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.
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:
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.
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.
SuperThemes are a Microsoft-created theme format that includes more than one theme in the same file. You see them in action when you use a Microsoft theme in PowerPoint 2013 for Windows and PowerPoint 2016 for Windows and Mac. Opening a SuperTheme lights up the Design tab>Variants Gallery with design choices, like this selection used in Microsoft’s Ion Boardroom SuperTheme:
SuperThemes have 2 signficant advantages:
The design variants show right up front on the Ribbon, so users immediately see what alternate looks are available to them.
Including size variants ensure that the brand is never distorted by the user changing the slide size. The user can choose a slide size that completely fills any monitor, but the logos and artwork always remain at the aspect ratio you have set. No more graphic distortion
SuperThemes have been around for several years, but Microsoft has never released the specifications for creating them. Brandwares got to work on the problem and has reversed engineered the format. As I write this, we are the only company in the world that can create custom SuperThemes for you.
SuperThemes – How They Work
Micrsoft’s SuperThemes include 4 to 8 design variants plus size variants for 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios. But that’s just a starting point. Down at the lab we found we can create size variants for 16:10 monitors, 35mm film and all the other preset sizes that Microsoft includes in PowerPoint. Here’s a downloadable example you can try out: Test SuperTheme
This SuperTheme contains 2 design variants, one with a white background and a second with a grey background. It also includes 3 size variants, for 16:9, 16:10 and 4:3. After you download and unzip the file, copy it to the the Document Themes folder inside your Office templates folder. Under Windows, this will normally be in your user Documents folder under Custom Office Templates\Document Themes. Mac users will need to hold down the Alt key while clicking on the Go menu and choosing Library. This opens the hidden user Library. Once that’s open, look for Library/Group Containers/UBF8T346G9.Office/User Content/Themes and copy the .thmx file to that folder.
Now open PowerPoint, select the Design tab and drop down the Theme Gallery. Now there’s a new row called Custom and that’s where you’ll find the test SuperTheme:
Select it and you’ll see 2 variants appear:
Switching design variants will change all slides in the presentation to that design. Now try changing the Slide Size. There are 2 sizes immediately available, 4:3 and 16:9. Notice that the logo remains undistorted even when the slide size changes. You can’t do that with a normal theme!
But many monitors are 16:10 and using 16:9 leaves big black bars at the top and bottom of your show. That’s not a problem with this SuperTheme. Click on Slide Size>Custom Slide Size (Slide Size>Page Setup on a Mac). Change the Slide(s) sized for: dropdown to On-Screen Show (16:10). The presentation is resized without any distortion to the logo. (Since we’ve set up just 3 sizes, if you picked one of the other sizes like Banner or 35mm Film you would see logo distortion. So don’t do that!)
When PowerPoint is using a SuperTheme with size variants, the Slide Size button works in a different way than normal. Inside of actually resizing the slide, it calls the associated size variant. If there is no variant for the chosen size, then PowerPoint resizes as usual. When you change the slide size to a smaller canvas, PowerPoint will ask whether you want to Maximise or Ensure Fit (Don’t Scale or Scale on a Mac). In a SuperTheme where you are switching to a supported size variant, it doesn’t matter which you choose, because PowerPoint won’t actually be resizing the slides. It just applies a variant theme.
SuperThemes – What You Need to Know
SuperThemes are intended for use with PowerPoint 2013 and 2016. They can be used with earlier versions, but there will only be access to the primary theme. This is normally set to Widescreen, so a user of older software should switch the slide size from the default 4:3 10″ x 7.5″ format.
For a custom SuperTheme, you can supply separate themes for each design and size variant. Each design variant can be completely independant, using different font or color themes, if needed. Multiply the number of designs by the number of sizes to know how many theme to supply. The downloadable SuperTheme above uses 2 designs in 3 sizes, so 6 themes went into its making.
When designing for SuperThemes, consider what might happen to an existing deck if the user changes the slide size after inserting graphics. If content placeholders in your variant themes have different aspect ratios, photos will still get distorted. So part of your design would be to include picture boxes that have a constant aspect ratio in all themes. They can be bigger or smaller, as long as the ratio of long side to small side is the same.
For 16:9 themes, we do not recommend the older On-screen Show (16:9) slide size produced by PowerPoint 2007 and 2010. This creates a slide that is 10″ x 5.63″. It’s the right proportion, but when a user creates a new slide in PowerPoint 2013 or 2016, it defaults to the new Widescreen size 13.333″ x 7.5″. This means your theme graphics are scaled up and you lose quality. Instead, create 16:9 themes using the Widescreen size created by newer versions.
For 16:10, we’ve found that a 12″ x 7.5″ slide size works perfectly. Of course, 4:3 slides are still 10″ x 7.5″, as always. This means that you can keep the height constant on all size variants. Only the width changes.
Then email the themes to us and we’ll assemble them for you. Too complicated? We’re a full-service Office shop: we can create complete SuperThemes from an InDesign or Illustrator file. Just tell us which slide sizes you want to support and we’ll do the rest. When we create a deck, it’s always guaranteed to work as expected, since we know Microsoft Office at least as well as you know Adobe software. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Great color themes in Office are not a random collection of swatches. Each spot in a color theme has a job. Once you learn those functions, great color themes will roll out from your office.
I’m always astounded to hear a Office “professional” who says “I don’t use themes.” I’m amazed because in modern versions of Office it’s impossible to not to use themes. If you haven’t set a theme for your template, then you’re using the default Office theme. Whether you like it or not! Themes are an integral part of Office, so you’d better learn how they work.
Almost every slot in a color theme has a PowerPoint function, a job that it fulfills for the program. If you don’t know what these are, you’ll place the wrong color in the slot and get a result that looks weird in the program interface. Needless to say, this doesn’t help your professional cred with your client.
