Today I present the first of what I hope are many guest articles on Office user interface issues written by other folks from the product team. This first series of articles describes the new themes capabilities of Office 12 and how they integrate with the user interface. Look for new articles every Wednesday.

Today's Guest Writer: Howard Cooperstein

Howard Cooperstein is a Lead Program Manager in the PowerPoint and OfficeArt group.

My name is Howard Cooperstein my work has been primarily on OfficeArt, the drawing and graphics features shared across Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher and FrontPage. I was also the User Interface lead for PowerPoint 2002. For Office 12 I am the lead for the Office Themes team.

A big part of the Office 12 user interface story is how fast you can create a great looking document. This is the first in a series of articles explaining how we fill up Office 12's galleries with great looking choices.

Office 12 dramatically improves the aesthetic quality of formatting and this becomes really clear when you look at documents created with previous versions. In our research we looked at a lot of customer documents and for the most part they are professional looking but quite plain, relying on the default styles for text, tables and graphics. Obviously, PowerPoint with its Design Templates has the most colorful and graphically rich documents. But, even so, the tables, charts and diagrams on those slides usually aren't as polished as background on which they sit.

Let's look a little closer at what exactly is going awry with formatting. As mentioned above default styles are most often used and these styles are far less than compelling. For example, take the default table and chart styles (pullease!)

Individually, each has serious visual design issues. Taken together there's the additional issue that they don't match each other in type face, colors, or shading style. Office 2003 has some limited capabilities in Word and PowerPoint to tie content styling together, but for the most part each piece of content is singing its own style tune. It's easy to see how documents frequently end up a cacophony of styles.

Default issues aside, Office 2003 can make a great looking document if you know all the right features to use, in the right ways. We came across some stunning examples in Word and PowerPoint, in particular. Why do the vast majority of users fail to create documents like this? Fundamentally it's because 1) very few users are skilled in graphic design and 2) the existing user interface fails to account for fact #1. Hey, we can't all go to design school! Our tools should let us focus on our work and make many of these design decisions for us. Office 12's galleries which insert pre-styled content and apply multiple formatting settings in a single click are well poised to address the UI issue, but you still need a way to put that visual design sense into the galleries.

Enter Office Themes. While similar in name to an existing feature in Word, Office Themes are an entirely new way to specify the colors, fonts and graphic effects to be used in a single document.

The Office 12 Ribbon uses this design description to provide galleries of Quick Styles that always match the Theme of your document. The Themes and the Quick Styles are created by visual designers. The natural result: people create documents that sing one (beautiful) song.

In Office 12, Word, PowerPoint and Excel all support the new Theme architecture. They all read the same theme file format. Not only will the styling of content match within a document but you can make documents, presentations and spreadsheets that match each other. And all of your content is dynamically linked to the theme; change your theme and your entire document will transform its colors, fonts and graphic effects to match it.

In upcoming posts I'll cover more details about the remarkably compact design magic inside each Office Theme file and discuss the design goals behind the Themes and Quick Styles user interfaces.