted with ease. Your client gets flexibility in document structure and only has to learn one new thing!

Word has had this feature for a long time, but it got a bad reputation. This was because users would assemble Master Documents and then try to maintain the large assembly as one entity. Almost inevitably, corruption of the Master Document would ensue and users would have to start over. So what’s changed?

Over the years, Word has gotten more stable. The Master Document feature doesn’t get corrupted as easily. But the deepest secret is that you create a Master Document to print the files, then you throw it away! Trying to preserve it by editing it is what creates the problems, so don’t try to preserve it. A Master Document is a temporary device used only at output time. Remember that and you will never have a problem.

We can help your client with Master Documents. We write tutorials that cover every step of creation, assembly, printing and follow-up. We also write macros that create instant Master Documents from a folder full of sequenced Word files. This is much easier than toiling away with manual formatting in PowerPoint. Give us a call to solve your modular document challenges, or email me at production@brandwares.com.

PowerPoint Masters and Layouts – Best Practices

As I write this, our clients have a mix of Office versions deployed. Some corporations are still using Office 2003, while many others have taken the Office 2007-2010 plunge and been “Ribbonized”. The most difficult are the companies that have a mix of both. This platform mix is most challenging when PowerPoint is the target program. This is because of the different way masters and layouts are used.

PowerPoint has 2 layout mechanisms: the master and the layout. Masters are customizable pages that contain graphics and text that are in common to all slides. Layouts are arrangements of text and graphic placeholders that are superimposed on the master to make the final slides. PowerPoint 2003 opened up new possibilities for presentation design by adding multiple masters. Instead of just 1 master each for slides and titles, you could now create different masters for different purposes. This made it much easier to create a presentation with varying sections and special-purpose slide designs.

Masters and Layouts in PowerPoint 2003

In PowerPoint 2003, you access the masters using the View>Master>Slide Master command. Masters display in a sidebar, where you can create rename, duplicate and create masters. You can create a slide master or a slide/title master pair, but a title master cannot exist on its own. The primary difference between a slide and a title master is that the slide master has a multi-level text placeholder, while a title master has a subtitle placeholder with only one level of text.

There are 2 problems in PowerPoint 2003, though. First, Microsoft’s user interface design for accessing these masters is counter-intuitive and hard to use. And second, slide layouts are still closed to customization. This lack of customization means that multiple master slides are often necessary to create all the slide designs that may be needed.

Masters and Layouts in PowerPoint 2007/2010/2013/2016

When Office 2007 came out, the program that was most improved was PowerPoint. In addition to long-missed features like tracking/kerning and a more discoverable user interface, Microsoft had finally made slide layouts customizable.

To access masters and layouts in PowerPoint 2007-2010, click on the View tab of the Ribbon. Then click on Slide Master in the Presentation Views group. The master is the larger thumbnail at the top. The layouts are the 11 automatically generated slides below it. Not all of these are useful. The layouts you will probably reuse are the Title Slide, Title and Content and Section Header layouts, immediately under the master. The Title Only and Blank layouts at positions 6 and 7 are also widely used.

The shift in emphasis from masters in PPT03 to layouts in PPT07 means that creating a presentation template for PowerPoint 2003 is very different from later versions. In PPT03, all customization has to be packed into the masters. In PPT07, masters become much less relevant, with most customizations built into the layouts. Multiple master slides are only necessary to use a different Color Theme, since each Master and its Layouts can only use one color theme at a time. This is a change from 2003, where each slide could have a different Color Scheme applied.

As far as support goes, a PowerPoint 2003 presentation with multiple masters will almost always require an extra tutorial. This must explain masters, layouts and their application, because Microsoft’s interface is so bad. PowerPoint 2007 usually needs only a sample presentation that shows how the different layouts are used.

Tutorial Slide explains masters and layouts

Content from a typical tutorial slide. Multiple Master presentations in PowerPoint 2003 need this information to make them useable.

The scenario that will having you tearing out your hair is the “blended family of Office versions” client who has both Office 2003 and 2007 users. These clients often believe Microsoft’s hype about 100% cross-compatibility between Office versions. PowerPoint is not totally compatible. Masters, slide layouts, charting and color palettes are all different. Behind the scenes, Microsoft has implemented eye-rolling kludges to simulate compatibility. Let me repeat: PowerPoint is not totally compatible!

In fact, the only program where we will not upgrade an older 2003 file to a newer version is PowerPoint. Instead, we rebuild it. If you’re creating a presentation that uses palette-switching to create sections with different color schemes, there is no other possible workflow. It’s the only way to guarantee it’s going to work correctly for the long term.

The best scenario is when the client is using PowerPoint 2007 or better. Compared to earlier versions, the new PowerPoint is a delight to work with and finally offers the capabilities that designers have been assuming were there all along.