Here’s the Color Theme editing dialog as seen in PowerPoint 2016 for Mac. In Office for Mac, you can only create color themes in PowerPoint. In Windows versions, you can create them in any Office program, though there is a good reason why you should still use PowerPoint.
The following advice covers standard presentations that have a light background and dark text. If you’re going for the mysterious Mafioso look with a dark background, then reverse the following instructions putting text colors into the light slots and backgrounds into the dark ones. Oddly enough, when PowerPoint imports a theme exported from Word for Excel, it will default to the Mafioso look. This is the good reason why you should always export theme files from PowerPoint, where your choices for background and text are explicit and that information is preserved in the theme.
The first 4 colors are for text and backgrounds. Although all 4 are called Text/Background, that just to accommodate the occasionally light text on a dark ground, as mentioned in the previous paragraph. In reality, Dark 1 is the main text color. If you have black text in the deck, leave this set at black. You should only change this if you have no black text (Please dont’t tell me you’re doing that trendy look of black text that’s dark grey and makes it look like your printer ran out of toner. Eww.)
You may have a secondary text color for headings. That must go in the Dark 2 slot. Not in Light 1! Not in Light 2! All text colors go in the dark slots!
Light 1 is for background colors. Most of the time, this is white, so leave Light 1 set at white. If the design calls for a different background color than white, set it here.
Light 2 is the only slot in the theme that doesn’t have a secondary job. You can make this slot any color! It doesn’t matter! Woo-hoo! Let’s hold off, this is a good spot for an extra color that doesn’t fit elsewhere.
Accent 1 is the default color for inserted SmartArt, Text Boxes and Shapes. Almost all the time, you will make Accent 1 the primary corporate color. For our company, PMS 481C is the code color, so Accent 1 is the RGB equivalent in all our company themes.
If the company has a secondary brand color, Accent 2 is the logical position for it. So what about Accents 3 to 6? You’re thinking “Hey! 4 empty slots! Throw some colors in, we’re done!” Not so fast, junior.
Great Color Themes: Chart Fills
The set of Accent colors have a huge responsibility of their own: chart fills! I’ve created a color sequence to show how these are applied by PowerPoint.
Office programs fill charts using these 6 six colors in sequence. So when you’re designing, it’s best to know what that sequence is. The colors will be used in the same order:
If there are no additional colors in the design standards, we create a pair of lighter and darker variations of the brand colors for Accents 3 to 6. But don’t just create a pretty series of swatches! Is the chart readable when printed on a black and white laser? Can color-blind people read it? You’re a Designer! You’re supposed to be thinking of these things! The rule of thumb is to alternate darker and lighter colors in a sequence so they can be distinguished from one another even in monochrome. Not sure? Test it!
Of the 12 colors in the theme, only the first 10 are accessible to the user in color picker dialogs. The last 2, Hyperlink and Visited Hyperlink, are applied automatically when the user inserts a hyperlink in the document. I usually use 2 of the theme colors for these, rather than Microsoft’s standard colors. If there’s a blue, that’s a good choice for the hyperlink, it’s a visual cue. The followed hyperlink can be a lighter grey or other tint, if there is one in the palette.
Great Color Themes: Recognizing Trouble
Before shipping the deck, here are a few quick tests you should be performing to show any color theme problems:
If either of these look odd, you probably have a color theme problem. If the text or background of either the chart preview or SmartArt don’t match the background of the deck, you’ve probably inserted a dark color into the Light1 slot
Most of the autogenerated table combinations in this example are hideous and unworkable, sure sign of a bad color theme. You may also see a table style preview that looks different from the actual table. If the table preview shows a different color for table text (it will just show colored lines, not actual text), then the colors in Light2 and Dark2 have to be switched. Another problem indicator is if it appears you are selecting one color in the picker, but the actual color applied is different.
If you see any of the above symptoms, take the time to fix them and do it right. Your client will notice these glitches and you won’t be able to ‘splain them away.
The general method to fix these issues is to put the theme in correct order, then go through the entire deck starting with the Slide Masters, correcting the colors back to the designed appearance. This effort isn’t too bad if it’s a single template or theme you’re correcting. Groups of finished presentations are a different matter that need a more automated approach. Next time, I’ll be writing about how to repair presentations with a bad color theme, using XML Hacking.
When you choose fonts for Office, it takes a different approach than selecting typefaces for an InDesign document. One obvious difference is that you only need to install the font for a design document on the computer where it’s being created. Using the same font in an Office program will require the font to be installed on every computer using the document. Clearly, this is a much more costly solution. Aside from that, let’s look at the pitfalls of choosing fonts for Office templates.
Choosing Fonts for Office – Designer Vanity
Designers from different geographic areas spec fonts differently. As one example, Toronto designers tend to focus on the practicalities of electronic document distribution. As a result, they will often choose Arial or Times New Roman for the user-filled portion of a template. By contrast, designers from New York focus on creating a distinct visual appearance. They choose unusual designer fonts. This creates logistical problems for their clients. They must spend money licensing for all workstations and then take time to install the fonts for each user.
Test fonts from small foundries to licensing a lot of copies. I’ve written about this issue before: Cross-platform Fonts from Small Foundries: Beware! In a mixed Windows/OS X environment, a poor quality font will not display correctly in documents that move between Mac and PC. One typical symptom is Italic text that displays as Roman or Bold when viewed on a different OS, or some similar weight/style mixup.
Choosing Fonts for Office – Collaboration
If the client uses Office documents for collaboration (Don’t know? You should be asking these questions!), you should seriously reconsider a “designer-y” font choice. When the documents arrive at your client’s client, that computer will not have the fonts and the document appearance will change drastically. Unlike web pages, Office documents do not have a font fallback setting. There is no practical way to preset which font will be substituted when the original is missing.
