InDesign or Microsoft Office, which delivers the best design?

Ok, so it’s a silly question, InDesign is a ‘serious’ design tool and Microsoft Office isn’t, correct?


But which of these is used by businesses to produce the most customer facing content? One has around 12 million users and the other over 1.2 billion, the numbers probably speak for themselves.

So, here’s the problem…

In the design world, when Microsoft Office applications are mentioned, everyone runs for cover. “We don’t do Microsoft Office”, “death by PowerPoint” and other less than complimentary phrases are often muttered by designers and creatives about the widely used publishing suite. Businesses on the receiving end of a design DO use Microsoft Office though, in fact in some cases it’s pretty much all they do when creating internal communications. There is also an ever growing demand for external content to be created using Microsoft Office applications. With electronic documents often being favoured over printed matter, downloadable reports, whitepapers, factsheets, case studies, the list goes on.

Think about this…

The automobile designer – Would they create a design without some understanding of the underlying mechanics of a car? I hope not. Of course, they wouldn’t build the vehicle, but they would at least know that when manufactured, the design will function as intended and the product will meet the design criteria.
The architect – Would an architect propose a new building design without knowing whether it would stay standing when built, again hopefully not. They wouldn’t lay the bricks, but they would know that when completed their design for the building will be fit for purpose.
There is obviously less risk in creating business documents and presentations, but metaphorically, the wheels can fall off and the walls may crumble in the eyes of the client.

Because of this mismatch between the creative stage and the end user needs, there is often a BIG difference between the ‘design intent’ provided to a client as part of a VI or brand refresh exercise and what the recipient (the client) of the design intent ends up implementing into their business. By the way, I really dislike the phrase ‘Design Intent’, it’s a get out of jail free statement which seems to crop up more and more these days. Whilst the ‘design intent’ or ‘concept’ for the document or presentation will look great, include all of the required elements from the visual identity and some clever design features, when a client tries to implement it – by making, or commissioning templates for their users – the resulting end user product is often far removed from the original ‘design intent’. In fact, I’ve seen many cases where this has happened, not because the person or company making templates for the end user lacks design awareness, or the ability to build a well-structured template, but because the intended use or purpose for the product wasn’t fully considered early enough in the design stage. For today’s client, handing over a PDF which has been saved from an InDesign file where little or no consideration has been given to how the client is going to use it, just isn’t good enough. This approach ultimately leads to disappointed clients and watered down design solutions.

It doesn’t have to be that way

Whilst I’m not suggesting that designers/creatives should become experts in Microsoft Office (I’m not that cruel), or even be less creative in their work, I would argue that there needs to be enough understanding of the Microsoft Office applications to help design products that are fit for purpose. I’m a great believer in ‘design for purpose’, and I think that taking this approach can be just as rewarding for a designer, the challenges are different, but the result should be good design that works effectively for the client.

So, what should be considered?

There are the basic things like how Microsoft Office applications deal with typography, will your proposed type size/line spacing/kerning be achievable in Word or PowerPoint? Will the client even be able to use the font that’s been proposed? Can those subtle differences in paragraph spacing when starting a bulleted list under different heading and text styles be replicated faithfully? How many different text/picture combinations/layouts are you proposing to use in presentations – will end users have the skills to match your design? If not, what will the eventual presentation look like. Then there are page layout constraints, no facility for bleeds etc. Whilst from a design point of view this can be seen as limiting, it’s a fact, so should be considered at the design stage. So, whilst I certainly don’t think that designers should use Microsoft office for creative design work, I do think there should be a wider understanding of the constraints and limitations. That way fantastic creative design will find its way from the designer’s desk right through to the material produced by the end user working in the big corporate environment, who is just trying to stay on brand. There are many great companies (and individuals) out there supporting design agencies in this area who are more than willing to advise and lend a helping hand. They would rather do that than be in the position of having to explain to the client that their design will need to change. Don’t ridicule what is in effect one the most widely used means of producing visual content, learn about its benefits and features, then maximise on those. Don’t be too quick to blame software, with only limited knowledge of what it can do in the right hands. Most importantly, think about it in a different way. Microsoft Office documents and presentations are an output for design, they are the end product and because of that should be a fundamental consideration at the design stage.

Why have I written this article and who is it for?

