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.
Deleting layouts isn’t so much of a sin. The Two Content and Comparison layouts are mostly redundant, your client may need one or the other, but not both. The Content with Caption and Picture with Caption layouts are fairly useless in their default form, but they’re worth reformatting if your client’s content requires something similar. Someone connected with Microsoft told me that the last 2 layouts with rotated text (Title and Vertical Text and Vertical Title and Text) were intended for use with Asian languages. Could be, so I 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!
Custom Slide Layouts
I assumed everyone already knew this, but 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.
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!
My last post began the subject of styled text boxes. There I covered the parameters contained in the first line of each level definition. Today’s entry continues by introducing the XML elements inside the level definition that format text. As a reminder, a level definition is the equivalent of a PowerPoint style. Since a text box can have up to 9 text levels, we can format 9 unique styles.
Styled Text Boxes – Enclosed Parameters
I’m using the phrase Enclosed Parameters to indicate elements that are within an a:lvl#pPr level definition, as opposed to the first line values covered in my last post. Here is a super simple level with only 2 enclosed parameters, shown in bold:
In order, this block sets line spacing of 125% (or leading, for the designers), 12 points of space before and space after of 5 points. Finally, three left-aligned tabs are set. The units are EMUs, so these tabs are spaced 1/2″ apart.
Enclosed Parameters – Bullets
Out of 16 possible enclosed parameters, 11 are for bullet formatting. Creating bullets by editing XML is an exercise in frustration. It’s far easier to create bullets using the program interface and then transfer that XML to the p:defaultTextStyle section of presentation.xml.
Sure, you could do all of the above in a text editor, if you wanted to prove your coding prowess. But time is short and there’s a faster way to get this job done using PowerPoint’s program interface. This leverages the fact that the structure for list level text is exactly the same for p:titleStyle, p:bodyStyle and p:otherStyle as used in slideMaster1.xml, p:txBody, used in many slide layouts, and p:defaultTextStyle as seen in presentation.xml.
My preferred method is to start by making a copy of the Content with Caption slide layout, then deleting the title and content placeholder, leaving only a text placeholder preformatted with small text. Then I make 9 levels of text and format each to match a design or client specs for what the text box styles should look like. Do all your bullet formatting here. Save the file and exit PowerPoint.
Now expand the file and look in ppt/slideLayouts. The Content and Caption layout is usually slideLayout8.xml. If you duped it as suggested, open slideLayout9.xml and format the code to be humanly readable. Just below <a:lstStyle> are 9 level definitions with all the formatting you created in the program interface. Each level starts with <a:lvlXpPr where X is the level number. Copy all 9 level definitions, but not the starting <a:lstStyle> or closing </a:lstStyle> tags.
Now open ppt/presentation.xml, select all 9 level definitions (starting just below </a:defPPr>) and paste in the 9 levels from slideLayout9.xml. Save the file, zip everything back into a presentation. Each inserted text box should now have up 9 levels of styles that match the formatting you created on the duplicated layout. Delete the extra layout and you’re done.
Styled Text Boxes – What about the Font?
If you’ve tried these steps out, you might notice one glaring omission in the XML. When you format a slide layout and copy the XML, there is no font information in the level definitions. This is because the layout gets its font info from the slide master. There are 2 ways to fix this:
If all levels the text box are in the same font, open the presentation, create a text box, set the font, right-click on the text box and choose Set as Default Text Box.
This action fills an objectDefaults stub at the bottom of ppt/theme/theme1.xml. It looks something like this:
In this case typeface=”+mn-lt” sets the text box font to the Minor (hence mn) or Body theme font. The Heading theme font would appear as +mj-lt.
If there are different fonts for different levels, apply those fonts when formatting the duplicate slide layout.
Interesting fact: If a level is set by default to a theme font, clicking on the font dropdown and re-selecting the same theme font breaks the font inheritance from the slide master and specifies the theme font in the layout instead. Here’s the default XML from the layout level 1 again:
I believe this hack vastly increases the utility of the text box. In effect, it becomes a text placeholder that a user can easily add to any slide. Accessing the styles works exactly the same as a text placeholder. Use the Increase List Level button (Indent More on a Mac) to move through the levels.
