red rose

Recently, two members of the DeSantis Breindel team led an AIGA/NY Breakfast Club discussion entitled “An Office Romance” which provided attendees with insider tips and tricks for working smarter with colors, fonts, templates, master pages, and style sheets in the ever-present Microsoft Office suite. “Powerpoint and Word documents are often the most visible and constant expression of a client’s brand, so designers need to understand how to work in these applications.” said Jane Margolis, DeSantis Breindel Design Director and one of the co-presentors.

Breakfast Club events are casual morning meetings led by various experts that explore specific focused topics related to challenges designers face. The program was established by AIGA/NY  is one of 66 chapters of AIGA, the professional association for design. The discussion was meant to empower designers to feel more confident using Microsoft Word, as well as serve the broad range of their client’s end users. Designers are often asked to create professional looking documents for their clients, that are also easy for the client’s employees to manage and navigate on their own.  This can often create issues for designers, as Microsoft Office does not offer the capabilities required to create the level of sophistication clients are looking for.

“There was a shared frustration, a lot of head-nodding in agreement—designers are struggling over a universal trend. Clients want total control over their documents and for them to look good too,” said Chris Kelly, who also led the discussion is a Production Manager at DeSantis Breindel. Designers’ relationship with Microsoft Office isn’t so hot and heavy, however this Breakfast Club meeting attempted to rekindle the romance!

See the tips and tricks provided during the meeting below to improve your relationship with Microsoft Office suite.


Have a clear understanding of the client’s internal workflow and document deployment expectations. You may be able to convince them to use InDesign if workflow is centralized and they recognize the value.

How are documents printed and delivered?

  • Are documents sent as PDFs or live (we recommend PDF)
  • Printed from PDF? (recommended)
  • PowerPoint: on-screen or printed pitchbook? Both? Multiple versions?

Ask for examples of existing documents and review them carefully to assess the client’s skill level:

  • Are there well-defined style sheets?
  • Are footers set up properly?
  • Do they use section or column breaks?
  • Do they use tables?
  • Are PowerPoint masters set up properly?
  • Do they have a defined color scheme?

Does everyone at the company create and edit documents, or do they have a central document support group? Or both?

  •  If there is a central support group, bring them into the discussion early. You need them on your side!
  • If everyone at the company creates and edits Office documents, try to determine the base level of expertise.
  • Ask if the client is willing to provide training. – Consider budgeting for development of guidelines.


Test everything in Office 2007 & 2011 on Windows.

  • Better yet, build from the start in Windows.
  • Check with your client to see what version they use. Not all versions of 2007 have the same functionality.
  • Right click is your friend! Lots of Office functions are hidden there.

You need to see the same menus and dialog boxes that your client sees if you expect to help them use their templates.

Color Management

Office RGB values are not the same as those in Adobe, even if you use the same number values.

  • Nifty trick that only works on a Mac: Insert a JPG or PNG from Adobe and use the eyedropper to sample the colors to determine RGB. Then you can apply these colors into the PC document color scheme.
  • If you’re doing a full brand engagement, develop Office colors as part of the color palette development..
  • Send color-test documents to your client and ask them to view them and print them on all devices used in the company.

Theme Colors

  • Go to “Create New Theme Colors” to change the document’s theme colors.
  • Office will apply them to elements such as charts in the order they appear in the theme.
  • Use the lighter tints that appear in the theme as part of the color palette.
  • Don’t use the darker ones, which muddy up the colors.

Color management in Office is an oxymoron.

  • Tweaking RGB values to print correctly from Office apps may produce colors that look wrong on screen.
  • Though Office doesn’t have true color management, converting to PDF applies

Adobe color management.

  • So for printed documents, get your client to agree to always print from PDF. And tell them they have to live with the screen appearance of their colors. Or make different versions of their documents for screen and printing.
  • Beware blues and purples: they are the most difficult to manage across formats.


File format

  • PNG for everything — supports transparency.
  • Office mangles EPS files.
  • Use 600 dpi PNGs for critical graphic elements like letterhead logos/mastheads.

Image size

  • Import images close to the size you need or they will bloat the file size.
  • Paste directly from Photoshop or drag-and-drop from Finder.
  • “Change picture” function is handy, but won’t honor cropping.
  • To reduce file size, go to Save option and select Remove Cropped Picture Areas. Don’t adjust Picture Quality here, or your images may be compromised.


Use only basic system fonts.

  • Check on Microsoft typography site for font lists, and then double-check to be sure these fonts were actually installed on client computers.
  • To be really sure the documents will be universal, use only what Microsoft calls “core fonts for the web”: Arial, Georgia, Times New Roman, Trebuchet MS, Verdana.

Setting Up a PowerPoint Template

Page size

  • 7.5×10 is the default. Only use this for dedicated screen templates.
  • You should know based on the initial assessment if the template is mostly for print or on-screen.
  • Use 8.5×11 for projects that will be printed. They can still run on-screen when needed.

Slide masters:

  • A “Slide Master” contains common elements that appear on the Slide Layouts below it.
  • A “Slide Layout” is child to the Slide Master.

Applying and resetting themes and styles

  • Placeholders must be used if you want the theme to be applied correctly and theme changes to be applied universally.
  • The Reset button reapplies the style and position to Placeholders. Use with caution!
  • Use Paste Options when pasting content or pasting slides from other decks.
  • You can use Indents as “style sheets.”
  • The “Copy formatting” paintbrush is handy for one-off style application.

Working in Word

Typography and Style Sheets

  • “Normal” controls the basic paragraph style.
  • Word styles can include most of the Adobe-like typography rules: space before/after, leading (Line Spacing), rule above (Borders), text wrap (Frame), Character and Paragraph Styles.
  • Clean out the Styles palette, removing unused default styles, and add styles to Quick Styles.

Page and section breaks

  • Remember: In reality, a Word document is one long word processing page. View in “Draft” view to see this.
  • You need to use section and page breaks to define “pages.”
  • Section breaks are as close to “Master Pages” as you’ll get. They allow you to define headers and footers for a given section.
  • Mixing single and multiple columns using the Columns dialog can drive you (and your client) nuts.
  • A better solution: Use tables for basic multi-column layouts on a single page.

Other Word tips

  • Paste Options or Paste Special allows you to paste unformatted text. – To release a picture from the flow, change Wrap Text to None.
  • Some clients don’t know how to see non-printing (invisible) characters or hide table gridlines. (No, you can’t “turn on” invisibles in PowerPoint)