A PowerPoint presentation enhanced by the use of the new Designer feature. Credit: Microsoft
If there's one problem with presentation software, it's that it's hard for many people to create slides that look and feel professional. While Microsoft does its best to provide people with templates, it can still be hard to make slides look good -- and that's made doubly difficult for users starting from a blank canvas.
Microsoft is aiming to solve that with a new feature for PowerPoint 2016 called Designer that helps people who aren't presentation experts put together good-looking slides. When users go to insert an image into their presentation, Designer automatically pops up a sidebar on the right-hand side of the PowerPoint window with a handful of design ideas.
There are more than 12,000 layouts, which Microsoft created in conjunction with professional designers. In order to present only a handful of layouts to users, Designer looks at the images inserted and detects the most important content to influence its decision.
The PowerPoint Designer interface. Credit: Microsoft
According to Chris Maloney, the senior program manager for PowerPoint, the tools saves users time that they would previously have spent manipulating slide elements in order to produce the same effect.
"But with Designer, we can give you this option that would have taken like 30 clicks, and we give you five of them," Maloney said. "So right there, that’s like 150 clicks, and all you have to do is try them on, see what you like, and then just be on your way."
There's one downside: Designer requires an Internet connection to work, since the analysis that powers the feature is handled in Microsoft's cloud. When PowerPoint loses its network connection, any existing slides touched by Designer can still be manipulated and edited, but the software won't suggest designs for new slides.
Another new feature, Morph, makes slick transition animations easy to pull off. It takes two different slides and transitions between them by fading and moving different slide elements around. If there's a chart that takes up the full size of one slide that is then half the size in the next one, Morph will shrink it to transition between the two.
In practice, it seems a lot like using an animation program like Adobe Flash or After Effects, with slides serving as key frames and animation filling the space between those two frames. But Maloney said that users don't have to be animation experts in order for Morph to work well for them.
Long-suffering presentation watchers may recoil in horror at the thought of new animations coming into PowerPoint, after being tortured with the overuse of flying text and bouncing images. That's why Microsoft designed Morph to be idiot-proof: all of the motion between slides is point-to-point, with object transformations taking place subtly.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.