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Microsoft has been releasing new Office capabilities at an amazing rate. Recently, Microsoft added a new feature to PowerPoint that caught my attention—PowerPoint Designer.

If you’re like me, you use PowerPoint for a lot of different things. It’s not just a way to present bullets; it’s a tool for organizing meetings, creating a narrative around a body of information, and providing visual context for a discussion. Doing so requires you to combine all sorts of content: photographic imagery, icons and logos, bulleted text, graphs, and text, not to mention charts, video, and more. Designer helps you take all that and quickly organize it in a way that fits your design template and color palette.

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The new Design Ideas pane in PowerPoint

What is PowerPoint Designer?

Simply put, Designer is a digital design assistant that’s built into PowerPoint. When you insert an image into a PowerPoint slide, Designer makes some instant suggestions about how to format the slide.

 Designer is a digital design assistant that’s built into PowerPoint
 

For example, when you insert a large color photograph, Designer might suggest using it as a background image, or suggest some different ways of framing or cropping it. Designer might provide some color options, tinting it to match the slide’s color palette, or making it black & white to give it some gravitas. These are exactly the kind of suggestions a professional designer might make, but instead of spending time doing the manual work involved, PowerPoint lets you see how it looks right away.

Designer is built to make creating a polished PowerPoint presentation faster. It’s perfect for when you need to create a presentation quickly or when you have to add a slide to an existing presentation and make it look like it fits in. It’s also great for adding a little extra polish to an ad-hoc presentation when you don’t want to spend a lot of time working on it—like for a weekly team meeting, or a quick client update.

How does it work?

With designer, when you insert a graphic into a PowerPoint slide, a new pane will open up with several design suggestions for the slide. Currently, designer is focused on images, but more content types, such as videos, tweets, or text, might be added in the future. Designer is also smart enough to distinguish between a chart and a photograph and offer suggestions that are appropriate to each one. For example, a photograph might work well as a background image, but a chart usually will not.

The first release of Designer was built around the design templates that are included with PowerPoint. As a result, you’ll currently get the best results using those templates. Designer users machine learning to generate recommendations, so the feature is expected to improve as Microsoft continues to develop the product. In the future, it’s possible that Designer will offer suggestions based on your own templates, or the templates your organization users. I’d like to see a time when Designer offers suggestions based on my own style and the kinds of presentations that I create in my work. It will be interesting to see where Microsoft is able to take this feature in the coming months and years.

 Designer users machine learning to generate recommendations
 

As cool as Designer is, you may not want design suggestions to pop up on every slide and project. Designer can be turned off and on from the General Options menu in PowerPoint.

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PowerPoint Designer in the PowerPoint options

What does this feature mean to designers?

Good design is a lot more than just a list of techniques and best practices, which is why I don’t think features like Designer are going to replace humans any time soon, or probably ever. A good designer knows how to combine elements such as color palettes, imagery, design elements, and motion into a compelling narrative and to gauge how their intended audience will respond to and engage with the content. Tools like Designer can’t replace those skills and may, in fact, make them even more important.

 Good design is a lot more than just a list of techniques and best practices
 

I think Designers should be looking at PowerPoint Designer as a way to enhance their work and their role in the organization. How many times have you had a co-worker or client come to you with a slide, an image, and some vague instructions to “make it look good.” This can be frustrating for the designer, because the client isn’t able to give them a clear set of instructions. It can be frustrating for the client because they have to wait for someone else to get back to them with a slide that may not be what they were looking for in the first place. The end result is multiple iterations and wasted time.

With Designer, you can generate design options for a client very quickly, possibly right in the context of the initial design meeting. Instead of spending your time trying to get a clear vision, you can end your first meeting with a prototype that solves the most boring design problems so you can get down to the creative work you’re actually interested in. In this way, I think that tools like Designer can help bridge the game between designers and their colleagues, helping them both create better presentations.