Office Charts: 6 Colors Maximum! – Best Practices

Love it or hate it, but Microsoft has made decisions on how you should work with office software. Working within their limitations, your users can have productive careers and get things done. Ignore the limits and you are sentencing your users to hours of formatting hell. A prime example is Office charts

Office charts should have 6 colors maximum. The is a rule made by Microsoft. The exception to this rule is charts in Excel 2003 and earlier, which can have a maximum of 56 colors (see my previous posts for the details on Excel 2003). The following applies to Microsoft Word, but it’s more often a problem in PowerPoint.

If you design charts with more than 6 colors, you are forcing your users to either:

  • copy, paste and reformat a sample chart into the one they want, or
  • manually enter the colors for the series above 6 from a reference table of RGB values.

Neither of these could be considered a PowerPoint “Standard Operating Procedures”. Both workarounds are slow and error-prone.

Office Charts in Office 2003 for Windows or 2004 for Mac

PowerPoint 2003 Colors in Office Charts

PowerPoint 2003 Some color palette slots are used for as many as 3 functions. This makes it tricky to design a color sequence that works for all purposes.

PowerPoint only has code in place to automatically assign 6 palette colors to charts. In PowerPoint 2007 and higher, these are 6 distinct colors that are only used for charts and object fills. In PowerPoint 2003 and earlier, the chart colors are taken from the 8-color palette that is used for other elements as well. This has consequences you have not considered. Here’s how it works:

PowerPoint 2003 and earlier have color palettes with 8 colors maximum. In order, the colors are used for Backgrounds, Text and lines, Shadows, Title text, Fills, Accent, Accent and Hyperlink and finally Accent and followed hyperlink. Applying the recommended color position to a presentation element will mean that that element can be automatically updated if the palette is changed. This is a handy way to create color-coded sections in a presentation.

However, the same colors are used for Office charts. The colors are assigned in this order: Chart Color #1 is always taken from the Fill position. CC#2 is Accent, CC#3 is Accent and hyperlink, CC#4 is Accent and followed hyperlink, CC#5 is Shadows and CC#6 is Title text. Therefore, if you have designed a series of chart colors that is different from the code colors used the the presentation, you must give your users one of two headaches:

User headache number 1: You assign the color palette positions to create an automatically-filled chart, then manually assign all other presentation elements with RGB colors. This means new charts look swell, but color-coded sections cannot be easily updated. In fact, the colors of the entire presentation are must be updated manually element by element. Slow!

User headache number 2: You assign the color palette positions to the correct elements i.e., Title text is filled from the Title text palette position. New charts come in with goofy colors and each series must be manually reassigned from RGB values.

For PowerPoint 2003 and earlier, Microsoft has decided you only need 8 colors for everything. Designing with more colors does not make it a better design. It just makes it harder to use.

Office Charts in Office 2007/2010/2013/2016 for Windows or 2008/2011/2016 for Mac

PowerPoint 2007 Colors in Office Charts

For PowerPoint 2007 and later, Microsoft has decided you only need 12 colors for the presentation. Fortunately, now there is separation between color functions, with 2 colors for backgrounds, 2 for text, 6 for charts and fills and 2 specifically for hyperlinks. But you still only get 6 automatic chart colors. And in Office charts as in so many Office features, if it isn’t automatic, it’s a time-waster. So the advice still holds that speccing more colors is really imposing lower productivity on your users.

Charts apply this sequence in a predictable way. In a standard column chart, the leftmost column is color #1, with each extra column getting the next color in the sequence. Stacked columns display color #1 as the bottom layer and pie charts apply color #1 to the first pie segment, and by default this pie segment has its left border at 0 degrees, pointing straight up. If you design the presentation with this in mind, implementation is easy for the user.

In Office 2007 and later, there is one potential workaround that gives users access to 10 additional colors. It’s the Custom Color XML hack. This hack adds colors to the color picker in Windows and in Office 2016 for Mac. These colors cannot fill charts automatically and they will not show in the Office 2008 or 2011 for Mac color picker. However, it’s still a less cumbersome workaround than the 2 kludges I mentioned at the start of this article.

Are these limitation fair? No. Are Microsoft’s choices well considered? Not really. Are you going to change the way PowerPoint works by ignoring its limitations? Sadly, the answer is also no.

My recommendation is to incorporate a little Zen into your attitude, accept that PowerPoint (particularly the 2003 and earlier versions) is a deeply flawed and limited program. Then go and create some great Office chart designs with 6 colors or less that are easy to use.

Report Charts: Simple Excel Templates – Best Practices

Users create charts in Excel and import them to Word and PowerPoint. Reports frequently require charts. Put these together and you’ll see that when a client asks for a report template, you should also be giving them a compatible Excel template for the report charts they will need.

