Surviving Template Design 1: Font style linking

Here is what I really wanted to teach you…how to build a super swell template for your team in PowerPoint. But I sat down to write an outline of all the things you needed to know and the list kept growing, and growing and growing. So ya know what I’m going to do, I’m going to divide this up in little bite size chunks. Tasty little morsels of how to survive template design. And we are going to start with the something that I think will make every designer, typography buff and art director tremble with fear…font style linking in Office.

So lets be honest, you could read about font style linking somewhere else. But many of the sites that cover style linking are older and I’ve noticed many are AWOL. You can still check out the basic info from Adobe, but even that is dated. Most importantly, I don’t think the available sites speak to designers and I’m not even sure they present a solution for the average designer.

So here are the basics: most fonts (especially the well formed ones) have a bit of encoding in them that links the basic weights together. So imagine you are using Time New Roman, and you want to emphasize the word Bold. You hit the “B” button, and Times New Roman Bold screams from the sidelines “Tag me in coach!” Your application switches the fonts for you, and there is none of that pesky fake bold or italic. Great concept right? It works in just about any application, and your savvier apps (think Adobe) will refuse to fake bold or italic a font that doesn’t have a style linked partner.

Easy right? Yeah…not so much. Window’s font menus looks at this tag in and says “oh look—a font family, you don’t want all those pesky fonts in your font menu, now do you? Here, let me remove some of those.” Next thing you know; you have no bold, italic or bold italic fonts in your font menu. To the average Microsoft user, that’s fine. Clean, simple font menus.  So for a family of 4 weights, you get one logical font in the font menu and you use your “B” and “I” buttons to enable the others. All is right with the world…but here comes the Catch 22. For a family with 26 weights, you might see only see 7–8 weights in the menu. Without a thorough knowledge of the available weights AND how they are style linked, you are now completely in the dark. You have no idea what is missing and what to choose. Why-oh-why Windows can’t you just nest your font families like any other respectable application? But, font menus are another post…we are here to talk about templates, remember?

So, here you are designing your company’s new ppt template on a mac. You decide you want the headlines to be Helvetica Neue Lt Std 95 Heavy, you choose the font and go about your business. A few days later, you open your file in Windows to test it and your font is…missing! So the take away here is you have two choices: design everything on Windows and just take a stab at which font you should be using; or do a bit of research, have a plan and then use which ever platform you want.

So here is that solution I promised. There are some really techy ways to figure out the tags, but since this is something you won’t need that often…I suggest you go window shopping. Here is what ya do; take a quick visit to most font stores, find the weight in question and check the tech specs. Each site’s verbiage will differ, so be prepared to use your powers of deduction. Most often you are looking for the family name and an indication of whether to hit bold, italic etc. The key here is the family name, it isn’t always obvious (like to get to black, you choose medium??)

Image of tech specs from

Tech Specs for Helvetica Neue Lt Std 95 Heavy at

Now that you have that concept under your belt, go back to your ppt, and change all your fonts (and font themes) to the correct font family and press that big ole “B” button. This way no matter which platform your ppt is opened on you have beautiful fonts. That’s it. The basics are that simple.

Extra credit:

  1. Adobe has its own font management/engine for its apps. So Adobe font menus behave the same on Windows as they do on Mac.
  2. Luckily, if you use font themes in PowerPoint, as you should, the font used in the theme are always up at the very top of the menus. I have found using these seems to go against human nature, people just like to go down and select the exact font. So when I train, I point out to mac users they should use these theme fonts at the top of the font menu, and not deviate—especially when collaborating with windows users.
  3. Have a font that isn’t behaving correctly? Make sure you have the most up to date version of the font (yup, fonts get updates, make sure you stay current on those bad boys) or contact the designer. Hopefully, they are willing to fix the font and are appreciative for the heads up. If possible in your workflow, you could try a TrueType instead of OpenType (Microsoft support for OpenType is lackluster at best.) If all else fails, there is an affordable tool you can use to fix these yourself called TransType by the great guys over at FontLab. But please consider it a last resort (obviously check your EULAs first before proceeding.)
  4. Test, test test, and then when you think you’ve tested everything, double check yourself. Work with your IT team to test every conceivable version of Office you can get your hands on before deploying your template. Test your template in new versions of Office before your company deploys them, I found an issue with Trade Gothic in Office 2013 we had never seen in previous versions. In that instance, contacting the foundry for an updated font did the trick. See No. 5 though for a different result.
  5. Intrigued? Font style linking is somewhat hard to track down. As I mentioned earlier, I feel like I used to have more resources on the subject. I might be imagining, or it may be because a lot of it was on Typophile’s forums (which is still down, I’ll append this post when they get the new site up.) It also may have been on the Adobe sites from Thomas Phinney’s tenure there. The best advice I can give you is search the sites that have forums for typography lovers and creators, such as these strings at Adobe, FontLab, and Typophile. Using Google will usually just send you in circles.
  6. Font linking does not work correctly in Office 2016 for mac for many fonts. I’ve tested on multiple computers and tried every common font troubleshooting trick. No go. I have a ticket in with them, and there are others complaining in forums. At first glance Office 2016 for Windows is fine, but it’s still in preview so we’ll see where that nets out. We are waiting to roll out Office 2016 until this bug is fixed.

Bullet Hack

Hello layout friends. Are you ready to discuss paragraph styles in PowerPoint? Hold up. That, my dears, was a trick question. Sadly, we just learned last week there are no paragraph styles in PowerPoint.   Today I want to show you a hack. I’ve looked for a better description for this—trick, workaround, super-secret PowerPoint superpower…and honestly nothing works as well as hack.

Designers—I know that in one paragraph I am going to lose you. You are thinking, this is all PowerPoint, I’m outta here. But I implore you to stay around for at least a bit. Why? Because I had to find this hack because of y’all. When you are asked to design a PowerPoint deck, you are going to work in InDesign/Illustrator thinking someone else can translate your vision into PowerPoint. That person is me. Even when I coach a designer on how simple they need to make their slides, they return with slides more complex than PowerPoint can handle, especially at the template level. Every time I see your beautiful design and have to say “PowerPoint can’t do that” I die a little inside when I see the frustration on your faces. I’ve had to come up with some sneaky methods for getting your content designed in InDesign to work. Your takeaway here is for me or anyone to translate your work into PowerPoint, we need you to make your design simple, clean and elegant—but we can also use the information below to help make sure your vision is possible.

Templates are tricky. You can have multiple content ‘placeholders’ on a page but each one can only have one formatting style. So, you use two text boxes…but then you might have alignment issues. What if a text box is designed for two lines and the user has one or three? It isn’t going to have the appropriate spacing. And, you’ll never be able to properly center both text boxes vertically. You’d be relying on a non-designer to manually guess at the space between the two paragraphs (aka boxes) and then center them on the page. Use my hack and you can make it happen. The hack is quite simple once set up correctly in the master pages.

All that being said, I have to advise you to proceed with care and consideration. Before you read on…the tradeoff here is that this hack isn’t immediately intuitive to the user. This solution relies on good documentation, training and/or a savvy end-user. Please consult with your IT team or the end-user of the template to make sure you think this is something that is sustainable. Use this hack only if you know your audience is going to use it correctly or at all. Let’s remember, I call it a hack for a reason. We’re going to take advantage of the formatting PowerPoint applies to bulleted lists without using bullets. Let’s get into the hack here for those of you who want to see the inside dirt:

Making the hack:

  1. Open the master layout you want to create the two formatting styles on. If there isn’t a content placeholder already on that page, add one by going to the Slide Master Ribbon>Insert Placeholder>Content.
  2. Unless wanted, select all the copy and remove the bullets.
  3. Unless wanted, remove all your hanging indents. Open the Format Text window (right-click and select Format Text… or hit cmd-t.) Now go to the Paragraph section and change Indentation>Before Text to ‘o’, and then change the Special to: (None)
  4. Select the first paragraph that says “Click to edit Master text styles.” Edit the formatting as needed using Format Text… 
  5. Select the second paragraph that says “Second level” and repeat step 4.
  6. Continue with the other levels. If you only want two levels of formatting, you can select “Second Level” through “Fifth Level” in step 5 to repeat the same formatting down through each level.
  7. Close your master and test your work.

