Variations on a Theme by Office

Today's Guest Writer: Howard Cooperstein

Howard Cooperstein is a Lead Program Manager in the PowerPoint and OfficeArt group.

This week's post is third in a series on Office Themes. The first post was an overview, in the second we looked inside an Office Theme file. This week I wrap up the series, but the discussion about Office Themes, PowerPoint and OfficeArt will continue over in our new team blog. (Happy now, Loki?)

Themes, Documents & Templates

Let's start with a quick look at the relationship between Themes, Documents, and Templates.

An Office Theme is a standalone file type. They are what you see in the Theme gallery. Every document created with Office 2007 has a theme inside it--even blank, new documents. When you apply a new theme it replaces the default theme with a new "look." A template is a special "starter" document type; when you open it you get a fresh new document with all the content, layout, formatting and the theme from the that template.

If you are a PowerPoint user you may be asking, "Hey! What's the difference between a Theme and a PowerPoint Design Template?" Starting with Office 2007 PowerPoint templates are focused on being "starter documents" just like Word and Excel. Office Themes are the new format for PowerPoint slide designs; a theme file can contain a slide "master" allowing it to take over this job.

Themes make Office Templates much more rich and customizable.

GrrAnimals, Office Style

A popular line of 80's children's clothing tagged their shirts, pants and skirts with a signature animal. As long as you picked say, two lions, your outfit would look great. The idea was to help children (and I'm sure quite a few parents) choose a well-matched outfit. That basic idea lives in Office Themes and Quick Styles: pick from the galleries and your content will be well-matched to your overall document theme.

This is not a document formatting straitjacket, to continue the analogy, sort of. 🙂 A single theme generates a variety of styles for each content type. Using the Office Theme default (featured in last week's post) I've created a small sampling of the table, chart, and shape styles available. The actual number of styles for each object is 30 or more! And, of course, those 30 styles update their fonts, colors and effects with every theme effectively creating a brand new set of 30+ styles.

Click to see style variety from one theme (PNG, 99KB)

Following Your Theme

The most common complaint about Theme and Style content is that it gets dated quickly. More importantly, it's never exactly how YOU want it. Pretty soon everyone has seen the same canned documents and they are bored. Then you are back to square one creating your own formatting.

This staleness factor was on our mind from Day One. We worked hard to build in many levels of customizability to create many different potential themes out of our core set. The customization for Colors, Fonts, Effects is right next to the theme gallery. Pick a theme, tweak the settings; you can even save these settings as a new theme in your gallery. And new themes for your gallery will be available to download through Office Online.

In the picture sequence below I show a sample slide in the Atrium theme progressing through a series of color, font and effect changes. You'll see the subtle and not so subtle adjustments you can make to any Office theme. This is one of our new themes, fresh off the desktop of one of our Theme Designers.

Click to the see the Atrium Theme transform (PDF, 863K)

This theme and the other two I show below are so new most of my team hasn't seen them! Obviously the themes are in development and exact names and visuals will likely change by the time Office 2007 ships.

The Themes, They are a Changin'

So far we've talked about the foundation of themes, and have seen example styles and customization within a theme, but we haven't seen a document actually change Theme. In the sequence below you'll see a single slide rendered in four different themes using a recent build of PowerPoint 2007. I exported these graphics using the new Save to PDF feature.

Click the slide to see example theme transformations! (PDF, 403K)

Wrapping it Up!

So, there's your taste of Office Themes. Thanks for reading. I'd also like to thank the amazing, dedicated people I work with on Themes and Quick Styles. There are hundreds of people involved in the design, coding and testing of features affected by Themes--all working to help you make superb looking documents. Get your hands on Beta 1 or Beta 2 when it comes out and let us know what you think!

Comments (27)
  1. Chris van Marde says:

    My biggest complain about most styles (document templates, table styles) in Office is that thay always seem to be aimed at color printing. Well, most customers don’t have color printers, and it’s difficult to guess how a colored document will look printed on a grayscale printer.

    In Photoshop I can change the entire image to grayscale with a simple click. Unfortunately there is no simple option to do that in Office.

  2. HowardCo says:

    Hi Chris,

    We have a "grayscale" color scheme in the Theme Colors dropdown (in the UI picture above.) It’ll convert all schemed content to shades of gray.  So, Word, PPT and XL will have this in 2007.  Current versions of PowerPoint have this in the View menu and in the print dialog and print preview feature.

  3. netfreak says:

    I like that Theme thing, cause I do have some style in my documents that I’d like to apply easily to all my documents, but the very important thing for me in this is the theme to be easily created. So I guess you should make some theme creation dialogue, in which there would be a picture of the document so that when you change a setting the document would change. I guess it would be easier for the user to understand what he’s chaging.

    I tried to create theme in Excel, the worst thing is that there were so many settings that I wasn’t sure if that setting meant what I though it meant, so a vivid picture would do great.

