Search Engine Expertise – Best Practices

I don’t actually know much, but I have search engine expertise. I’ve answered thousands of question for users on various online fora, and I’m constantly amazed by the vast number of queries that could be answered by a simple Google search. My takeaway is that people just don’t know how to use search engines to their best advantage.

Search Engine Expertise – The Mandatory Word

When a search must include a particular word or phrase, put it in double quotes, if you’re using Google. For Bing and most other engines, add a plus sign before. Here’s a search that must include Word in the results:

Google - "Word" VBA typestyle
Bing and others - +Word VBA typestyle

Search Engine Expertise – The Excluded Word

You’re looking for Word VBA information, but you get pages of useless Excel stuff. For all search engines, add a minus sign before the word you don’t want:

VBA -Excel tables

Search Engine Expertise – The Special Site

You know that you saw an answer on a particular web site, but it was a long time ago and you can’t remember where. Type your search terms, then type site:, then the site URL. No space between site: and the URL:

"edit mode of header/footer" site:answers.microsoft.com

Searching Phrases Instead of Words

Put the phrase between double quotes. The following shows results about the top of the page that don’t refer to the header and footer:

Word top part of page -"header and footer"

A Practical Example

Do you use Office for Mac? It’s hard to find relevant information, since the Mac version is still quite different from Office for Windows. Just add “for Mac” to your search terms and watch as hundreds of pages of useless Windows pages disappear. This can save you hours of time!

Using just these 4 tips, you’ll find relevant information much more quickly. You may have even more specific requirements. Check out the Advanced Search page for your preferred engine, you may find some techniques that will make your day more efficient:

Google Advanced Search

Bing Advanced Search

Multiple Slide Masters: Beware! – Best Practices

One of my areas of expertise is to do presentation assessments for designers, finding any potential problems in their work before sending their file to their client. Something I see fairly often is multiple slide masters in a template or theme, where they are used as an organizational tool. Typically, one master will be for title slides, another for section headers, and so on. This is a poor practice, but it goes on because designers never have to actually use the files they create. If they did, the problem would soon become evident. Here’s a typical example:

Three Slide Masters


Multiple Slide Masters – How They Work

If I asked you “How does PowerPoint know which slide master to use when there is more than one?”, what would your answer be?

Well, I’ve done the research, so I can let you know. When you paste slides into a presentation, PowerPoint looks at the slide immediately preceding the paste position and uses the slide master for that slide. If there are no slides in the presentation, then PowerPoint uses the first slide master. This has major consequences for the format of the pasted slides. If the slide master of the preceding slide has only title layouts, only the pasted title slides will find their rightful layout. All the rest of the slides will bring their old layout with them. So now the slide master for titles has a whole bunch of non-title layouts. Oops. So much for your organizational scheme. Following are the original slides, followed by what they look like when pasted after slides based on different masters:

4 slides based on 3 slide masters
4 slides from 3 masters
Pasted after slide based on first master
Pasted after first slide
Pasted after slide based on second master
Pasted after second slide
Pasted after slide based on third master
Pasted after third slide

If the pasted slides are from legacy presentations, where the intention was to update them to the new look, you get a total fail. Not only do they not update, they’ve ruined the new deck with added old layouts. The next time the user adds a new slide and tries to find a layout in that slide master, they get a psychedelic soup of designs.

But wait! It gets worse! For some bizarre reason, designers have a bad habit of deleting all the placeholders on the slide master, then building the design in the layouts. Ouch! The placeholders on the slide master are parents to the child placeholders on the layouts. They are the source for font and paragraph formatting in layout placeholders, as well as the default placeholder positioning. When you paste slides so they use that blank slide master, formatting goes haywire. The slide layouts that get imported with the pasted slide have no source to tell them how to display content. PowerPoint makes a guess and always guesses wrong. Bold text becomes regular, font sizes changes, pictures disappear. It’s a nightmare, and one that designers just don’t understand, can’t explain to their clients, and have no idea how to fix.


