Notes from the Bridge

Designing Communications with MS Office




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These days it is usual for agencies to be asked to produce internal communications materials using MS Office. This is understandable as most clients work in Word, Outlook and PowerPoint using Windows and PCs.

But designers work in InDesign, AfterEffects and Keynote using Apple Macs.

This gulf in commonality may seem insurmountable – it certainly creates a conundrum for both parties.

In the past, this set-up has never compromised a designer’s ability to design or a client’s ability to receive deliverables; after all, designers are in the business of producing finished items; whether print, video, or a dynamic keynote or pdf presentation. But on the client side, there is a growing trend to encourage and retain communications and design expertise in-house, and to use internal channels for distribution. There is also the desire to maintain the ability to edit and manipulate media internally. These shifts mean more and more communications will be produced in Office.

Unfortunately for the designer, Office does not offer the flexibility, technical capability, artistic functionality, robust stability, version compatibility and general quality that is available in a typical set of designer’s programmes. Designers will protest loudly that good design is not possible using these platforms.

Yet, from a clients’ perspective, perhaps there is an expectation that good design is easily achievable by the intuitive use of the default Office design tools. Our general observation, however, is that good design is not always a consistent outcome.

The result is a mismatch. Designers are not able to offer their services using their programmes, and clients are not able to design to a high standard using theirs – yet each is resistant to letting go of their own programmes as the chosen platform on which to work.

So how do we resolve this conundrum?

  • Designers can learn Office programmes – designing to the highest standard the programmes will allow, with the understanding from all parties that until Microsoft launches truly capable design platforms the quality of the designs possible will invariably be compromised.
  • Clients can spend more time learning about design and Office – but we wonder how successful this approach can be. Most Office programmes rely on intuitive learning through regular use – advanced skills require considerable amount of dedicated time and effort. Further, expert knowledge will also be compromised by the legacy of Windows platform changes and legacy updates – which create inherent quirks, bugs and compatibility issues across platforms and users.
  • Of course, where budget and size allow internal communicators can also employ dedicated designers to work internally – one imagines an expertise of Office will be a prerequisite.
  • Microsoft could adopt many more professional design tools – with greater compatibility with Adobe programmes, such as Acrobat or vector-based programmes and PDF files – though this is not likely to happen soon.

This still leaves a rather difficult situation for designers. They are left frustrated by what they perceive as an interference in, and erosion of traditional work streams. But the reality is that as software develops and skill-bases broaden, design – however it is achieved – will inevitably become more fluid.

Good design however, is, and always will be, a valuable and distinctive commodity. It is not easily transferable. Designers must, therefore, remain confident in their own unique creative expertise and the contributions it can make in all areas of industry. The future of the creative and design industry will not be diverted by Office. Rather designers should believe they will always have an important role to play in the future of Office-based communications.

At the Bridge, our designers have mastered Office programmes sufficiently to produce most internal communications materials. E.g. we have developed newsletters built in Word, produced A1 (editable) posters in Publisher, designed emails and bespoke signatures in Outlook – and with our background in live events stretched PowerPoint to its limits.

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