Using the hack:

  1. Copy and paste your text into the box, or type your content.
  2. At this point all the copy will be in the first type style. Remember this hack relies on you tricking the content into thinking it’s a bulleted list, which is usually triggered by hitting tab or the increase indent button.
  3. Select the copy you want to be in the second formatting style and hit “Increase Indent” or you can hit tab with the copy selected.
  4. Bam! Formatted text.
  5. Bonus, there is no limit on which level you can apply this too. See my video for an example of applying a second level formatting to a first paragraph.

That’s it. So simple…but it works. Just remember this is a great idea for consistency, speed and workflow–but it relies on a lot of training and communication with your coworkers.


Importing and Setting type in PowerPoint

I mentioned in my first post that we would look at editing type and discuss ways of changing how we approach layout in PowerPoint. So let’s jump in and start tackling that. Let’s be clear: setting long type in PowerPoint really isn’t a good idea. And I know since these tutorials are geared to designers, you are all cringing. But if you just have to cram lots of type into a slide these tips could help you not lose quite as much hair in the process.

I do want to give you a use case: an example of thinking differently with PowerPoint. I work at an advertising agency, and when we present, we often leave the presentation behind as a printout. Some content that would normally not be presented does need to be included in this leave behind.  An example would be commercial scripts. We don’t present the script—they are presented as video stills with voice overs. But we do want a version of those stills with the script included for that leave behind. Setting long scripts in PowerPoint allows us to use one document for both onscreen and print. This way we don’t have to keep up two documents, and you can ensure the formatting remains consistent (well as much as possible within PowerPoint).

I’ve actually made a video tutorial on this subject. I’m not sure I’ll do video for every post. I think I’ll mix it up and sometimes write things out step-by-step and sometimes let you listen to me ramble on. I think this topic is a helpful one to watch–but I know some people just want the quick and dirty directions. So I’m going to just leave a few notes in reference to the video below as well.

Hope this helps someone out there, and we’ll look at some ways to include multiple formatting per frame (via a super secret hack) in our next post.


  1. If you try to paste copy into PowerPoint and it doesn’t work, try using “Edit Paste Special” (cmd-ctrl-v), when the options box pops up, choose unformatted text and voilà…your text will paste in!
  2. By default PowerPoint only allows one font style per master frames box, (the exception being bulleted list, we’ll cover that more later). And, PowerPoint does not have paragraph styles (boo, let me repeat that…booooooooo). So to get multiple types of formatting in one box, you will need to manually format the text paragraph by paragraph.
    1. The easiest way to do this is to take a step back and look at what the majority of your type needs to be set as. Format all the copy in the frame in that style.
    2. Now, select a paragraph that you want different and format that type.
    3. Select the paragraph that you just formatted, and click the format painter at the top of your window.
    4. Highlight the type you want to change to the same format with the format painter.
    5. Lather, rinse and repeat for other paragraphs.
  3. By default, PowerPoint adds an internal margin to every text box. This is can be annoying to us design-types so take it off by accessing the Format Text Box Options and changing those values to “0.”
    1. Right-click or cmd-t on your type, then in the pop-up go to Text Box>Internal Margins.
  4. By default, PowerPoint uses a feature called autofit which will shrink the text in a box as it gets full. Again, not a designer-friendly option. Select ‘do not autofit’ using the Format Tex Box window to turn off this behavior.