A Better Approach

Just use a single slide master. In 99% of presentations, one slide master is all you need. That slide master should be formatted as closely as possible to look like a typical content slide. Then for layouts that have different formatting, right-click on the layout background and choose Format background. In the Format Background task pane, check the option for Hide background graphics. Then place the alternate graphics on that layout.

About the placeholders: keep them! Deleting the default placeholders does nothing helpful and can cause problems. If someone pastes a slide with a footer and your layout doesn’t have a footer placeholder, the footer text will reposition itself, often at the very left edge of the slide, because the content has been orphaned. If your design doesn’t include a footer, move the placeholder off the bottom of the layout! This makes a pasted footer simply disappear instead of looking goofy.


Multiple Slide Masters – When and How to Use Them

So far, there are only 2 uses I’ve found a genuine need for multiple slide masters. One is when a presentation requires multiple color themes. Some organizations have divisions that use code colors: a key color that is used only in that group. This situation was easier in PowerPoint 2003 and earlier, because you could easily apply different color schemes to groups of slides. Modern versions have only 1 color theme per slide master. If you change the color theme, all the slides change. Here’s how to handle that situation:

Under the slide master, create the complete set of layouts needed for the presentation. Set the code color in Accent 1 if it’s a predominant element of the client branding. If it’s a subtle design change, Accent 6 is better. Get the client to sign off, so the design is not going to need a lot of future revisions. Then copy and paste the slide master for each code color required. Finally, revise the color theme for each slide master, changing only the accent color. Following this method, every slide master has every layout. The worst that can happen is someone pastes in the wrong place and the code color is off. Easily fixed.

The other time you need multiple masters when a client has rolled out a new template, then realizes they need to handle legacy slides. Then you create a second slide master with layouts that match the new look but have a layout structure that is compatible with the old decks. At the beginning of the deck create 2 sample slides, one based on the new slide master and another based on the legacy slide master. Place a notice to the user just off the edge of the slide master for the first slide: “New slides only! Don’t paste old slides!” and on the second “Paste old slides here! No new ones!”. Then users are less likely to paste slides in the wrong spot and get weird results.

Text Effects? Don’t! – Best Practices

The Best Practice is to NOT use Text Effects in Office. Ever.

That could have been my shortest article ever, but I guess I should explain the reasons. I’m referring to the graduated fills and lines, the glows, reflections, shadows and 3-D effects you can add to text. In the past these effects have caused some problems with ordinary shapes, but with text, they’re a disaster.

Text Effects: Bad in PDFS

Clearly, it’s not enough for most users that these effects are visually hideous. That just a natural result of the low value we assign to arts education. In many years of working with competent graphic artists, I’ve never been asked to create any template that uses these effects. Designers understand the need for restraint, users don’t. And so we get the appalling appearance of most Word and PowerPoint documents.

But the functional problem with these effects is how they affect PDFs created from Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Microsoft has no clue how to export true PostScript of the fancy effects. So they adopt a simplistic approach: flatten them to graphics. Unfortunately, this means the text vanishes, leaving behind only a pretty picture. Well, not even that. All kinds of PDF functions are impaired: Text to speech is impossible, accessibility goes right out the window, reimporting the PDF to Office is brain-dead.

I tested PDFs created in 3 ways: saving to PDF in Office, printing to Acrobat and printing to the Microsoft Print to PDF print driver that comes with Windows 10. When saving to PDF, all text with applied effects was flattened. When printing to either Acrobat or Microsoft Print to PDF, Gradient Fills, Gradient Lines and 3D Effects were flattened, while Shadows, Reflections and Glows remained as live text.

The moral is clear: when the client asks for Text Effects, just say NO!

Logos Over Photos – Best Practices

Back at the dawn of time, when PowerPoint was first being programmed, a fateful and incorrect decision was made. Placeholder content would always appear in front of static content, regardless of how placeholders and other content were stacked on the layout. This has led to countless bald designers, from them tearing out their hair because there’s no way to place logos over photos.