Here’s a visual comparison of a text placeholder and a styled text box:
Styled Text Boxes – Other Issues
I’ve run across a couple of minor problems that you will need to keep in mind.
Picture bullets aren’t going to work. These require building an XML relationship to the bullet image stored in the file, which is very hard to do manually. Don’t bother.
Similar to the theme font issue mentioned above, default paragraph spacing in the layout is inherited from the slide master. This means your text box paragraphs will be missing any space before or after that displays in the layout. To fix this, set the paragraph spacing for each level in the layout. It doesn’t have to change, but you still have to set it to include the spacing in the layout XML.
As always, I welcome your questions, feedback and suggestions. Keep hacking!
PowerPoint’s text boxes could really use styles. But wait: they already do! Text boxes styles are built right into the file format, but there is no access to them thorough the program interface. Formatting text boxes using PowerPoint’s user interface is primitive compared to the styling that can be applied to placeholders in PowerPoint. There is no master where you can format text box defaults. The program interface only allows you to set one style, then right-click and choose Set as Default Textbox. And even this default disappears if you click on the Clear All Formatting button (Home>Font group, look for the icon with an eraser over 1 or 2 letters).
Text Box Styles XML
First, let’s clarify our terminology. Text styles in PowerPoint don’t work like any other program, because there’s no Style menu to apply to selected text. Instead, there are levels that you get to by clicking on the Increase List Level (Windows) or Indent More (Mac) buttons. Each level can have a different style.
Fortunately, with some judicious XML editing, you can create 9 preformatted levels of text for your text boxes. They can become nearly the equivalent of a text placeholder that you can add to any slide. This formatting includes line spacing, bullets, indentation, alignments and many other parameters, so this will have to be a 2-part article.
These text box styles will be saved in a theme, so they can be used in other presentations. However, if the theme is applied to Word or Excel, those programs ignore the custom styles and use their standard single-style text boxes. I guess we could expect that when all these settings are storing in a component called presentation.xml. If you’re new to this subject, read XML Hacking: An Introduction. If you’re using a Mac, you should also read XML Hacking: Editing in OS X.
The XML component that contains the text box text levels is ppt/presentation.xml. This component also contains presentation parameters like slide size, slide master ID and a list of slide IDs for all slides in the deck. Below those items is a tag called <p:defaultTextStyle> that contains 9 levels of text formatting. This structure is nearly identical to the text formatting used for default table text, covered in this article: XML Hacking: Default Table Text
Each of the text levels is identical except of a single digit in the name tag, so we can extract one level for an example that will work for all levels. When this is set up, you’ll be able to insert a text box, then click on the Increase List Level button (called Indent More in OS X) to move between styles, just like a text placeholder. Here’s a sample default level:
This contains 2 different sections: the first line with a string of parameters, plus the list of additional parameters on separate lines below. It’s important to create the right data in the correct location, so for this article, I’m only going to cover the first line.
Text Box Style First Line Parameters
From left to right, the default parameters are:
marL – Sets the left margin for that text level in EMUs. 914,400 EMUs equal 1 inch, while 360,000 EMUs equal 1 centimeter.
algn – Horizontal alignment. A value of l means left aligned. You can also use r for right aligned, ctr for center aligned, just for justified text and dist, which distributes text evenly across the line width, kind of like an extreme form of justification.
defTabSz – Default tab size, again in EMUs.
rtl – Is the language right to left? 0 means no.
eaLnBrk – East Asian Line Break: East Asian languages have rules about where a line break occurs. The 1 value turns this attribute on. A 0 breaks the line wherever needed, without consulting the rules.
latinLnBrk – Similar to the eaLnBreak, a 0 will not break the line without a hyphen, a 1 will break the line wherevere needed without a hyphen.
hangingPunct – Online documentation for this is poor and I couldn’t detect any difference in setting this to 0 or 1. I’ll post an edit when I figure out what this does.
