Thinking of an extension to your design toolkit? .dotx, .potx, well there’s two to be going on with.

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Love them or hate them, clients want templates, and for this article I’m going to focus on one particular area of templates that will have many of you running for cover, Microsoft Office™ templates. Not the generic freebies that can be found by typing ‘Templates’ into your favoured browser, but those that when used as an integrated part of a visual identity program, can bring significant benefits to an organisation.

There’s no getting away from the fact that Microsoft Office™ continues to be the dominant software package for businesses. I read somewhere that there are over half a billion users worldwide and whilst that’s probably an exaggerated figure which is likely to include ‘Trial’ software, Microsoft’s dominance in the business sector is significant. With the take up of Office 365™ cloud services; this will undoubtedly continue to grow.

In addition to this market dominance, a growing number of businesses are realising that not only does Microsoft Office™ satisfy the day to day tasks of writing letters, memos, minutes and creating fast turnaround client facing presentations, but that when managed carefully these applications can become a highly effective way to help manage an organisations visual identity.

This has led to an increase in companies requesting ‘Templates’ from their chosen design agency. How that is dealt with by the design agency varies greatly from firing up the dusty PC in the corner to bringing an expert in to help. Templates are however important to organisations, they are the vehicle to much of the client facing content that gets produced and because of this they are an increasingly important element in the visual identity toolkit.

It’s interesting to note that as a vendor of Microsoft Office™ templates, we’ve seen a significant increase in enquiries from design agencies who have been asked to provide ‘templates’ that the client can actually ‘use’ as part of a visual identity programme, rather than just a set of guidelines. Too many organisations have now been through the loop of handing a beautifully presented PDF to their IT department and have wondered why the resulting ‘templates’ have come back bearing little resemblance to the ‘approved’ design, so the responsibility has been passed to the designer.

We see this shift of ‘template’ responsibility to the designer as a positive move, which will result in organisations being able to consistently produce, higher quality documents that have been designed for purpose, rather than designed and then ‘dumbed down’ to fit, and believe me, there’s a lot of dumbing down that goes on if ‘templates’ are not taken seriously at an early stage.

With the ever growing reliance on electronic documentation, this process of designing for purpose becomes even more relevant. Dealing with simple things at the design stage such as accommodating the limited colour model provided by Microsoft Office™, optimising graphics for the intended use and making sure that page layout and typographic detail can be achieved when ‘templated’, will help avoid any awkward “we thought that it was possible” conversations with the client and ensure that the delivered templates are ‘fit for purpose’.

In addition to the design considerations, there’s considerable scope to use the technical ‘openness’ of the Office programs to provide the client organisation with a product that will not only mean their documents look good, but that they are easy to create. For organisations with slightly deeper pockets, this can often extend to providing not only the templates, but a suite of ‘tools’ that enhance the users ability to create ‘designed’ documents, with little or no creative expertise. A well designed (technically as well as visually) set of templates should, and can be, a highly valuable asset to the client organisation.

Businesses will create more and more of their own material internally because they can. Managing how they do that is the job of the template, but is also becoming the responsibility of the designer. So rather than avoid the dreaded Microsoft Office™ templates, recognise them as an essential part of the visual identity mix because the benefit for the client can be considerable.

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