The Locked Graphics Workaround

One way to circumvent this design flaw is to place a picture placeholder on the layout as usual. Then create a sample slide from it. Place the logo over the photo and lock its position in the XML. Here’s my article on how to do that: OOXML Hacking: Locking Graphics. This allows the user to replace the photo while keeping the logo in front.

The disadvantage is that you can’t create a new slide from the layout. Instead, the user must copy and paste the sample slide to create another one.


The Background Picture Fill Workaround

If the photo is a full-screen photo, there’s another method. This time, don’t place a picture placeholder on the layout. Instead, just place the logo there. In use, the user right-clicks on the background and chooses Format Background. On the Format Background task pane, choose Picture or texture fill, then click on the File button and choose the background photo. The logo will stay on top.

The disadvantage to this technique is you have to include instructions to the end user, who may never have used a picture fill previously. My thanks to Jaakko Tuomivaara of Supergroup Studios in the UK for this tip.


The Holey Placeholder Workaround

For simple logos, or logos contained in a simple shape like a circle or square, create a logo-shaped hole in the placeholder. Here’s a Windows-only version.

  1. On the layout, create the picture placeholder.
  2. Insert the logo as an EMF vector file, then ungroup it twice, confirming with PowerPoint that you want to do this. This changes it from a placed picture to a set of vectors embedded on the layout.
  3. With the logo parts selected, hold the Shift key and click on the placeholder.
  4. Choose Drawing Tools Format>Merge Shapes>Subtract.
  5. Fill the background, or a shape placed behind the logo hole, with the logo color.

If the logo is in a shape, you can use similar steps on both Windows and macOS computers. Using Mac command names: Place the logo over the placeholder, then draw a Shape exactly the same size as the logo, placed over the logo precisely. Select the shape and the placeholder, then use Shape Format>Merge Shapes>Fragment, then delete the shape to reveal the logo-sized hole in the placeholder. For some reason, Merge Shapes>Subtract works differently on a Mac, deleting both the shape and the placeholder, but Fragment still get the job done. Thanks to Ute Simon for suggesting this method in the comments.

A variation on this that can be more detailed is to place a copy of the logo above the placeholder. Then, shape-by-shape, use the logo over the placeholder with the Combine variant of Merge Shapes to knock holes in the placeholder. Then add colored shapes below the placeholder to “fill” the holes. If you have compound shapes (like the letter O or A), you’ll have to release the compound shapes, then connect the inner shape with the outer one. Here’s what the end result looks like in Illustrator.

Outside line connected to inside to simulate a compound shape
De-compounded letter shapes

Logos Over Photos: The Placeholder Picture Fill Workaround

This works with any size photo, it doesn’t have to be full-frame like the previous hack. No copy and paste, no instructions required. I heard about this one from Joshua Finto (Make It So Studio in Austin, TX).

On the layout, insert a picture placeholder to hold the photo. Then add another placeholder on top, sized to exactly the same size as the logo. I use Online Image placeholders because they are rarely used, using a common placeholder type risks content being placed in it if you change layout types. Remove bullets, if there are any, and type a space character so no placeholder text appears.

In the Format Picture task pane, click on Picture or texture fill, then on the File button and fill the placeholder with the logo. Create a slide, place a photo and voila! The logo appears over top of the photo! After creating this, it’s wise to lock the placeholder in XML on that layout, to prevent distortion by the user playing with it. OOXML Hacking: Locking Graphics. EMF, SVG and transparent PNGs are all good logo formats for this application.

Microsoft maintains User Voice forums to collect feedback from users. I’ve created a suggestion there that the placeholder/shape stacking order on the layout should be respected on slides. Please add your vote here: Placeholders Should Not Pop to the Front. Perhaps we can persuade Microsoft to fix the mistake so we don’t need these time-wasting workarounds.