I know what you’re going to say next: “What about if we embed the fonts?” Here’s are several reasons why that probably will not work.
Embedding only works with TrueType and TrueType-flavored OpenType. But you shouldn’t be using PostScript or PostScript-flavored OpenType for Office anyway. Microsoft’s support for that format is going away.
Embedding doesn’t work at all in Office for Mac. OS X users cannot embed fonts in documents. Neither can they see the correct fonts in documents where the font is already embedded.
Most typefaces have restrictive embedding permissions. So even if you can embed the font and your client can see it, they will not be able to edit the document using the embedded font. You can get around this if you contact the foundry and request a version with Editable or Installable permissions. Expect to pay a surcharge for this. Some foundries charge a lot for this service, because they’re concerned about losing sales to possible piracy.
Choosing Fonts for Office – Font Families
Designers are used to Single versions of fonts. The is where each font variant appears as a separate entry in the font list in Office. If you want to change to bold or italic, you select a different font from the list. Office doesn’t usually work this way and Office users are not used to this method.
Instead, Office users are familiar with Family fonts. This is where where a group of (usually 4) fonts is linked. To get bold or Italic variants, they click on the Bold or Italic buttons, leaving the font name the same. The foundry usually creates the font families, though there are some type utilities available that let you make a family out of single fonts. RoboFont is one that works. Some other popular utilities do not do this correctly. Use them and you’ll end up with a family that only works on Windows or OS X, but not both.
In OS X, it’s not obvious when you are using single versus family fonts. OS X creates family groupings on the fly. In Windows, it’s easy: install the fonts, then look at the font menu in an Office program. A font family will only have one entry for the family, while singles will list every font variant. In this screen shot, the Arials are families. Arnhem and ATC Arquette are collections of single fonts:
The logical conclusion to the font family approach is that your client should almost never be licensing just one or two typefaces. If four family members are not installed, Office will fake them by stroking the font for bold and slanting it for italic. As you might guess, this looks ghastly and completely off-brand.
The exceptions to this rule are:
If the document is a fillable form in Word or Excel. Those documents are typically locked so the user can’t change the font or its attributes.
The the font is used only for Headings. These are usually bold and stay that way, so there is less chance of a user applying attributes.
In either of these 2 situations, you should be able to get away with licensing a single typeface instead of a complete family.
If your design calls for an unusual mix of weights, like Light and Demibold instead of Regular and Bold, contact the foundry to request a custom family. There is normally a small charge for this service. However, if the licensing deal is large enough, the foundry may waive this.
Choosing Fonts for Office – 2 Solutions
To sum up, for each different font used in your design, your client should be licensing a complete family of 4 typefaces in TrueType or Truetype-flavored OpenType.
Brandwares is a font reseller and we’ve been speccing type for Office for years. If you choose us to create your templates, we can also source your client fonts in the correct format and family. This service includes free tech support. We’ll help your client with any installation or usage issues and communicate with the foundry, if necessary.
Working on your own? A simple way to eliminate all these issues is to design with the fonts that are already installed by Office. There are many faces more interesting than Arial and Times New Roman in this collection. The fonts that come with Office don’t require any additional licensing fee. They are already installed and they have relaxed embedding permissions to make collaboration easy. They are all high-quality typefaces licensed from major foundries like Monotype. Here is a list of the families that are useful for business communications (we left out Comic Sans!). For maximum compatibility among all versions of Office, use a font that is checked in every column.
This list is available as a free PDF that shows character listings for every font by clicking on the font name. Email me to get a copy: email@example.com
It’s a challenge to create the absolute best quality logos for client files in Microsoft Office. Most artists choose bitmap formats for logos, usually JPEG format. Apparently this is some kind of received wisdom from artist to artist, because JPEG format is close to the worst possible format for logos. But I’ve already covered this subject in JPEG Logos? Fail! back in 2013.
Brandwares has used indexed-color PNG format for most line art (a term for non-photographic art that is mostly flat color areas). Most logos qualify as line art. But there are a couple of disadvantages to using any type of bitmap format for branding information.
With Office files, Microsoft is determined to foist image “compression” on us. I put compression in quotes because Microsoft’s solution is really downsampling by another name. Whatever the name, the results are blurry and absolutely do not reinforce the brand. All bitmap files will be downsampled unless the user chooses only a single file. You can’t protect the company logo, even with XML hacking. Let’s face it, sooner or later, bitmap logos will look like mush.
The other persistent problem with bitmap formats is what happens when you create a PDF from a document. Acrobat’s default settings assume you want to create a small file to post on a web page. This was a serious problem 20 years ago. So, once again, a software company’s helpful authoritarianism leads to default settings that cream the logos in any Office file.
Vector Formats for Best Quality Logos
For many years, we at Brandwares were aware that a vector format was a potential way out of this. Vector formats are naturals for line art, because they easily handle geometric shapes with simple coloring. But there are relatively few vector formats from which to choose, and the available formats didn’t seem up to the job.
One grandaddy of vector formats is the EPS file. Well-known to designers, the EPS doesn’t get great support in Office programs. Printing them at high resolution requires PostScript support from the printer, which is dicey in most business offices. Office programs can’t ungroup them, so adding theme color support in an Office file is out of the question.
CGM was an early contender, and is still used in technical applications. But it never got support in common file formats. SVG is making inroads on the web, but Office is only beginning to support the format.
