The 96,000 New PowerPoint Slide Designs

It's the age-old question of presenters everywhere: "Which PowerPoint slide design should I use?"

I know the feeling so well of booting PowerPoint and looking through the same old 15 tired slide designs that everyone uses, knowing full well that I would only consider using three of them.

So when the PowerPoint team set off to create a new graphics engine for Office 2007 along with new features for varying the theme, color scheme, font scheme, and special effects scheme across all of the main Office apps, I was personally elated. Finally, I thought, light at the end of the slide design tunnel!

One of the key concepts to understand about this new world is that each of the slide designs (now called "themes" in Office 2007) is way, way more than just a static design. Each theme is actually an extremely elaborate design that can be totally transformed by applying a different color scheme, font scheme, effects scheme, and background style. What looks on the surface to be a very flashy style can be made very corporate-looking is just a few clicks. On the other hand, more subdued themes can be punched up in the same way.

Because of the way the themes engine was built into each of the objects of Office (charts, tables, diagrams, etc.), as you change each of the aspects of the overall design (color, intensity, fonts), all the content in your slides changes to match your new design. It's hard to explain just with words, but when I play with it, I'm astounded at how well it works.

All of the controls you need to play with the options in PowerPoint are there on the Design tab. Check out the Themes gallery to set the overall style, and then use Colors, Fonts, Effects, and Background Styles galleries to tweak the look.

Why did I mention 96,000 slide designs? Well, that how many variations we're shipping "in the box." The math looks like this:

20 Color sets x 20 Fonts sets x 20 Effects sets x 12 Background Styles = 96,000

The PowerPoint and OfficeArt teams have done a great job at explaining how this all works in great detail (with tons of pictures) on their blog. It's highly recommended reading, and it gives you a good idea of how the more visual components of the new user interface (especially galleries and Live Preview) work together with this new themes and graphics engine to make getting great looking output really easy.

Read Office Themes: The Infinite Variety Generator, Part 1

Read Office Themes: The Infinite Variety Generator, Part 2

See more of the graphics capabilities of Office 2007

Comments (23)

  1. paul says:

    What makes you guys think that users want 96,000 choices? I think they’d much prefer a couple dozen at most.

    Also, why isn’t theming and presentation done with Web 2.0-type theming/css? If it’s an open system you allow many more people with that skill set to create cool stuff and share it, rather than trying to ship the kitchen sink yourselves.

    I’m not trying to be super-critical here; this is in general a nice improvement over the current PPT. I just think that less is more, and using industry standard technology increases the choices by virtue of having a community of coders able to contribute & share.

    That’s my $.02

  2. Dylan Greene says:

    I agree –

    I would rather *fewer good-looking choices* than 9578 ways for non-designers to make their presentations unreadable and ugly.

    The Office theme engine (or dev team) needs to take Art School Color Theory 101 to help prevent color-blind managers from building powerpoint presentations that are going to make their audiences’ eyes bleed.

    Example 2-bit solution:

  3. marlon says:

    Is there a surefire way of preventing people from creating ugly presentations? I doubt it.

    If the 12 background styles look okay, then there shouldn’t be too many hideous presentations.

    I hope that there will be even more backgound styles from the Powerpoint folk to download.

  4. [ICR] says:

    Well there is actualy (on the current public release) 20 general themes, which incorperate colors, fonts and effects. You can just tweak them further if you wish, but I would imagine the 20 general themes will do most people.

    I would disagree that they needed to use css and the likes. The templates are pretty much standard powerpoint format. They would be designed in powerpoint, so why spend man hours following another format just to translate it into what you’re already using?

  5. HowardCo says:

    Hi guys, its Howard Cooperstein, lead Program Manager for the new Office Themes platform.  First, I have to say this is a sweet post! 🙂

    Thanks for your comments.

    1) Dylan: I assure you every element of every theme was set by visual designers trained in color theory, typography, layout and wearing outfits that are mostly black. 🙂  

    2) Paul: Do users want 96,000 choices? Customer feedback shows they pretty much want infinite choices. But nobody can scan a list of infinite themes, they just want something they like — fast. The UI presents just 20 theme choices.  If you choose, you can vary any element to make it your own.  96K is just the number of *possible* variations.  

    3) Marlon’s comment is correct that the combinations are carefully designed to look good as well. Clearly not every combination is going to win a Theme beauty pageant, but there are thousands of gorgeous combinations.

    4) You can download more themes from Office Online.  There is a link right in Theme Gallery. (note: The site is currently under construction.)  

    5) About CSS: ICR’s comment hits the rationale here.  We looked at using CSS but it was far more elaborate than we needed.  A theme is really boiled down design essence in colors, fonts and graphic effects.  After that it’s mapped directly onto the existing formatting structures of PowerPoint, Word and Excel.  

    Lastly, it’s actually about 2 million Theme combinations for PowerPoint. It’s 96K per theme x 20 themes. Enjoy.

  6. GregM says:

    Great, now all you need to do is show this ability (to take arbitrarys set of colors and combine them with arbitrary sets of elements) to the people doing the overall interface, and you’ll have an interface that reflects the user’s choices of interface colors as defined by the operating system, instead of one that is limited to one of just three themes.

  7. LeMel says:

    I am simultaneously elated and horrified. Well, now that the design war is over (democracy won, btw), maybe now we can start to focus on good storytelling.

  8. marlon says:

    Got to agree with GregM; give users a choice of just eight or so colours (beige, tan, true silver, gray, Vista silver, black, blue, olive green), and the ability to mix and match some of these colours – title bars etc.

    Surely, that can’t be so hard.

  9. Francis says:

    I also suggested that Office include a gadget like some time ago. I was told that it was considered but did not make the cut.

    Perhaps it should be built into Windows Vista? It is time to overhaul Windows’ aged color selector dialog. It’s been the same since Windows 3.0, despite huge strides in: display color depth, print technology, and digital photography.

    System-wide theme/spot colors, a colormatch-like theme generator, a 16-bit channel mode, hexadecimal RGB, and an eyedropper tool would be great.

    It would save me the effort of scribbling down RGB codes, converting hex and decimal, working with application-specific color spaces, and give Windows a boost in the [Mac-centric] publishing world.

  10. Kevin Cannon says:


    This is really great. I think the those complaining didn’t really read the detailed post on the Powerpoint blog.

    I’ve used Powerpoint the odd time and as a designer I always felt I was fighting with the system to produce anything decent.

    This however gives me a lot of options, but most importantly, allows regular users to express themselves with choice while still having tastful colour schemes and good legibility.

    Well done!

  11. AlisonW says:

    You can change the basic look of any current (97 on) PowerPoint template by changing the colour scheme — you can even create your own colour scheme. PPT 2007 makes it easier, but though the new designs may have been created by designer folk, frankly I think they’re not a patch on many of the old ones from 2000-2003. On the other hand, the gradient fills are much better so it won’t be hard to create good backgrounds. I think it may stop a lot of people fiddling around and just getting a mess. On the other hand, the new (excellent) smart art will enable lots of unnecessary diagrams.

    My more serious complaint about PPT 2007 is that the outlining doesn’t work properly and promote and demote don’t appear at all on the ribbon. Come on Microsoft, some of us really use this feature!

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