Thanks to my readers who have added some useful suggestions! Please read the comments for additional ideas and tips.

Shared Workgroup Templates – Best Practices

Groups of workers usually use the same templates. But it can be time-consuming to keep everyone updated when templates are installed separately on each desktop. Instead, you can implement shared workgroup templates with a feature already built into Office.


Shared Workgroup Templates – Multiple Uses

Every desktop version of Office, Mac and Windows, includes a Workgroup templates option that allows you to set a network share as a templates folder. Templates on this share are instantly available to all users, making updates and revisions a breeze. Automatically, everyone in the office is using the same version. As long as template names remain identical, then old Word documents automatically attach themselves to the new template.

While you can only set the Workgroup Templates location in Word, once you make the change there, it also applies to PowerPoint and Excel.

The Workgroup templates network share can serve more that just templates. With some additional subfolders, it can be a source for Document Themes, including custom SuperThemes, it can hold collection of Font and Color themes. These additional files don’t show in the File>New dialog. Theme files display under the Themes dropdown, theme colors under the Colors dropdown and theme fonts under the Fonts dropdown.


Shared Workgroup Templates – Setup

To set up shared workgroup templates, first create the network location and ensure it’s accessible to all in the office without a signin. Each computer should connect to the share automatically on restart, so users don’t have to remember to manually connect before creating a new document. Create subfolders with the following names for othe file types you want to support. Document Themes for themes, with subfolders for Theme Colors and Theme Fonts. All versions of Office expect exactly the same file structure.

If the office uses Group Policies to install and configure software, you can use that feature to add the Workgroup Template location to each user installation. If you’re using “sneakernet” for configuration, here’s how to do it manually. All Office suites use a setting in Word to set the location for all the other programs

Office 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019 for Windows

  1. In Word, choose File>Options>Advanced.
  2. Scroll down to the General section of Advanced and click on the File Locations… button.
  3. Select the Workgroup templates line, then click on the Modify button.
  4. In the dialog that opens, enter the path to the network share in the Folder name field, or use the window controls to navigate to the folder. Select the folder and click on OK. OK all the way out and close Word

Office 2007 for Windows

  1. In Word, click on the Office button, then on Word Options, then on Advanced..
  2. Scroll down to the General section of Advanced and click on the File Locations… button.
  3. Select the Workgroup templates line, then click on the Modify button.
  4. In the dialog that opens, enter the path to the network share in the Folder name field, or use the window controls to navigate to the folder. Select the folder and click on OK. OK all the way out and close Word.

Office 2003 and earlier for Windows

  1. In Word, choose Tools>Options and click on the File Locations tab.
  2. Select the Workgroup templates line, then click on the Modify button.
  3. In the dialog that opens, enter the path to the network share in the Folder name field, or use the window controls to navigate to the folder. Select the folder and click on OK. OK all the way out and close Word.

Office 2016 and 2019 for Mac

  1. In Word, choose Word>Preferences>File Locations.
  2. Select the Workgroup templates line, then click on the Modify button.
  3. In the dialog that opens, use the window controls to navigate to the folder. Select the folder and click on Open. OK out and close Word

Office 2011 and earlier for Mac

  1. In Word, choose Word>Preferences>File Locations.
  2. Select the Workgroup templates line, then click on the Modify button.
  3. In the dialog that opens, use the window controls to navigate to the folder. Select the folder and click on Choose. OK out and close Word

Shared Workgroup Templates in Use

Here’s how to access Workgroup templates in Office programs

Office 2016 and 2019 for Windows

  1. Choose File>New.
  2. Click on Custom.
  3. Click on Workgroup Templates, select a template, then click on Create.

Office 2013 for Windows

  1. Choose FILE>New.
  2. Click on SHARED.
  3. Click on a template.

Office 2010 for Windows

  1. Choose File>New>My Templates.
  2. On the Personal Templates tab, select a template, then click on OK. This tab also shows local templates on the user’s computer.