Let’s be honest, Microsoft offers the best support to the formats it invents. For vector graphics, that is WMF and EMF. WMF is a 16-bit format that was invented in the ’90s. In practice, it’s not too useful today. All too often, WMF files do not render the inside curve of shapes like O or D. In addition, Adobe Illustrator’s WMF export is horrendous, turning every curve into a series of angled straight lines. Corel Draw does a better export, but the format is limited by its 16-bit capacity.
The format we’re left with is EMF (Enhanced MetaFile). Brandwares has developed a method to create the highest quality EMF files possible. Whatever you do, do not use EMFs exported by Adobe Illustrator! Illustrator’s curve accuracy goes down the toilet when it exports as EMF. Here’s what you’ll get, versus the type we produce:
We create robust logos with a tiny file size and razor sharpness at any resolution and transparent backgrounds and they will never get downsampled by Office or Acrobat!
Best Quality Logos In Use
Once we’ve placed our EMF logos in your presentation, they can be ungrouped in Windows versions of PowerPoint, then you can key part or all of it to a theme color. If your presentation contains multiple color themes, changing theme colors will change the keyed logo element automatically. This can be a slick trick for presentations with different sections in different code colors. If you’re working with a Mac, let us know and we can ungroup and key the logo parts for you.
The layout for these slides is identical. Each uses a different color theme that varies one code color.
Transparency is not supported in most EMF exports, but by importing and ungrouping the logo, you can add transparency back in. In PowerPoint, choose Drawing Tools>Shape Fill>More Fill Colors…, then set the Transparency slider. This works the other way around from Illustrator, but the units are the same. If the Illustrator file used 40% Opacity, set 60% Transparency in PowerPoint.
From L to R: each character has 10% more transparency. You can’t get this by adding transparency in Illustrator, you must re-create it in Office.
EMF are not a great candidate for objects like disclaimers. Each letter includes one or 2 complex curves, so a paragraph of text will be much larger that the same disclaimer rendered as an indexed-color PNG or even a JPEG of the same text. But for logos, they’re pretty great. You get the same small file size and pin-sharp appearance regardless of how much you enlarge it. Applying image compression or printing to a low-res PDF leaves EMF logos in pristine condition. It’s by far easiest way to create the best quality logos for Microsoft Office.
PowerPoint was built so that a completely new users could build a presentation without knowing anything about the program. A quick look at the typical presentations out there will quickly confirm how little most users know about the program. But there is a design, an internal workflow that was built into the software. Creating a file that uses this workflow will make your templates and themes easier to use. Users will be able to build presentations faster and suffer fewer WTF moments. The deck will simply work better when you use these PowerPoint construction best practices.
Your New Mantra: Theme>Master>Layouts>Slides
This is the order in which you should approach PowerPoint construction. The best practice is Theme>Master>Layouts>Slides. First, create a Theme. Then apply that to a Master Slide, then format the Slide Layouts. Then last of all, make the Slides. The best presentations follow this order. The worst decks are created by trying to reverse the order. A surprising number of people start with the Slides, then try and fix the Layouts on which they’re based. Finally they end up at the Master and never quite discover the Theme. These are the problem decks that I get called on to repair, since they just don’t work anymore.
PowerPoint Construction Best Practices: The Theme
The basic design building block of all Office programs is the Theme. Themes nominally have 3 components: the Font theme, the Color theme and the Effects theme. However Effect themes are not editable in the program interface. All a designer can do is choose one of the presets, and the presets available change with each version of Office. Since effects are only used with tacky effects like 3D lozenges and shadows, most designers will simply ignore the Effects theme. If I’m able, I’ll apply the Office 2010 Couture effect theme, which has minimal gimmicks.
That leaves the Font and Color Themes. Color themes in Mac versions of Office are editable in PowerPoint. To create custom Font themes, Mac users must build them manually in a Text Editor. No need to get nervous about coding, they’re very simple files that you can create in TextEdit. I covered the technique in this article: XML Hacking: Font Themes. To create a Color theme that will work the best for your client, please read Office Charts: 6 Colors Maximum! This article is important because the order of colors in a theme determines the automatic color order of charts.
You don’t have to use a custom theme, but you also can’t have a theme-free file. If you don’t customize, your template will use the default Office theme. Then users will start to use the theme fonts and colors, because they’re obvious in the interface. And then your client’s presentations will be off-brand. Is that what you want? I didn’t think so…
A clear advantage of using a theme is that applying a new custom theme instantly updates the appearance of legacy documents. This feature alone takes most of the pain out of brand updates, but the underlying templates must have been built with theme application in mind.
I have Themes in my Theme!?
As usual for Microsoft, they use the same word in two different senses, just to make sure you get confused. In PowerPoint, a Theme and a Template can both contain an entire presentation in addition to the Color, Font and Effects Theme parts. By contrast, if you save a Theme from Word or Excel for Windows, the Theme file contains only the Color, Font and Effects parts, but no content or pages. So when you’re talking Themes with an expert, you need to make it clear whether you’re talking about a Font or Color Theme subfile, a Word or Excel style Theme that combines the Colors, Fonts and Effects, or a PowerPoint theme that includes all of the above plus Masters and Layouts.
PowerPoint Construction Best Practices: The Master
In PowerPoint, when you choose View>Slide Master, you’ll see a list of thumbnails at the side of your screen. The larger thumbnail at the top is the Slide Master (outlined in red):
The slide master never appears in a presentation. For this reason, some designers falsely conclude it is unnecessary and make a mess of it by ignoring it, deleting all placeholders, or otherwise mistreating it. The clients of these designers live in PowerPoint hell, with layouts and slides that just don’t work the way they should. It’s a shame that a designer who doesn’t know what they’re doing can’t spend a few dollars to bring in a professional to assist them.