Notes: I did make a few errors while training, so to be clear I want to address those:

  1. At one point when referring to ways to access the text formatting options, I mentioned the shortcut ‘apple-t’. I’m showing my age here. The apple key is more commonly known as the cmd button. So the shortcut to get to text and text frame options is ‘cmd-t.’
  2. Around this same time I said to “take off auto fit.” But then chose the option to ‘do not autofit.’  To be clear we do want to disable autofitting, but you do that by selecting the option to ‘do not autofit’ in the Format Text Popup>Text Box>Autofit.



(In)Designing in Powerpoint

InDesiginInPowerpoint cover image

I am thrilled to be writing this post. This isn’t a topic I should be excited about…this isn’t a topic ANYONE should be excited about…but I kinda am. In my job I have developed a skill set at laying out PowerPoint templates.  I know there are many amazing PowerPoint designers out there, and I am not claiming to be one of them. What I can help you do is work more efficiently in PowerPoint…when you hate PowerPoint.

My first few posts will concentrate on PowerPoint, but make no mistake about it…I hope to move on to topics I’m much more passionate about. There are tons of experts out there with amazing blogs on design apps. But, there isn’t much out there on how to work in PowerPoint. So before I move on, I’m going to download all the bits of PowerPoint I have running around in my head (in order to hopefully make room for other things). Today’s post is going to be general and then I’ll post soon with some actual tutorials. So let’s start here: how to be a designer in Powerpoint.

  1. Let go. Look, PowerPoint is frustrating when you are used to the Adobe toolsets. Let it go, be one with the presentation software. Yes, I know it’s not intuitive to us, but once you accept PowerPoint for what it is and stop trying to compare the toolsets to InDesign, you will be much happier. Remember, PowerPoint has some redeeming qualities itself—every time I have to create complex graphs in InDesign, I secretly pine for PowerPoint (please dont’ quote me on that).
  2. Leave your typographer’s hat at the door. Powerpoint has better typographical controls than you realize, but they still stink. Here is the thing, there are a lot of amazing PowerPoint presentations out there, and the audiences really aren’t getting hung up on the horrible kerning pairs. (Take heed though: don’t stare at specific words as you design. Then, you WILL see the bad pairs and t they will haunt you.)
  3. Get comfortable with the chart tools. The out-of-the-box charts aren’t stellar. But if you use the tools to their fullest you can make some beautiful and even minimalistic charts—all while keeping the data live (take that InDesign).
  4. Learn some shortcuts. For example, Paste Special (ctrl-cmd-v) invokes a pop-up that allows you to paste without formatting (and yes it is just like the InDesign function).  If you are trying to paste from other applications and you are getting unexpected results—this is your goto. I’ll throw out more shortcuts as we move forward.
  5. Understand the funky guides. Guides are one of my major frustrations in PowerPoint, but I have high hopes this will get better soon. For now, your best hope is just to understand them completely, but no worries—I will spend time on them in a future post.
  6. Change your approach. This is going beyond the toolset in a way. Be open to changing the way you think about designing/formatting. It isn’t about just learning PowerPoint and becoming ok with the toolsets. Sometimes you can do things in PowerPoint but you might have to do them differently (aka bass ackwards). I have a great formatting example I’ll share with you in the next post.
  7. Give up. Okay, not really, but I want to give you permission to give up on the template in certain situations. I used to go by the rules and only build out master pages, but at a creative agency…it wasn’t conducive to some of our brand aesthetics. In other words, some of what we wanted to do simply couldn’t be achieved with masters. So I now build out the master pages as much as possible, then close the master pages and create what can’t be templatized as a deck. This allows the end-user to copy those page they need from the deck—and just delete ones they don’t. This is not the smartest solution for complete control, can add confusion to the user, and requires more training and/or documentation…so I try to minimize this. But until PowerPoint introduces paragraph styles, this is your workaround for pages with multiple type styles, or if you need to add in specific imagery that the user will need to move around.
  8. Understand placeholders. We will spend time on master pages later, but I think this should be said up front…any items placed on master pages that are NOT “placeholder” items will not be permanently locked in the deck. So unless something should ALWAYS be on that page, the master is not the place to put it.

I think this is enough for now. I will work on a post with actual tutorials up tonight.