    BTW, Jensen, it is March already, perhaps you can hint on when should we start downloading Beta-1 Refresh, I’m eager to see the changes that you’ve done, plus, I hope, charting will at last work on my comp.(hints like ‘soon’ are not exactly what everyone would like to read :-), the date would do 🙂 )

    Love Office 2007

  4. jensenh says:


    March 1 and already the "it’s March" discussion begins… 🙂

  5. netfreak says:

    Yep 🙂

    You can run, but you can’t hide 🙂

  6. muro says:

    There is a visual inconsistency in the first pdf file (Atrium Theme transform, The process):

    There are reflections of the elements (circles) in the later versions – however, each reflection is directly under the element. The big circle (going under the 5 smaller) has the reflection only at the bottom, but the upper smaller circles have their reflections higher – this just makes your eyes crazy – you notice immediately, there is something wrong.

    Regards, muro

  7. Jon Peltier says:

    "Real" templates for PowerPoint, I assume that means more than just the colors, but that templates will be able to contain a presentation skeleton, complete with all the boilerplate.

    The point Chris made about colors and B&W printers goes double for faxes, since a fax isn’t usually great at rendering grayscales. Fewer colors and effects are generally better, easier to print and reproduce, easier not to obfuscate the content. All the colors and shadows and reflections and transparency effects remind me of a comment made by a well-known PowerPoint MVP, which I’ve reused on my own web site:

    "Pardon me, sir, is that a slide or is your dog ill?"

    In the hands of the 2% of users who have some artistic taste, all of these themes will be fine. The other 98%??

  8. HowardCo says:

    Jon: yep, Templates can contain starting content, boilerplate, etc.  PPT always had this — it’s just it wasn’t clear when you saved a template whether it was for that purpose or to be used as a "Design."  Themes can’t contain content–they are just "the look."  So save a tempalte, it shows up in File | New dialog of the app that created it; save a theme it shows up in the theme gallery (in all three apps.)

    Re: slide design — good question to pose.  The intention is empowering the _98%_ to create tasteful docs easily. The slides I show use the richest style as it demos theme changes more clearly.  The other 80% of the galleries are filled with moderate and subtle choices.  I think we’ll all take fewer trips to the vet.

  9. rayburger says:

    How do themes interact with downlevel versions of Office?

    Also, how many of these changes in O12 will flow down to Office 2003/XP/2000 if you save as .??? and not .???x

    Maybe Jensen can do an entry on the whole interoperability issue, including the converters, viewers and add-ins for previous versions to interact with O12 files.

  10. HowardCo says:

    Ray: as you mention this is a much larger topic than just themes… but we basically flatten the themed formatting into direct formatting.  We keep some information connected to that content that let’s us rehydrate it back into themed content into Ofc 2007.

  11. rayburger says:

    Thanks Howard. One more question: Are themes embedded in the document you are working on, or are they "connected" to it via a separate file stored on a specific PC, like templates?

  12. HowardCo says:

    The theme is inside the document it controls (like the first picture in my post.)  

    When you apply a Theme via the gallery, we *copy* the contents of the theme file into the document’s theme "area."  

    Word is the only app that has the ability to inherit formatting from a link to a template. Even with that additional capability, Word, PPT and XL all simply carry their doc’s theme inside the doc.

  13. rayburger says:

    Ah! Now I get the pictures 🙂

    Thanks for explaining.

  14. Bob Buckland ?:-) says:

    Hi Howard,

    Could you clarify the ‘greyscale’ color scheme you mentioned?  

    In a corporate environment the available schemes/themes would likely be locked down to those ‘approved’ for use in company documentation.  

    Is the greyscale feature simply the ability to work with all available themes/schemes but letting you work in a screen environment that reflects how your output will appear on a (currently selected) greyscale/laser printer or it the greyscale choice something that acutally changes the document (along the lines of the ‘greyscale’ color choice you can use in Word 2003 to change an individual graphic.

    Ideally, both methods would be supported with  tools (one that changes the the document vs one that changes only how things look on screen to work in a mode to reflect your probable output) I’m hoping that one tool won’t be seen as the solution to both scenarios 🙂

    Bob  Buckland ?:-)

  15. err229 says:


    This may be an example of "user stupidity" on my part, but even though I can change the color and font attributes of a theme, I can’t seem to change the effects. Am I missing something, or is there really no Create New under the effects drop-down?

    BTW – love the idea of themes, and so far they seem to be working pretty well! They will reduce a lot of the template and macro development we’ve needed to do just to give our users this type of tool.

  16. Bob: the Grayscale color scheme is simply a way to colorize themed content to grayscale for better color differentiation when printing.  PowerPoint also has a special grayscale preview mode (no color scheme required) that lets you decide how you want each object to appear when printed to black and white printers. Word and Excel don’t have this special view.

    Err229: Not user stupidity at all.  We have no dialog for creating new Theme Effect (as we do for colors and fonts.) An Theme Effects editor dialog was simply too expensive to build this release.  We have a separate tool we plan to release for sophisticated users and Theme designers that will let you create these.  

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  21. Today’s post is the first of two parts covering a fairly large and important topic for PowerPoint: applying…

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