A critical function in PowerPoint templates and themes is Inheritance. Inheritance is what we use when we create a typestyle, then apply that style to text. The text is said to inherit the characteristics of the style. The style is the parent and the text is the child.
The Slide Master inherits the fonts and colors of the Theme. Then the Slide Layouts inherit their formatting from the Slide Master, and finally the Slide inherit their formatting from the Layouts. The Slide Master is a crucial link in the chain. Ignoring it or formatting it incorrectly will cause inheritance problems in the rest of the presentation.
The correct way to format the Slide Master is to include as much formatting as possible that can carry over to the Layouts. Leave all placeholders in place, do not delete any. Perhaps you don’t think users will need a date or footer field, but deleting them will create problems for the users that actually do need them. You will also create problems in the future, when today’s decks become tomorrow’s legacy presentations that need to be updated with a new theme.
Analyze the design sample slides for where bulleting is needed and where it isn’t. A default Microsoft design uses bullets for every text level, but your template will be more useful if it includes a mix of bulleted and non-bulleted levels. The bullet scheme you apply on the Slide Master is automatically inherited by all the slide layouts.
On most presentations, there is a company logo that appears on most or all slides. Include that logo on the Slide Master (Of course, that logo is an indexed-color PNG right? You’re not still using JPEGs for logos, are you?). Important: Don’t touch a Slide Layout until the Slide Master is complete!
PowerPoint Construction Best Practices: The Layouts
When the Slide Master is complete, then and only then, move on to the Slide Layouts. Why? Because editing the Layouts breaks the inheritance from the Master of the edited feature. As one example, if you create a unique bullet setup on a Layout, then go to the Master and create the same setup, the edited Layout will remain out of sync. Subsequent changes to the bullets on the master will never show on the Layout, because you broke the inheritance. Any changes to the Slide Master also have be duplicated on the Layout. Even though the bullets are identical, you created twice as much work by editing the Layout before the Master.
I’ve seen some designers who delete everything on the Master so they can create Layouts that differ from each other. This, too, is a mistake. The Slide Master should be formatted to look like a typical or common slide in the presentation. Then, for any layout that has different graphics or background color, right-click on the Layout, choose Format Background and turn off the background graphics with the Hide background graphics option. This leaves the placeholders in place and they still get their formatting from the Master. Then create a different color background and/or include different graphics. Presto, a different appearance, while maintaining inheritance from the Master.
I really don’t like the Layout titles that Microsoft has assigned. First, there is the Title slide, then you have Title and Content. Except the word Title refers to 2 different things. The first layout is for the title of the presentation, which could just as easily be called the Cover slide, while the second refers to the Title placeholder on the slide layout. Most of the layouts have titles, why do only some include Title in the layout name?. I’d love to fix this, but then I would create another problem:
People will make presentations with your template. Someday those decks will be “legacy content” that needs to be updated with the next template that will inevitable follow yours. When those presentations are updated, PowerPoint will find a Cover layout in the old file and a Title layout in the new one. PowerPoint doesn’t know these are intended to be the same layout. So instead of replaced Cover with Title, it keeps both. The old deck now has a new Title layout, but it doesn’t get applied to the title slide, because that is linked to the Cover layout. The user screams. Why didn’t all the slides update with the new theme? Well, it’s your fault, because you thought you were more clever than Microsoft and you changed the layout name.
You can also create custom layouts in Slide Master view. Start by duplicating an existing Layout or creating a new one. Then choose the Insert Placeholder command to add an all-purpose Content placeholder, or one of several types of content-specific placeholders. You can add many placeholders to a layout, it’s a very flexible system. However, there is a potential problem if you do this to try to replace deleted default layouts.
The default layout name alone is not enough. We’ve worked on templates where the designer deleted all the default layouts, then inserted new layouts using the default names. Unfortunately, PowerPoint sees all created layouts as the custom layout type. You can call it Title Slide, but it does not have the Title Slide layout type, it has the Custom layout type. So when a user pastes in a legacy title slide, it will not map correctly to the layout called Title Slide. Instead, it will bring in its old slide layout, inheriting what it can from the Slide Master. The resulting slide usually looks close to the design intent, but not exactly, and your presentation now has an extra layout called 1_Title Slide, which will confuse users.
Our current best practice is to leave all default layouts in place with their original names. The only 2 layouts we commonly delete are Title and Vertical Text and Vertical Title and Text. These are intended for use with Asian languages, so we leave them in for world-wide companies that might need Far Eastern text but delete them for smaller and local clients. Just remember: if you keep the layout, keep the name. New titles for new layouts only!
The layout type is not visible anywhere in the user interface. We find the layout type by running a tiny macro that displays the layout type for each slide:
Dim SlideObj As Slide
For Each SlideObj In ActivePresentation.Slides
A question that comes up frequently is whether to use Picture or Content placeholders for a photo slide layout. These 2 types of placeholders act differently, so the choice depends on what kind of action is most suitable. When you insert a picture into a content placeholder, the placeholder fits itself to the photo proportions. If the photo has a small physical size, the Content placeholder shrinks to fit the photo. The photo’s aspect ratio is always preserved.
By contrast, a Picture placeholder stays the same size. Placed photos are enlarged or reduced to fit the placeholder, and are automatically cropped to make the photo fit the aspect ratio of the placeholder. Knowing this, we can state that where a particular layout is locked down, you should use a Picture placeholder. An example might be a photo page where there is an exact 1/4″ gap between photos on all 4 sides. A Picture placeholder will maintain this layout:
Picture placeholders are better for rigid or exact layouts.
If the slide contains a single picture and the entire picture must show in its original proportions, a Content placeholder is more suitable:
A flexible layout when the entire photo must show is better with a Content placeholder.
