Today's Guest Writer: Howard Cooperstein

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

Last week I gave an overview of the new Office Themes capability. Thank you for all the great comments. This week I'd like to show you what's inside an Office Theme and how that is expressed in the user interface.

Driven to Abstraction. Each Office application has unique formatting capabilities tailored to the document type it creates. Word Text Styles, PowerPoint Slide Masters and Excel Cell Styles do similar things in very different ways. Office Themes are able to work across different applications by including design information abstract enough it can be applied to a variety of formatting situations. The Theme colors, fonts and graphic effects are like a list of formatting ingredients and each Quick Style like a recipe.

We didn't start off with an abstract approach. We tried, for example, to put specific text styles into Themes but quickly ran into roadblocks. PowerPoint uses large text, sometimes lightly colored on a dark background. Word uses smaller, dark text almost always on a white background. As we looked at each object to be styled we ran into similar issues. Ultimately we ended up with a model that was simpler and more compact than we expected. With Office Themes a small amount of XML goes a long way.

To come up with the Office Theme components we asked graphic designers to show us how great looking documents are constructed. We learned the guidelines for type and color usage. They showed us how they construct cool graphics in Adobe Photoshop. All of this was distilled into the font, color and effect "scheme" models. We also looked at existing theme-like features in Publisher and PowerPoint as starting points.

For the user interface of theme-based formatting we had two challenges. First, we had to account for the user tendency to override default formatting. Usually users do this because they don't see good looking, easy formatting options. We had to strike a balance between providing "themed" choices and allowing the full freedom users have always had in Office. Second, we had to fill the galleries with a range of choices that still followed the same theme. Quick Style choices need to span individual user tastes as well as the divergent requirements of presentations, documents and spreadsheets.

So let's look at the Theme Fonts, Colors and Effects.

Theme Fonts. Document designers told us using a single font face for a whole document is always a tasteful design choice. Two fonts is also a great choice when used carefully for contrast. Our font scheme contains just two font slots. One for Headings. One for Body Text. They can be the same font or two different ones. Each application constructs their default text styles using these fonts. The result is you are creating themed text simply by typing into an Office document, even an Excel Cell. Word, PowerPoint and Excel all have Quick Styles galleries on their main ribbon that leverage the font scheme. In addition the Font Picker has been updated to communicate the current theme fonts.

Theme Colors. Our new color scheme model is designed to work with any document. That means it has to handle both light and dark backgrounds. There are visibility rules built in such that you can switch colors at any time and all content will remain legible with all color relationships in tact.

There are twelve color slots. The first four are for text and backgrounds. Text created with the light colors will always be legible over the dark colors and vice versa. There are six accent colors which are always visible over the four potential background colors. The last two slots, not shown, are reserved for Hyperlinks and Followed Hyperlinks.

The Theme Colors are presented in every color picker along with a set of tints and shades based on those colors. (Jensen discussed the new color picker in a recent post.) By selecting colors from this expanded, matched set the user can make direct formatting choices for individual pieces of content that will still follow the theme. When the Theme Colors change, the color picker changes and so does all document content using them.

Theme Effects. This is where real theme magic happens. In the 2007 Office System, Word, PowerPoint and Excel all use the OfficeArt 2.0 graphics platform. The new graphics engine can generate Photoshop-style effects on charts, diagrams, shapes, pictures and in PowerPoint on tables and text. If you've used Photoshop you know it takes skill and time to make good looking things. We asked our graphic designers to explain their system for doing that. For a set of related graphics they specify "stroke," "tone," and "depth." (Translation: line, fill and shadow/3-D, respectively.) By combining these three formatting dimensions together you can generate visuals that all match the same "graphic scheme," which we call Theme Effects. In every Office Theme there is an "effect matrix" with three style levels of line, fill and special effects. Here's the Office Default effect matrix:

Each theme has a different effect scheme giving it a different "feel." One may have a metallic look while another may look like frosted glass. It's all in the Matrix, Neo.

All Together Now. When the Theme Fonts, Colors, and Effects are combined together and presented in a gallery the results are powerful. A single click of a gallery cell communicates hundreds of settings carefully worked out by a graphic designer.

Everything you've seen above is from a single theme. In the next post I'll explain the easy customization UI for themes that let's you create a look that's uniquely yours.