Yesterday, I started discussing the "gallery", which is a new control that appears throughout the Office 12 user interface.  Today, I want to discuss the most obvious use of galleries in Office 12: choosing visual styles.  The underlying graphics engine of Office has undergone a substantial upgrade in Office 12.  If you've seen the charts and diagrams demoed online or in the PDC keynote, you've seen some of the possibilities.  The quality of the graphics you can make are just dramatically better. (I find myself thinking: "is this really Office?"  It's some really eye-popping stuff.)  But, we knew that we'd be wasting all of these new capabilities if we didn't provide an interface to help people produce beautiful results without having to understand how many pixels they should offset a drop shadow, or where the light should precisely hit a 3D object.  Hence, the gallery:

(click to enlarge)

(Please forgive the bad-looking thumbnails in the gallery in the above picture; we don't have real artwork yet so we kinda just make them up as we go.  The chart is real though...)

Whenever you're doing formatting in Office 12, you are presented with a gallery of designs.  These designs package up a number of discrete features into one visual style you can apply all at once.  For instance, there might be a chart style that turns on a shiny surface, rounds the edges, turns on a reflection, colors the bars with a subtle gradient, adds a shadow, and configures the correct light source and intensity all at once.  We pay the graphics designer so that you don't have to.

That's not to say that you can't continue to tweak the expert settings if you want to--you definitely can.  And if you're a settings tweaker, you'll find a lot to like about the capabilities of the new graphics engine.  But personally, I find it easier to choose a style that's 95% of the way towards what I want and then tweak it compared to being forced to start from scratch. That's the philosophy behind the use of galleries to do visual styling in Office 12, and I'll be talking more about the usability ramifications of the philosophy on Thursday.

For people like me who aren't trained in graphic design, it's pretty cool to be able to produce graphics in my documents that look like I know what I'm doing.

Tomorrow, using galleries is a less obvious way...