Lazy Designer Syndrome and How to Avoid It
I’ve repaired lots of presentation that show these symptoms: in a series of placeholders on a custom layout, you’ll enter text or content. You switch to a different layout, then switch back, but now the content is in different placeholders than you used originally. What’s happening? Usually, there was a lazy designer who, while editing a layout, copied and pasted formatted placeholders rather than using Slide Master>Insert Placeholder. While they were saving themselves a few minutes, they were sentencing their users to much more time rearranging slides after switching layouts.
The reason is that PowerPoint keeps track of each placeholder by its ID number in the XML. But when you copy and paste placeholders on a layout, PowerPoint does not assign a new ID number. It only does that when you choose Insert Placeholder. The result is a slide with placeholders that PowerPoint can’t tell apart. When it has to assign a piece of content to the duplicated placeholders, the result is random placement of the graphic or text.
To be fair, you can also get a similar effect when switching between layouts that have different numbers of placeholders. If the first layout has 10 placeholders and the second has only 2, PowerPoint will place the first 2 items in the right place. The remaining 8 items will still be in placeholders, but since there is no layout information, they’re plunked wherever PowerPoint wants to put them. When you reapply the original layout, all placeholders will pop back into place, with each kind of placeholder going where that type is on the layout. Unfortunately, during this process, PowerPoint re-writes the ID numbers and some pieces end up in a different order. The effect is less chaotic than lazy designer syndrome. This is also a bug you can help fix! I’ve created a suggestion at Microsoft’s PowerPoint User Voice forum explaining the issue. Please take a look and add your vote: Microsoft uses this feedback to prioritize their programming.
PowerPoint Construction Best Practices: The Slides
Now you’re finally ready to make slides, or hand the template off to your users so they can get creative. And this is the place where a well-constructed template or theme can either save your users time, while a sloppy one will keep them working ’til midnight. Do it right and the slides will be easy to produce, and they’ll work the way they’re supposed to. Just follow your mantra: Theme>Master>Layouts>Slides and all else will be bliss!
Multiple color themes in the same PowerPoint template are useful for companies with several divisions or for presenters who need color-coded sections. Here are 3 ways to add that capability to your presentations.
Multiple Color Themes: Using Super Themes in PowerPoint
PowerPoint 2013 and 2016 for Windows and Mac all feature a new theme format developed by Microsoft: the Super Theme:
The user sees a preview of the color palette that will be used, then picks the variant they want to use. It’s an elegant, attractive interface and makes the design variants plainly visible on the Ribbon. Super Themes also allow the inclusion of size variants, so that resizing a deck doesn’t distort the logos.
Brandwares now creates custom Super Themes, so we can make these for you. However, the technique is tricky, so if you’re an independent designer without the budget for professional assistance, you’ll have to find another way. Fortunately, there are other methods to add multiple color themes.
Multiple Color Themes: Hacking XML
This technique works to add multiple color themes to PowerPoint. You can also add them to Word and Excel files, but those programs won’t show them in the user interface. These extra color themes will travel with a theme saved from such a Word or Excel file, but you already knew that PowerPoint is the program to use for creating theme files. To hack the XML, start by reading XML Hacking: An Introduction. If you’re using a Mac, you should also read XML Hacking: Editing in OS X.
Now, expand your Office file to see the XML. Open the ppt folder, then open the theme folder inside that. PowerPoint saves every theme that’s ever been applied to the presentation, starting with theme1.xml, so you’ll have to check the theme name in each variant to get the right one. If you’re trying this with Word or Excel, look in word\theme or xl\theme respectively, where you will find only one theme1.xml file.
Format the XML to be readable, then go right to the bottom of the listing, where you’ll find the self-closing stub called <a:extraClrSchemeLst/>. First, open up the stub:
The syntax is exactly the same as for the clrScheme listing that every theme includes as its main color theme, so you can simply copy and paste the whole block of XML. The theme file can hold any number of extra color schemes. When you are using the final file, you can change the theme colors by choosing View>Slide Master>Colors in PowerPoint (actual menu names change in different versions of Office).
Clicking on the Colors dropdown shows the extra color themes.
When you choose a new color theme, all elements keyed to the color theme will change throughout the presentation.
Multiple Color Themes: Multiple Masters (PowerPoint only)
For Word and Excel, a document can have only one color theme applied at a time, and that theme affects all pages in the file. PowerPoint allows more flexibility, since it can have multiple master slides and each of those master slides has its own color theme. This means that different parts of a PowerPoint file can have different color themes. This is often used to color-code different sections of a presentation.
In its most basic form, this is the simplest technique. No XML hacking required:
In PowerPoint, choose View>Slide Master to view the masters.
Right-click on the Slide Master (the larger slide at the top of the left-hand display) and choose Duplicate Slide Master. The new master is added below the slide layouts for the first master. (In Windows versions, right-click and check that each Master has the Preserve Master attribute checked, or they’ll vanish later.)
Select the new master, then choose Color>Customize Colors.
Revise the color theme, or apply a color theme you created earlier. OK out.
Repeat the steps above for each different color theme you need to include. In the program interface, the user will see a group of slide layouts for each slide master. Here is a presentation where only one colors changes in each color theme:
While this is the simplest method to use, it’s not self-evident to all users that you change color themes by choosing a different set of slide layouts. So you’ll probably have to include at least an explanatory note with the template when you distribute it. But what if you want a premium solution for a high-end client? Read on…
Multiple Color Themes: XML Hacked Multiple Masters (PowerPoint only)
A solution that is simpler to use is to combine techniques 2 and 3. Create multiple masters, each with a different color theme. This will create a theme#.xml file in ppt/theme. Open all the theme#.xml file and copy the clrScheme for each to an extraClrScheme tag in all the others. So if you have 3 masters and color themes, copy the clrScheme tag for theme1.xml to an extraClrScheme tag in theme2.xml and theme3.xml. Then copy the clrScheme from theme2.xml to extraClrScheme tags in theme1.xml and theme3.xml.
