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Document Themes Part I

In the last post, I presented an overview of the work we are doing in the area of “great looking documentsâ€.  Over the next few posts, I want to walk through a number of the improvements in a bit more detail.  Today, I am going to introduce the idea of Document Themes, because a lot of the other features that I am going to discuss are tied into document themes in one way or another. 

To put it in the simplest terms, a Document Theme (or “theme†for the remainder of this post) is a new way to specify the colours, fonts, and graphic effects that can be used to format a document.  We have integrated themes into the applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) wherever it is possible to apply formatting, and we have added a set of features to create new themes, change themes, specify themes for templates, etc. 

There are a couple of goals behind this work.  First and foremost, we wanted to give users a better set of tools for building good-looking documents without having to worry about the formatting for each element.  For example, in current versions of Office, if a user inserts a table, a chart, and some text into a document, they need to worry about tweaking all the low-level formatting to try and make sure that everything matches and “looks good†(the latter being more subjective).  The user interface does not make this easy, and the default out-of-the-box formatting does not help in most cases either.  Second, we wanted to make it much easier for users to build Word documents that match PowerPoint documents that match Excel documents.  Because the theme architecture is shared between all apps, users will find this much simpler.  Third, we wanted to provide “professional design help†out of the box … meaning that we have professional designers creating the themes and the cell, Table, PivotTable, and chart styles that will be shipped in Excel 2007, so that users can take advantage of their work in creating documents.  Finally, we wanted to make it easy to change the look of a document without needing to adjust all the element-level formatting. 

Let’s take a look at how this is exposed in the Excel user interface in a few places (same goes for Word and PowerPoint for the most part), and then talk through how to create and modify themes, how they related to templates, etc.  (Note that a lot of this is primarily exposed through features like styles that I have only touched upon, so things should continue to get clearer after the next several posts.)

Theme Fonts

Each theme specifies two fonts – one for “headingsâ€, and one for “bodyâ€.  This distinction is more prevalent in Word and PowerPoint, but we do have some cell styles (more on that in a later post) that use the heading font.  Excel’s default text style uses the “body†font (the default out-of-the-box case being Calibri), so when users enter data, they are creating themed text.  In addition, the Excel’s font picker has been updated to show the user the current theme fonts.

Theme Colours

Each theme specifies a number of colours (12 to be exact).  Four of the colours are for text and backgrounds, six are for “accentsâ€, and two are for hyperlinks (followed and not followed).  Those 12 colours are designed to look good together.  The colour model is designed to handle light text on dark backgrounds, dark text on light backgrounds, and everything in between.  In Excel, this becomes important in charts for example.  The colours are exposed in the new colour picker.  The first four are the text/background colour, the next 6 are the accent colours, and the hyperlink colours are not exposed.

Note a couple of other things.  First, the 10 colours featured are designed to work well together – this is an example of a place where our professional designers have helped out.  Second, for each of the 10 theme colours exposed, the first row shows the “most saturated†version, and then the next 5 rows show the same hue with different saturation and lightness.  The goal here is to provide users with variants of a colour for use in different scenarios … for example, you would likely want a subtle blue for a cell background, and a more intense blue for a font colour.  Third, at the bottom are non-theme standard colours that are always available.  Finally, you can always choose “No Fill†or choose any colour you want.

In addition to the colour picker, theme colours are used cell styles, Table styles, and PiovtTable styles.  More on that in later posts.

Theme Effects

Charts and shapes have been significantly upgraded – they look great, and they support a much wider set formatting options (more on that in posts coming soon).  Each theme specifies the “effects†that will be used by charts and shapes – for example, whether lines are thick or thin, whether fills are simple or opulent, whether objects will have bevels or shadows, etc.  This allows users to determine how subtle or intense they want their graphic objects to appear in their work.

Here is an example of a formatting gallery for a shape (a rectangle) – you can see how the theme colours and theme effects are combined to provide the user with a gallery of choices that are the result of a graphics designer making a hundred separate decisions.


(Click to enlarge)

Themes In Action

To finish out this post, here is a (somewhat cheesy) document I whipped up.  It took 5 clicks to make it a fairly-good-looking document that hangs together well, in a large part because the formatting for each part of the document (cells, Table, chart, shape) is derived from a single theme that professionally designed … the key point being that the theme, as exposed in the formatting user interface, helps me make good choices when formatting.


(Click to enlarge)

And in 3 more clicks, I can change my document to have a different sort of look, but one that still hangs together well.  The key point here is that themes have been designed to be flexible, so that you can get many different looks from the same set of colours, fonts, and effects.  More on this next time.


(Click to enlarge)

That’s it for themes today.  Next time, I will finish up themes, covering how to create and modify them, how they related to Excel templates, and what to do when you think your theme is starting to look stale.

I Need Your Help

A number of people have written to let me know that their organization is blocking images from www.isamrad.com (the spot where I have been parking images), I have started (with this post) putting images on a MSFT server.  Could one of those folks let me know if that solves the problem?  If so, I will start the slow task of migrating all the previous posts over …