Office 2007 for Windows

  1. Click on the Office button, then on New.
  2. Click on My templates…
  3. Select the My Templates tab. Workgroup templates are displayed along with local templates in the same pane.

Office 2003 and earlier for Windows

  1. Click on File>New. The New Document pane opens at the side of the window.
  2. On the New Document pane, click on On my computer…
  3. Select a template from the General pane and click on OK. This pane shows a mix of local and workgroup templates.

Office 2016 and 2019 for Mac

  1. Choose File>New from Template…. The Document Gallery opens
  2. In the upper left corner, click on the Work link. This link only appears when you have a Workgroup Templates location set in Preferences.
  3. Select a template, then click on Create.

Office 2011 for Mac

  1. Choose File>New from Template. The Document Gallery opens.
  2. Click on Workgroup Templates in the left-hand TEMPLATES list..
  3. Select a template and click on Choose.

Office 2008 for Mac

  1. Choose File>Project Gallery. The Project Gallery opens.
  2. Click on My Templates in the left-hand Category list..
  3. Select a template and click on Open. This window will show a mix of Workgroup and local templates.

Shared Workgroup Templates – Shortcomings

In addition to templates and themes, a local templates folder also serves custom Chart and SmartArt templates. Neither of these formats is supported by Workgroup Templates, so those templates must still be installed locally on each user’s computer.

Legacy Slides – Best Practices

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

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


Legacy Slides – Everything You Know is Wrong

Despite the hyperbole of my headline borrowed from Firesign Theater (look it up, youngsters!), most designers create presentation templates 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 computers with Asian language input enabled in the operating system.
Mandatory default layouts (Asian-language-enabled system).
Legacy Slides Default Layouts

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

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

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

If a slide layout has been created by the user from the Insert Layout command, that layout will not have a type. Instead, the second line of the XML will include userDrawn=”1″

If you have deleted a default slide layout, you can restore it by creating a new blank presentation, then copying and pasting the layout under the slide master of the deck to be repaired. You can also restore a default layout by running this VBA:

Sub RestoreLayout()
  Dim oSl As Slide
  Count% = ActivePresentation.Slides.Count
  Set oSl = ActivePresentation.Slides.Add(Index:=(Count% + 1), Layout:=ppLayoutObject)
  oSl.Delete
  Set oSl = Nothing
End Sub

The example above restores a deleted Title and Content layout. Just change ppLayoutObject to the type you need from this list:

Layout Type VBA Parameter
Title Slide ppLayoutTitle
Title and Content ppLayoutObject
Section Header ppLayoutSectionHeader
Two Content ppLayoutTwoObjects
Comparison ppLayoutComparison
Title Only ppLayoutTitleOnly
Blank ppLayoutBlank
Content with Caption ppLayoutContentWithCaption
Picture with Caption ppLayoutPictureWithCaption
Title and Vertical Text ppLayoutVerticalText
Vertical Title and Text ppLayoutVerticalTitleAndText

Legacy Slides – What Actually Works

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

  • The slide layout name must be the same.
  • The slide layout type (as set in XML) must be the same. If you copy an existing Title Slide layout, it will retain the layout type. But if you delete all Title Slide layouts, then realize you made a mistake, you are hosed. It should be possible to recreate a layout with it’s XML type using VBA, I’ll post that when I code it.
  • 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.
  • For corresponding placeholders in the old and new layouts, the idx number must match. Title placeholders don’t have idx numbers, because there is only one of them on a slide at a time. The idx numbers tell PowerPoint which placeholder should receive information from a particular placeholder in the old layout. This allows you to have several of the same type of placeholder on a layout and still have PowerPoint map content correctly among them.

An additional wrinkle can appear if an embedded image is included, perhaps for a logo. Then the XML will include a line line this:

<a:blip r:embed="rId2">

rId numbers are used by the _rels file that corresponds with the layout to tell PowerPoint where to find the logo. If the rId number is wrong, PowerPoint will show an empty box with the text The picture could not be displayed. Of course, you could just replace the image if you see this error during file construction.