The result is that it doesn’t matter so much which master you choose, you can change the color theme later. Of course, changing the color theme affects all slides based on the same master. This is an easy-to-use method for providing presentation with sections in different colors.
My thanks to Timothy Rylatt for his assistance with fact checking and corrections in this article.
Locking graphics in Office documents must be #1 on most designers’ wish lists, judging by the number of requests we get. While Word and Excel already do a fairly good job of this, PowerPoint remains wide open. If you can see it, you can move, resize or delete it. Placing items on the Slide Master or Layouts helps, but this is minimal protection against a savvy user. Your users love to be “creative”, so how can we protect the brand from their enthusiasm?
Fortunately, it’s possible to provide protection for important logos and maintain slide layout integrity by editing the template XML. But this power comes with a responsibility to design the protection carefully. It can be a very thin line between a deck that is protected and one that is unusable. If you decide to protect your presentation, it is incumbent on you to test it repeatedly to ensure your users can still get work done with it.
Locking takes place mostly in the Slide Master and Layouts. A minimal approach is best, as each additional locked item will create more feedback from your users with the potential to increase tech support costs. On the Slide Master, you will probably only lock a company logo.
Locking Graphics: Logos
Start by placing a logo on the Slide Master. Of course, you’re not using a JPEG file, because you already know that’s the worst format for line art. If you still think JPEGs are the best, please read JPEG Logos? Fail! and Logo Production Secrets. After the logo is in place, expand the presentation to view the XML. Open ppt\slideMasters\slideMaster1.xml. All the placeholder coding comes first, so scroll down about halfway until you see XML that looks like this:
Test this out by re-zipping the files and opening in PowerPoint. Try to select the logo. noSelect=”1″ has the effect of making it unselectable, so the user can’t do anything creative with it, even if they open the master.
Locking Graphics: Shapes
Different graphic objects use a slightly different syntax. The noSelect=”1″ parameter remains the same, but you have to expand a tag and add a new line to include it. For all AutoShapes except lines, the default XML will resemble the following:
Placeholders are the boxes on slide layouts that can hold different types of content. The layouts are found in ppt\slideLayouts. They are numbered in the order that they appear in the left-hand list of layouts in Slide Master view. By default slideLayout1.xml is the Title slide. The XML tag is <p:sp> instead of <p:pic>, but otherwise the syntax is the same for locking. Placeholders do not inherit the lock parameters, so locking a placeholder on the master doesn’t affect the layouts and locked placeholders on the layouts have no effect on the slide placeholders.
You can see what other parameters are possible for the spLocks tag at Datypic’s a:spLocks page. There are options here to prevent grouping the image, rotating, moving or resizing it, changing it’s aspect ratio and several other less useful options. Let’s use some of the other parameters to lock down the shape. Here is the start of a Title placeholder:
Don’t expect that slides based on this will still have unmoveable placeholders. The lock parameters are not included when a slide is created from a layout. This locking ensures only that the layout remains the same, so when a slide is reset, it will always return to the correct format.
If the placeholders must remain in place on the slides, then you must first create the slide, then edit the XML before distributing the deck. For this, look in ppt/slides. The files are numbered in the order they appear in the presentation, so slide1.xml is usually the title. Here is the XML for a locked title placeholder.The noRot parameter prevents rotation:
When the user clicks on this, all the adjustment handles have a diagonal through them and the user is unable to change the shape size or position:
By default, placeholders cannot be grouped with other objects. If you wish to allow this, simply remove the noGrp=”1″ parameter.
Locking Graphics: Other Objects
By default, the picture and placeholders already include a p:locks or sp:locks tag, which is where we add the locking information. But what if you insert a text box on a layout for a legal disclaimer and want to make it ineditable? The text box XML initially looks like this:
To lock this, we need to expand the <p:cNvSpPr txBox=”1″/> tag. In case it’s not obvious, to expand a closed tag, you must first delete the slash at the end that closes it. Then you create a new closing tag and put the <a:spLocks>> information between the two. The noTextEdit parameter means the text can’t be edited. Even if a clever user gets to the slide layout, they can’t change the text, though the shape is still moveable.
After a few months of practical testing, some real-life limitations on shape locking have become evident. Adding the noChangeAspect=”1″ has the same effect as checking the Lock aspect ratio option on the Size pane of the Format Shape dialog. But just as when you check this option manually, clicking on the shape and dragging the adjust handles will still distort the shape. On top of this, I found this page on MSDN: 2.1.1255 Part 4 Section 18.104.22.168.34, spLocks (Shape Locks). The pages states that “Office ignores attributes noChangeArrowheads and noRot when applied to a shape. PowerPoint additionally ignores the attribute noAdjustHandles when applied to a shape and noChangeShapeType when the converting the shape to a freeform.” So a user can circumvent noChangeAspect by dragging on the handles and you can’t prevent the handles from displaying either. Office simply doesn’t implement Microsoft’s own spec completely. There’s nothing you can do about this. It should be noted, that the accuracy of Microsoft’s information is not the best. Their statement that Office ignores noRot=”1″ when applied to a shape is not true, you can successfully prevent rotation with this parameter. You really have to test everything to really know what works and what doesn’t.
Locking Graphics: The Designer’s Responsibility
Powerful? Yes. But with power comes responsibility. Company presentation templates need to be revised, but after you lock items in XML, those shapes can no longer be revised through the program interface. So it’s essential that if you use these techniques, that you document your changes when you send the file to your users. Using these methods secretly to get repeat business from captive clients is dishonest and is definitely not a best practice.