Those are the defaults. Then there are several optional parameters that you can add manually:
marR – You can set the right margin of text, in EMUs.
indent – Set the first line indent of each paragraph, in EMUs.
fontAlgn – Vertical alignment. Acceptable values include auto and which both set text on the font baseline, which is the default. You can also use b to align with the bottom of the descenders (like the bottom of a g or y), t to align with the ascenders or c to center text vertically.
lvl – Determines the numbering level for this text level, independent of the level’s position in the hierarchy of text box styles.
The picture below illustrates 5 levels of formatting in a text box. There is no local formatting applied, all I did was type the text and click on the Increase Indent button to move between levels, exactly as with a text placeholder.
5 levels of text box text formatted with only the first line <a:lvl#pPr> tag.
Recently I was creating a white paper template in Word for a client and needed to insert some custom Picture Content Controls for photos that would be inserted by users. The designer had specced round-cornered pictures, but Picture Content Controls (PCC) have square corners. It didn’t take long to figure out that after selecting the PCC, I could choose the Picture Tools>Format tab of the Ribbon, then apply a Picture Style. I chose the rounded corners with reflection (fifth icon over in Word 2010), then removed the reflection.
Now I had rounded corners, but also another problem. Word keeps the corner radius in proportion to the box size, so resizing the PCC up to the right size made the radius much larger than the design. Unlike AutoShapes, Content Controls will not display a yellow radius handle to adjust the radius. I also tried resizing the PCC before applying the Picture Style, but got the same big corners.
A Picture Content Control with default corner radius.
Custom Picture Content Controls XML
When I’m stuck, I crack open the XML. Can’t leave it alone! If you’ve never opened Office files to edit their XML, read XML Hacking: An Introduction. If you’re using a Mac, you should also read XML Hacking: Editing in OS X. All document content is in word\document.xml, so I opened it and started searching. In some respects, a PCC is handled like an ordinary picture, so I found it inside a <w:drawing> tag. The information I was looking for was in this subsection:
When I spotted the line <a:prstGeom prst=”roundRect”>, i was pretty sure that’s what I was looking for. But inside that tag, there were only 2 parameters. I went for the fmla tag and change the value from “val 8594” to “val 4000”. Because I’m experimenting, I make only 1 change, then zip the XML to test. If you make several changes and the file doesn’t open, it can take a long time to find the error.
I reopened the Word file. Success! The corner radii were about half the size. Then I just had to try several values until I found one that match the designer’s intent. Keep in mind that the fmla value is not setting any particular radius size, it’s setting the ratio of the curve to the size of the picture. So you should make the placeholders the correct size first, then try out fmla values to get the radius you want at those dimensions.
You don’t always get lucky with parameters. A few lines down I spied another setting that looked like it could be useful. While you can set the PCC border in the program interface, you can’t set the fill color. However, in the XML, I saw these tags:
Unfortunately, changing these values had no effect on the color of the Content Control. So what do these tags do? Search me, maybe someone at Microsoft knows. But I was happy to be able to set the radii to my preference. Here’s the final result:
A custom Picture Content Control with smaller corner radii.
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 188.8.131.52.34, 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.
In my last post, I translated the classic method of outline numbering for OS X. But Shauna Kelly’s original steps have an element of personal preference them. We can also get reliable results from outline numbering variations.
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.
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.
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 OS X.
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. A future post will show some optional 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.
Outline Numbering in Word for OS X – The Classic Method
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)
Click on the Modify… button.
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.
Select Heading 2, click on Modify… and change Style based on: to Heading 1. OK out.
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
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
In the Define New List Style dialog, give your style a plural name like Headings or Numberings, since this will apply to several styles.
Click on the Format button and choose Numbering…
Set the style name and click on Format>Numbering (Left: 2011 Right: 2016).
Now the Bullets and Numbering dialog opens, an extra step that doesn’t happen in Word for Windows. Click on the Customize button.
Link a Paragraph Style to a List Style
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):
Top: Word 2011 Bottom: Word 2016 for Mac
Now we start a sequence that will be repeated for all the outline levels to be formatted. First we attached the paragraph style to the list style. Start by selecting 1 in the Level list.