Static pictures, graphics, text boxes and shapes placed on the layout make no difference to layout mapping. Add them, remove them, they won’t stop PowerPoint finding the correct layout.

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

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

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

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

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

We have years of expertise in this area and can either assess your template for legacy slide compatibility or create a template or theme for you that will work seamlessly with your old files. We’re here to help! Contact me at production@brandwares.com.

The Flat Theme – Best Practices

Flat Theme Shape Styles

I’m writing an article or two about Office Effects Themes and how you can modify them. As an example, I created the Brandwares Flat Theme, which will be of use to designers as is. This theme file gets rid of the bulgy 3-D shapes, glows and hokey shadows of the standard Microsoft themes and relies only on tints, shades and outline variations. You can use this example in 2 ways: as a theme file that you can modify and send as your own, and as an Effects Theme file that can be installed in Office for Windows to provide access to flat shapes in all other themes.

Here you can download the Flat Theme. It’s also available on our Downloads page. After downloading, you can open it in PowerPoint, create new font and color themes, apply them, then resave as a new theme. The flat shapes will travel with the theme and be automatically applied to any deck that uses the theme. If you’re an Office for Mac user, you’ll have to create a font theme using this article: XML Hacking: Font Themes.


The Flat Theme – Specs

There are 7 variants in each row of the the Shape Styles dialog, each showing the dk1 color as a background plus the 6 Accent colors. The first 2 rows feature a 0.5pt outline on the shape in a darker variant of the accent color, with the first row showing a white shape background and the second row the relevant accent color.

The third row is the one I choose most of the time: a flat shape with no outline.

The fourth row has a 50% screened-back background color with black text.

The fills for the 5th and 6th rows are 2 progressively darker shades of the accent colors. The 5th row shows a 50% shade of the color, while the 6th is a two-layer multiplier fill with a 50% shade overlaying a 50% tint. I’ll explain these more in the articles to come.

Users of Office 2016 for Windows and for Mac will see an additional group of Presets below the theme shape styles. Except for the stroke weight in row 2, these fills are generated automatically by the program and cannot be modified by XML.


The Flat Theme – Installing as Effects Theme

You can also use the Flat Theme as a new effects theme in Windows versions of Excel, PowerPoint or Word (Office for Mac will display effects themes embedded in a theme or template, but there is no support in the program interface for applying a different effects theme). Then it will appear in the Theme Effects dropdown of Office for Windows along with the standard Microsoft themes. Here are the steps to do that:

  1. Download the Flat Theme from the link above and unzip it.
  2. Change the file name from BrandwaresFlatShapes.thmx to Flat.eftx. The first part of the name can be something other than Flat, but the ending must be .eftx. No other change to the theme file is needed.
  3. Close PowerPoint.
  4. Copy the file to the same folder as the Microsoft Theme Effects files:

32-bit PowerPoint 2007: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Document Themes 12\Theme Effects

64-bit PowerPoint 2007: C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Document Themes 12\Theme Effects

32-bit PowerPoint 2010: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Document Themes 14\Theme Effects

64-bit PowerPoint 2010: C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Document Themes 14\Theme Effects

32-bit PowerPoint 2013: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\root\Document Themes 15\Theme Effects

64-bit PowerPoint 2013: C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\root\Document Themes 15\Theme Effects

32-bit PowerPoint 2016 and 2019: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\root\Document Themes 16\Theme Effects

64-bit PowerPoint 2016 and 2019: C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\root\Document Themes 16\Theme Effects

With Office 2013 and 2016, there may not be a root folder, but then the Document Themes folder will be inside Microsoft Office, eliminating one level.