Font themes are one of the simpler theme elements in Open Office XML, but for some baffling reason, Mac Office users can’t create one. It’s odd enough that the only Mac program that can create a color theme is PowerPoint, but even it can’t provide an escape from Calibri and Arial! So I’m going to show you how to do it on your own.
Let’s start with a dead-simple font theme. Here’s the minimal file that Office will read:
You can create this in any text editor, including TextEdit in plain text mode (don’t try this with an rtf file). However, by default TextEdit will change the necessary straight quotes to smart quotes, producing a file that Office will not recognize. If you’re using TextEdit, make sure you visit both TextEdit>Preferences and Edit>Substitutions and turn off Smart Quotes in both locations. A better alternative is the free version of BBEdit. When you visit this link, click on the Download link to get the free version. If you do any significant amount of XML editing, the paid version of BBEdit is well worth the $50 price tag.
Now that you’re set up to edit, copy and paste the font theme file. The <a:latin> tag is the standard font for your theme. <a:majorFont> is for headings and <a:minorFont> for text. Fill in <a:ea> with a font that supports Chinese or Japanese (ea stands for East Asian), if you want to support those languages. The <a:cs> tag stands for complex scripts: Arabic, Thai, Hebrew and many more. For more detail on non-European language support in font themes, please see my article XML Hacking: Font Themes Complete. Or you can just leave those tags blank if you have a predictable user base that won’t require them.
A common mistake is to get too specific with the font name in font themes. The name is only the base font name as displayed in Powerpoint’s font menu. “Open Sans” will work, but “Open Sans Extrabold” will cause Word 2011 to display a blank space where the font theme should be, while Word 2016 will simply ignore the entire file.
Save the file as a text file with a .xml ending and give it the name you want to appear in the user interface. “Brandwares.xml” will appear in the Font Theme menu as Brandwares.
For Office 2016, save this file to Users/YourUserName/Library/Group Containers/UBF8T346G9.Office/User Content/Themes/Theme Fonts. For Office 2011, save it to Users/YourUserName/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Office/User Templates/My Themes/Theme Fonts. In current versions of OS X, the user Library is hidden by default. To open it, hold down the Alt key, while clicking on the Go menu and choosing Library.
Once it’s correctly installed, it will show in PowerPoint’s Slide Master view under the Fonts dropdown. A new Custom group will appear at the top of the list, with your font theme in it. Once you apply it and a color theme to a presentation, you can save as a theme file and distribute that to your users, it will contain the font theme you just created. Happy hacking!
Font Themes – An Alternate Method
March 2017 edit: If you have any problems creating a font theme from scratch, here’s a workaround. Open an existing font theme that come with Office and edit the font names to the ones you want to use. These files are the verbose style discussed in this article: XML Hacking: Font Themes Complete. For most uses, you only need to set the a:latin font in the a:majorfont and a:minorfont sections. Here’s where you can find the Microsoft Font Themes:
Office 2011 for Mac – Open Applications/Microsoft Office 2011/Office/Media/Office Themes/Theme Fonts and copy any of the XML files.
Office 2016 for Mac – Open Applications, then right-click on Microsoft PowerPoint and choose Show Package Contents. Open Contents/Resources/Office Themes/Theme Colors and copy any of the XML files in there.
Here are the locations for 32-bit versions of Windows. If you’re using a 64-bit version of Windows, check the same path inside C:\Program Files (x86).
Office 2007 for Windows – Open C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Document Themes 12\Theme Fonts.
Office 2010 for Windows – Open C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Document Themes 14\Theme Fonts.
Office 2013 for Windows – Open C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\root\Document Themes 15\Theme Fonts.
Office 2016 for Windows – Open C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\root\Document Themes 16\Theme Fonts.
Custom Table Styles are probably one of the more detailed hacks you’ll have to write. See the constructions details in my previous post. Besides the basic table format, there are 6 optional format layers you need to at least consider. In a minimal table style, you’ll need to include at least the Header Row, First Column and Banded Rows. Most users will expect to see these options. Total Rows, Last Columns and Banded Columns are less requested, you only need to include them if a design or client specifically requires them.
Let’s take a look at how our work appears in the PowerPoint interface. First, we’ll insert a plain vanilla table. By default this takes on colors and fonts from the current PowerPoint theme:
Next, we choose the Table Tools>Design tab, open the Table Styles gallery. Up at the top a new Custom section has appeared with our new custom table style:
Select the custom table style and the default table changes to match our design. This screen shot has all formatting options turned off, so effectively we are seeing the Whole Table formatting only.
Options: Banded Rows and Header
Using the options panel in the upper left corner, we can add some of optional formatting layers we created in XML. First, let’s turn on banded rows. If you remember, we only formatted odd-numbered rows, so the banding only changes rows 1 and 3 in our example:
Next, we’ll leave banded rows on and also add the Header row. This row doesn’t count as part of the table body, so the banding moves down 1 row:
Options: First and Last Columns
Next, we’ll turn off banded rows, leave the Header as is and add the first column:
Here’s the table with First and Last Columns checked:
Options: Header and Total
And finally, Header and Total Rows:
As you can see, with some pre-planning, one table style can cover quite a few related table looks. The layer options for different features make the table useful for many different purposes and the options panel makes it fast and easy for users to try different combinations. This feature is a major advance over tables in PowerPoint 2003 and earlier, which were quite crude by comparison.Table styles work the same way in Word, PowerPoint and Excel. While Word and Excel include table style editors in their interface, PowerPoint needs to be hacked to create them. Happy hacking!
Of course, if the process is too complex, we’re here to help. The current price on a custom table style is $120. Just email me firstname.lastname@example.org