These charting templates do not have to be complex. Defining a default font and color palette is usually sufficient. The actual steps differ between Excel 2003 and Excel 2007/2010/2013/2016, so make sure you ask your client what version they are using.

The first step with any program is to design the color palette. Excel uses the colors in the order they are entered. In a bar chart, the colors are used left to right as each data series is added. Pie and doughnut charts always start with left edge of the first segment at the 12 o’clock position and proceed clockwise from there. Go with the flow and enter palette colors in the order you want them to appear by default. There is only 1 palette sequence active, so all report charts in your design should use the same color order, or you’ll drive your users crazy.

Report Charts in Excel 2003

Excel Palette Color Order for report charts

The numbers show the order used in Excel 2003 charts.

If your client is using Excel 2003 or earlier, open a spreadsheet in that version, use the Tools>Options command and choose the Color tab. For each color in the “Chart fills” row, start at the left, click on a color, then click on the Modify button. Choose the Custom tab and enter the RGB values. Click on OK, then choose the next Color fill patch to the right and repeat.

Occasionally Office 2003 clients will insist on more than 6 chart colors. In that case, keep filling palette spaces with custom colors using the order shown in the illustration. This will give you up to 56 custom data series that will automatically be filled correctly. Be forewarned, when your client upgrades to a later version of Office, they will, in effect, be back to 6 chart colors. Later versions of Excel do not allow this extended palette.

As a final step, choose Format>Style, ensure the Normal style is selected and click on the Modify button. On the Font tab, set the font to the desired typeface, size and weight to match the Word templates into which these will be inserted. OK out and save the file as a template with an “.xlt” file ending. You’re done!

Report Charts in Excel 2007/2010/2013/2016

Excel 2007 Theme Palette for Report Charts

Circled: the 6 colors that will automatically color Excel 2007-2016 charts.

For clients on Excel 2007 or later, the palette system works differently, and not for the better. Users have lost the capability to set 56 chart colors, now you can only preset 6! The Office 2007/10/13/16 Theme Color dialog displays slots for 6 Accent Colors. Set these with RGB values in the sequence they are t appear in the report charts. If report charts use more than 6 colors, Excel’s default behavior is to color the additional series with automatically generated tints of these 6. To get more custom colors, users must enter them manually. In real life, they’re probably not going to do this. First they have to turn off the automatic series fill, then they have to look up the colors they are supposed to use (where is that tutorial again?), then they have to enter the RGB values. It’s just not a realistic workflow for end users on a deadline.

One alternative is to create a sample chart with manually filled extra data series. This looks good for a client sign-off, but in actual production, the user has to find the sample chart, copy and paste it to their presentation and then change the chart type and data to match what they are trying to show. Again, most users are unlikely to go to this trouble, especially if time is tight.

Finally, if you’re up to a little XML hacking, you can add up to 10 custom colors to the Windows color picker by using my tutorial XML Hacking: Custom Colors. While these colors are not used automatically in chart fills, it’s a simpler process to fill a series by clicking on a custom color than looking up an RGB value.

If possible, it may be best to try talking your client out of using more than 6 colors for charts. The lower expectations will make everyone happier and the end-users would thank you, if they knew who you were.

To wrap up this template, click on the Page Layout tab of the Ribbon, look for the Themes group and click on the down-pointing arrowhead beside Fonts. Click on Create new theme fonts… at the bottom of the list. Set the fonts for both Heading and Body and click on OK. Save the file as an Excel Template with an “.xltx” ending and distribute with the report templates.

An alternative workflow is to save the themes from the Word or PowerPoint file that accompanies the Excel template, then apply those themes to the Excel worksheet. Or course, you still have to apply the same thought process in arranging the colors to create charts that automatically have the right color sequence. It helps that charts created directly in Word or PowerPoint follow the same logic and color order.

Report Charts in Excel 2008, 2011 or 2016 for Mac

In Mac versions of Office, you’ll have to create the Color Theme in PowerPoint, then import it to Excel. Unfortunately, while you can use the Custom Color XML hack to add custom colors to a color theme, you can’t preview them in Office 2008 or 2011.

For the font theme, you can use my tutorial XML Hacking: Font Themes and apply the resulting theme to your Excel template.

8 Invisible Characters You Must Master – Best Practices

The Invisible Characters are Word formatting entities, hidden by default. Master them to rule Word. Ignore them and you are just another Word user stumbling in the darkness.

Last week’s post covered how to display these invisible characters. If you’re not sure what the heck we’re talking about here, go back and read that post first.

Page and Column Break Invisible Characters

Chief among the invisible characters are the Breaks. Microsoft used to group all the breaks together in Word for Windows and still does on the Mac, even though their actual functions are very different. Let’s begin with the “safe” breaks, the ones that won’t wreck your document. These are the Page and Column Breaks, invisible characters #1 and 2.