Restart PowerPoint and you’ll see a new addition to the Effects dropdown:

Using the Brandwares Flat Shapes theme as an Effects Theme
Flat Theme Chosen

Video Formats – Best Practices

It can be a bewildering subject, figuring out which video formats are going to work in a presentation. It’s doubly difficult when a presentation is designed on one computer, then played on another. I can’t count the number of seminars I’ve observed where the presenter is humming and hawing about the video: “Well it worked in rehearsal…” Even Microsoft’s web site has inaccurate information about choosing a video format, so what’s a user to do?

Fortunately, we’ve done lots of research and testing on the subject. I’m focusing here on the use of video in PowerPoint and Keynote presentations to find what works reliably. But I make one assumption: that you are using current versions of the software and operating system. In Windows, you should be on Windows 7 or better and be using Office 2010 or better. In macOS, I regard El Capitan (10.11) as a minimum, running at least Keynote 6 and/or Office 2016 for Mac. You may be able to get away with less, but the degree of uncertainty and need for testing goes up.


Video Formats – Containers

The main reason why there is so much confusion around video formats is that each video has at least 2 types of format. One is the Container format and is denoted by the file ending of the video. MP4, MPG and MOV are Container formats. Most people refer to the container format, but most can hold a variety of video and audio streams that be differently encoded. An analogy might be a Word document that can contain a variety of languages. A .docx file ending doesn’t tell you if it’s an English text!


Video Formats – Codecs

The second format is the encoding, referred to as the Codec (short for Compression/Decompression). H.264 or MPEG-2 are both video codecs, but there are also audio codecs like MP3 and AAC. To ensure a video plays reliably in any given context, you have to have both the right container and codec formats. This is the source of the common complaint “Well, I used an .MP4 file, but it didn’t work.” The codec was wrong.

It’s not such a big issue when all computers in a company are one operating system. If you’re only using Windows, slap in a WMV file, it will work. Usually. But when a company has mixed operating systems, or when you’re designing one one operating system for use on another, you have to be much more selective.

So here’s my recommendation: stick with MP4 for a container format with H.264 for a codec. It is supported by most software, plus HTML5. An MPG container with the MPEG-2 codec is also reliable for desktop software. Using either of these 2 format combinations, the video will play in Keynote or PowerPoint in macOS and PowerPoint in Windows. Always.

But how do you tell what codec is used in a given file? The MP4 or MPG file ending gives nothing away.


Video Formats – Finding the Codec

In macOS, open the video file in QuickTime Player, then choose Window>Show Movie Inspector. The video and audio codecs will display beside the Format heading. Here’s what you’ll see with a usable MP4 or MPG file:

macOS – MP4 + H.264
Video formats: MP4-H.264
macOS – MPG + MPEG-2
Video formats: MPG-MPEG-2

Windows users must install third-party software. You can use the VLC video player for this, but I prefer MediaInfo, which is focused on simply providing information. One note: MediaInfo shows the H.264 codec as AVC. These shots show the video format highlighted in yellow:

Windows – MP4 + H.264
Video formats: MP4-H.264
Windows – MPG + MPEG-2
Video formats: MPG-MPEG-2

Let’s hear what your experiences are with video in cross-platform presentations. Victories and horror-shows are both entertaining, I look forward to reading your comments.

Great Color Themes – Best Practices

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.

I’ve previously covered Font Themes and how to hack them, a necessary skill for macOS creators. Check out XML Hacking: Font Themes and XML Hacking: Font Themes Complete. In this post, I’m covering the inner workings of theming to show you how to create great color themes. I’ve touched on this subject previously in Office Charts: 6 Colors Maximum! For ideas on how to include more than one color theme in a template or presentation, please see XML Hacking: Color Themes


Great Color Themes: The Basics

When you create a color theme in PowerPoint, the color set is added to the theme1.xml file in your presentation and it’s saved on your computer. If you create a second color theme, that theme is also saved to your computer, but it replaces the first one in your deck. When you’re using the user interface, each Slide Master has only 1 theme at a time. So for more color themes, create more slide masters. If the color theme is for a special purpose, like differently-colored charts, the extra slide master might have only 1 slide layout. That’s less confusing for users.