I’m in the business of taking great design and making it work for clients and have been for many years – typically large corporates, financial service firms, law firms etc. I’ve seen fantastic success stories, I’ve also seen a few car crashes. Fantastic success stories make me smile and smiling is better for your health than being involved in a car crash! Although I’m originally from a typographic design background, 99% of what my company creates gets used by people working with Microsoft Office applications. So I do speak from experience, having seen too many great design concepts fail because they were not designed for purpose. I’ve also seen many work really well for clients when the intended use and end user’s capabilities are taken on board and understood from the beginning. I hope that this article may encourage any creative professionals involved in designing business documents and presentations to take a fresh look at the challenges of designing for Microsoft Office as the ‘output’ for their design. I also hope that brand/design managers/custodians in client organisations take some comfort from the fact that so much more is possible, providing that the correct approach is taken from the beginning and the products are designed for purpose.

John Clements

Linked in link


More than 1 billion people in the world are living with a disability

(WHO & World Bank estimates)

With that in mind

  • Are your documents, presentations and emails accessible to people with disabilities using screen readers and assistive technology?
  • Do you know if the recipients of your documents and presentations are excluded from using them due to how they have been produced?

In some cases, it’s now a requirement for documents and presentations to be made accessible for compliance purposes. Accessibility is important, but it’s often overlooked. You could also be ignoring a large audience who might become your customers.

So, what can be done?

A lot

Accessibility extends into so many areas, including the design of products, devices, services and environments for people with disabilities. In this article, I’m going to focus on just one area, documents and presentations.

There is some great assistive technology available that can help people with different abilities to read and author documents. But to make full use of it, the documents and presentations that you create need to be structured properly.

The good news is that there are tools to help you do this available right there on your PC, built into the software that you use every day. For example, did you know that by adding some ALT text to pictures in your presentations, the content will make much more sense to a blind person, and setting this up involves just a couple of clicks of the mouse.

AI is also beginning to play an important part, making it easier for you to create accessible content. For example, PowerPoint can now provide suggestions for the Alt text that is used to best describe a picture on a slide for someone who is blind.

If like most people in business, you use Microsoft Office applications to write documents, create presentations or send emails, spending just a little more time on preparation could have a huge effect on your target audience, increasing the number of people who will benefit from your hard work.

It’s not possible to cover all of the options in this post. But as a start, I’ve included some notes below and links to some very useful resources containing tips, notes and guides.

So where to start?

First check your documents – if you are using Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, these already have a built in Accessibility Checker which will interrogate your documents and provide details about any issues and how to fix them to make your document more accessible.

The Accessibility Checker verifies your file against a set of rules that identify possible issues for people who have disabilities. Depending on how severe the issue is, the Accessibility Checker classifies each issue as an error, warning, or tip.

    • Error. Content that makes the document difficult or impossible to read and understand for people with disabilities
    • Warning. Content that in most (but not all) cases makes the document difficult to understand for people with disabilities
    • Tip. Content that people with disabilities can understand but that could be presented in a different way to improve the user’s experience

A detailed description of each of the above can be found on Microsoft’s support website:

Rules for the accessibility checker. Guidance from Microsoft

And you can find out how to use the accessibility checker in Microsoft Office applications by following these links:

Microsoft Word

Checking Document accessibility in Microsoft Word

PowerPoint also includes the Accessibility Checker, plus there are some best practice tips for accessibility here:

Make your PowerPoint presentations accessible to people with disabilities

If you would also like to ensure that your emails are accessible, the following link provides some useful tips:

Tips for making your email content accessible

And a really good resource for more detail about accessibility can be found on the GOV.UK website:

Guidance for creating accessible communication formats


Hopefully this article will encourage content producers and in particular Microsoft Office users, to adopt accessibility techniques into their work.

Introducing techniques for making your content accessible, will not only benefit the users of assistive technology, it can have a direct impact on your business, both in terms of reach and ROI.

It’s becoming much more common now for good template designers and developers to provide accessible templates, helping to increase the coverage for content producers and reduce the number of people excluded from being able to use content. Some firms also provide an accessible document remediation service, taking existing content and making it accessible.

At Meta One, our expert team of template designers and developers are always happy to review documents, presentations and templates to provide help with accessibility, and if required help build well-structured accessible content for your organisation.

John Clements

Linked in link