Now select Heading 1 in the Link level to style dropdown:
Top: Word 2011 Bottom: Word 2016 for Mac
Set the Numbering for the Style
In the Enter formatting for number: field, you can 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.
Using the Number style for this level: dropdown, choose the number appearance. A number appears in the Enter formatting for number: field.
Add any punctuation or symbol that is to follow the number.
Repeat for All Levels
Repeat the steps above for all levels to be formatted. Select 2 from the Level list, Heading 2 from the Link level to style: dropdown, enter text and select a number style.
On lower levels, you often want to include numbering from a higher level, so level 2 may appear as 1.1. You can do this by clicking in the Enter formatting for number: box where you want the previous level to appear, then choosing a level from the Include level number from dropdown. 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.
Set the Indentation for all Styles
Set the number position, tab and indent for each level. 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.
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 bug that makes it impossible to edit an existing List Style.
In the Quick Style Gallery, right-click on Heading 1 and choose Modify Style.
Click on the Format button and choose Numbering. The Bullets and Numbering dialog opens to the List Styles tab, where you can’t modify, add or delete anything: the buttons are permanently disabled. Serious bug!
Click on the Outline Numbered tab. None is highlighted, which is not helpful. Examine the tiles carefully, you have to choose the correct one. Click on it and then 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.
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.
Word bug: the plus, minus and Modify buttons are permanently disabled.
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. Since you can’t edit this, pre-planning is crucial!
I’ll admit right off the bat, graduated color table borders is a trick you might need only once every ten years. But it’s a good illustration of the little touches you can add with XML Hacking that you just can’t do any other way. If you’re unfamiliar with XML hacking, please read XML Hacking: An Introduction. If you’re using a Mac, you should also read XML Hacking: Editing in OS X.
I was working on a presentation for a designer and the theme used graduated color rules. Most of the layout only need a rule below the title, which was simple to do with user interface. But then the designer included a slide that clearly needed to be a table and that table had the same graduated colors used as horizontal borders. At first, I informed him this wasn’t possible, but as I researched the issue, I found there was a way.
The answer was in a 10-year-old blog post by Mike Fried. Back then Mike was one of the engineers creating Office 2007 and his 2 posts on PowerPoint table styles have lots of good information. Toward the bottom of the article, he included garish graduated color table borders. It was enough to crack the code.
As an aside, I’d like to mention that you can find out the details on any Open Office XML parameter by Googling it. There is extensive documentation on the web, even though some of it is terse database excerpts. The essential command for a gradient line is a:gs. The GS stands for Gradient Stop, the points on the line that define where a particular color appears in the graduated line.
Googling ooxml a:gs gets you the Datypic site that lists elements and attributes, but explains almost nothing about them. However, this site can be useful because all XML elements are hyperlinked, so you can quickly find related parameters.
Further down the page is the openofficexml.com page on a:gs. This site has relatively verbose explanations of the element, a clear example of useage and definitions of the elements included in the xml object. March 2017 edit: The OpenOfficeXML site is down. You can still access it at the Internet Wayback Machine.
Finally, many searches will turn up links to the Microsoft MSDN developer pages about Open Office XML. These discuss Themes and XML in a more conversational style that is great for picking up the overall concepts. Occasionally, you’ll also find a valuable blog post, such as Lars Corneliussen’s explanation of Open Office measurements units.
Graduated Color Rules
But back to graduated color table borders! First, let’s look at a graduated color rule, which you can create using the program interface. Here is the dialog box showing the settings. The central point of the gradient has been shifted to the left to have more solid color on the right side and a rapid dropoff to white on the left:
Here’s how the rule looks:
When we examine the XML for this rule, it looks like this:
The pos (position) parameter is a percentage of rule length, with 100000 representing 100 percent. The colors are straightforward, with bg1 being the white background and accent1 the cyan. For the midway color value, I used the handy RGB Tint Calculator on this site, but then moved that value to the 25% mark.
Graduated Color Table Borders
The XML for a rule translates exactly to the XML for a table style. Here is the style for the top border, the same XML is applied to the inside border so that all interior rows show the same rule:
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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 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.
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:
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”.
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!
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:
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.
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!