Great Color Themes: Color Slot Functions

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.

Color Theme Editor

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:

Left to Right for Column Charts
Great Color Themes - Column Chart
Bottom to Top for Bar Charts
Great Color Themes - Bar Chart
First to Last for Line Charts
Great Color Themes - Line Chart
From 0 degrees (top dead center) clockwise for Pie Charts
Great Color Themes - Pie Chart

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:

Insert SmartArt: Is the text readable?
Smart Art Problem
Insert a chart: Does the preview look right?
Chart Preview Problem

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

Insert a table: Do the auto-generated variations contain many useless combinations?
Table Colors Problem

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.

Insert a chart in Excel: Does the chart background match the worksheet background?
Excel Insert Chart Problem

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.

Choosing Fonts for Office – Best Practices

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 – Fake News

Most of what you see on the internet comparing font formats is wrong. Almost all modern professional fonts are OpenType format. There is PostScript-flavor OpenType, favored by Adobe and ending with .OTF And there is TrueType-flavor OpenType, Microsoft’s choice, ending with .TTF. It’s the continued use of the .TTF file ending that has misled many into thinking that they’re old-fashioned TrueType fonts. They’re not.

To verify this in macOS, open FontBook and examine a font with a .TTF ending. Make sure choose View>Show Font Info. Now look at the Kind parameter. Old-fashioned TrueType fonts would say TrueType here, but more likely you’re seeing OpenType TrueType.

In Windows, if you right-click on any file ending in .TTF and choose Properties, Type of file is reported as TrueType font file (.TTF). But this is illustrative of Windows’ relatively brain-dead design rather than any real information about the font.

Confirming this in Windows requires a few more steps. Start by opening the C:\Windows\Fonts folder. Set the View menu to Details. Now right-click in the row that displays the categories like Name, Font Style, etc. A list of avilable categories display. Choose Font Type. Now you can see that almost all the fonts are OpenType. You’ll only see TrueType if you’ve installed some old fonts from the 90s.


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 are several reasons why that might not work.

  • Embedding does not work at all in Office 2011 or earlier for Mac. Users of these versions can neither embed fonts, nor can they view fonts that have been embedded in Windows.
  • Embedding doesn’t work in Word or Excel for Mac, in both the 2016 and 2019 versions. PowerPoint 2016 for Mac users must have at least version 16.11 to view embedded fonts. The 2016 retail version (as opposed to the Office 365 subscriber version) cannot embed fonts in PowerPoint. Mac users must have at least Office 2019 retail or Office 365 version 16.17 to save embedded fonts in a PowerPoint file.
  • Many 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.

When all four faces in a font family are installed, using the bold and italic buttons has the intended effect of switching fonts.
Choosing Fonts for Office - Font Family Installed

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. As I mentioned earlier, Microsoft hasn’t figured out how to consistently display an .OTF font family correctly. Symptoms vary but are along the lines of you choose Bold and you get Bold Italic, or a similar variant. The wrong font is shown and printed. Typocially this will manifest when moving a Windows-created document to macOS or vice versa.

If the font is not set up as a family-style font, then using the bold and italic buttons fakes the look with stroking and/or slanting the roman. The result is a disastrous visual effect.
Choosing Fonts for Office - Base Font Installed

In macOS, it’s not obvious when you are using single versus family fonts. MacOS 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 Arials are families, while Arnhem and ATC Arquette are singles.
Choosing Fonts for Office - Windows Font Menu

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.

A font family with all 4 members installed. The bold and italic button work as expected.
Choosing Fonts for Office - A font family
Here is a family-style font with only the Roman installed. Using the bold or italic buttons gets you this dreadful look, plus an out-of-memory warning from Office.
Choosing Fonts for Office - Roman only installed

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.

Click to view larger image
Useful Office Fonts

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: production@brandwares.com