Page Break invisible character

The Page Break creates a new page immediately after it.

A Page Break is a special character that tells Word to start a new page. That’s all it does, it’s very straight-forward to use. Entering or deleting a Page Break will never screw up your document. This is the best way to create a new page.

Do not ever create a new page by typing a series of carriage returns. NEVER! EVER! The space taken by a series of carriage returns is a function of the specific font installed on your computer. Change fonts or move the file to a new computer and the carriage return space can easily change. The result is that your next page copy creeps on to the preceding page, or the new page starts with a blank line at the top. Not good. Just insert a Page Break and be done with it.

Column Break invisible character

The Column Break starts a new column. In the last column on a page, it starts a new page.

Invisible character #2 is the Column Break. This is similar to the Page Break, but it creates a break to the next column and when you’re in the last column, a break to the next page. Inserting a Column Break in a 1-column layout has the same effect as inserting a Page Break.

Section Break Invisible Characters

Then we get into the Section Breaks. These are a different animal than the Page and Column Breaks and can wreck your formatting if not used with care. Section Breaks hold information for the preceding section such as margins, page layout and header & footer formatting. Deleting a Section Break forces the section that it ended to take on the formatting of the section after it. The Section Break at the end of the amalgamated sections is now in charge.

Continuous Section Break invisible character

The Continuous Section Break creates a new section without creating a new page.

The most useful of the Section Breaks is the Continuous Section Break (invisible character #3). This creates a new section without creating a new page. A Continuous Break will automatically balance columns in the section it ends. It’s indispensable in fillable forms, since it marks the boundary between free-text and locked areas of the form. When you need to create an area with a different number of columns, reach for the Continuous Break.

Next Page Section Break invisible character

This creates both a new section and new page immediately after it.

Invisible #4 is the Next Page Section Break. It’s also the most dangerous, because some users assume it’s equivalent to a simple Page Break. They insert them everywhere they want a new page and end up with dozens or hundreds of sections in their document. Then they wonder why their footers are messed up! Next Page Section Breaks should not be common. Use them to insert a landscape page in the middle of a portrait document, to create new chapters or other regular distinctive section formatting, or to format a different last page. Other than that, you probably shouldn’t be using them.

Even & Odd Page Section Break invisible characters

The Even and Odd Page Section Breaks create a new page and section with the corresponding header or footer type.

Then we have the Even and Odd Page Section Breaks (invisible characters #5 and 6). Once every 10 years you need these. They are used in conjunction with even and odd page headers/footers and don’t do much else. Their only function is to force an even or odd page header or footer where one would not naturally occur.

Paragraph and Anchor Invisible Characters

Now we move on to other invisible characters that have a more local scope: they only affect a small area of your documents. The most important of these is Invisible #7, the Paragraph Mark. Its function is analogous to the section breaks: the Paragraph Mark contains the formatting for the preceding paragraph. Delete it and the Paragraph Mark from the following paragraph takes over.

Paragraph Mark invisible character

The Paragraph Mark holds the paragraph formatting for the paragraph it ends.

Paragraph Marks contain the default character formatting for the paragraph, plus all paragraph formatting such as indentation, line spacing, tabs, bullets and numbering

Paragraph Marks also serve as the character to which graphics, frames and text boxes are anchored. That brings us to invisible character #8, the Anchor. In Word, every item is either in the text string, or is anchored to the text string. The default anchoring is for the graphic to be positioned relative to the paragraph to which it is anchored. This makes for a very fluid document: when text is edited, the anchored pictures move around to stay close to their Anchors.

Anchor invisible character

The Anchor shows to which paragraph mark a graphic or text box is anchored.

You can change the positioning to be absolute, so the graphic stays in the same position regardless of where the anchor is on the page. This does not eliminate the anchor! If the text moves to another page, the anchored graphic moves with it. It is not possible in Word to place a graphic on page 5 and have it stay there. It is always anchored to text and when the text moves, the graphic moves too.

By the same token, if the paragraph mark to which the graphic is anchored is deleted, the graphic will also be deleted!. This is why it’s so important to make those invisible characters visible. You really can’t see what you’re doing otherwise.

Bonus: the Bookmark Invisible Character

Bookmark invisible character

The square grey brackets show bookmarked text. Each Bookmark is named, to facilitate referencing it.

Today’s bonus invisible character is the Bookmark. Technically, this isn’t a character, it’s a range (an arbitrary subsection of a document similar to a selection). Bookmarks enable you to automatically relay information from one part of a document to another. One example is a document title that you also want to appear in the footer of each subsequent page. Select the title, insert a bookmark. Then, in the footer, insert a REF field. This field links back to the bookmark and always keeps the footer correctly updated. An easy fix that looks like magic to your clients. But you have to be able to see the bookmark!