You create the content, Designer creates the layout. At least that’s the theory. But does Microsoft’s presentation software pass muster?
Software companies are a meddling bunch. No sooner have you gotten to grips with their latest program than they go and meddle with it by adding a major update or add-on. Now you’ve got to go and re-educate yourself all over again.
It’s an educational arms race, with users scrambling to stay one step ahead of the developers. PowerPoint? No problem. Zoom for PowerPoint? Yep, we covered Microsoft’s latest presentation tool in a recent blog. PowerPoint Designer? Wait…not another one?
Say hello to your virtual assistant
Easy now. Before you start to panic, Designer isn’t like all the rest. Seriously, hear us out on this one. PowerPoint Designer is different because you don’t have do the learning – it does. While you create content, Designer beavers away in the background to create a variety of professional looking layouts. When you’re done, simply pick your favourite and, hey presto, you’ve got yourself an awesome looking presentation.
Amazing presentations with minimal effort? It sounds too good to be true. If Designer was really that great, wouldn’t everyone be using it? Everyone probably should be using it, and what’s more they surely will once they catch on. For now, think of PowerPoint Designer as your secret weapon, capable of rustling up awesome looking content in less time than it takes to send a Snapchat.
What PowerPoint Designer does
If you’re an Office 365 subscriber (or on Mac an Office Insider), Microsoft’s Designer tool is available to you inside PowerPoint. Its role is to make everything you create look better: slicker, sharper and more professional. In theory, Designer should make your image-heavy presentations look more like the portfolio of a graphic designer and less like something you cobbled together in half an hour. If you’ve yet to encounter Designer while using PowerPoint, you’ll find it under File > Options > General. Select Enable PowerPoint Designer and your virtual assistant will be ready to rumble.
How PowerPoint Designer works
If you’ve ever used Canva, you’ll know what to expect from Designer: attractive content that belies your humble graphic design skills. Design works best when it’s got images to play around with, but it’s also adept at handling text. Simply assemble your presentation in PowerPoint as usual and then let Designer do its thing. Designer is descended from a long line of Microsoft auto-learning software that started with Clippy, the much detested animated paper clip that used to interrupt your word processing with Captain Obvious-level suggestions. Thankfully, Designer doesn’t want to be your best friend; it just wants to quietly do its job and go home.
As you’re adding text and other multimedia to your slides, Designer will automatically generate presentational ideas. You’ll see the concepts it devises appearing in your right hand sidebar. Spot one you like the look of? Click on it to view the design in full screen and make a few alterations if desired. Not every design that PowerPoint Designer conjures will warrant a thumbs up, but there ought to be something in its arsenal that will earn the seal of approval and save you from having to mockup your own version.
Ways to use PowerPoint Designer
Among the various skills in its armoury, Designer can suggest suitable images to add. When you’re working online, select Insert > Pictures and, if it’s the first time you’ve used Designer, you’ll be prompted to allow the tool to source images on your behalf. Select Let’s Go and the software will embark on an image hunt. In theory, this will save you time and effort, provided you don’t get distracted by Designer’s uncanny ability to retrieve similar images, like a dog that comes scurrying back carrying every stick except the one it was sent to fetch. (9 times out of 10 Designer will come up with the goods, but every now and then it will fail spectacularly and return clutching something completely unsuitable. That’s where you’ll want to exercise editorial control to prevent it from sabotaging your presentation.)
If you’re a PowerPoint regular, you’ll be aware of the many ways in which bullet point lists can be displayed in a presentation. Designer saves you from cycling through every possible permutation because the moment you begin assembling a list on a slide it will turn it into a SmartArt graphic. Like the look of the layouts it’s assembling? Select one and make it your own. Unimpressed with its efforts? Ignore it and keep doing your own thing. Unlike Clippy, Designer will respect your domain and won’t interrupt your workflow. It’s there, but only when you need it to be there.
UDDATE 01/09/17: A recent update to PowerPoint for Office 365 customers has seen a new feature added to PowerPoint Designer. It now has the ability to recognise content that could be displayed in a timeline format.
Limitations to PowerPoint Designer
Provided your slide uses a Title or Title + Content layout and you’re connected to the web, Designer will be able to make suggestions. If it doesn’t have suitable suggestions for a particular slide, however, it will keep quiet rather than risk making a fool of itself. (This isn’t Clippy remember). Like any piece of learning software – think Alexa or Google Now – Designer is only going to get better. In the meantime, should its shtick ever start to tire, or if you want to work distraction-free, Designer can easily be disabled.
At Buffalo 7, we aim to furnish our clients with all the tools, tips and tricks they need to create awesome looking slideshows. If you haven’t already, give Designer a try and see if it can help take your presentations to the next level.