The 5 Stages of Designing in Microsoft Office

Michael Streubert
Michael StreubertSenior Art Director
Designing in Microsoft Office

A satirically cynical guide for coping with your next project.  

There comes a time in every designer’s career when a dark cloud descends over our pastoral workspace and someone commissions an original design created in Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. A dubious request, castrating our professional expertise, the Microsoft Office “Template” has the side-effect of sending any seasoned artist into an emotional, design-purgatory. Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel, and only by accepting the inevitable, are we able to navigate through the abominable.

Denial is the first of the five stages of Office design. 

In this stage, our day becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Design makes no sense. Everything we’ve known feels wrong. We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb. We consider calling in sick, feigning amnesia, or ignoring the job altogether in hopes it simply disappears. But there is grace in denial- ultimately we will become stronger by adding a new skill-set to our toolbox. Or so we’re consoled.

Anger is a necessary stage in the Office design process.

You’ll open the ill-suited program selected for the task and rage will boil inside. “What is this interface?” “Why can’t I move an image?” “How the hell do I set a background photo?” “Where are my color palettes?” We may find ourselves lashing out at others; our account manager for accepting the request, another designer whom we believe is hiding Office shortcuts from us, or even our creative director’s feigned empathy and encouragement. And yet anger is strength- and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the emptiness of Microsoft Office design.

Bargaining, or what have I done to deserve this.

“I’ll go to their office and teach them InDesign.”

“I’ll do the edits for free.”

“Can’t we hire an intern for this?”

“I don’t even know how to use Word any better than they do!”

When reality sets in, we remain stuck in the past, attempting to negotiate our way out of the situation. We want our job returned to what it was; we want our Adobe Suite restored. We want to go back in time: call in sick that day, have the job assigned to someone else, stop the account manager from answering the email request... if only, if only, if only.

Absolute, keyboard-shattering frustration.

No, not depression. We’re back to Anger at 11. You’ll discover anything you Google for help is half a decade and 15 versions outdated. You’ll be watching YouTube videos from some faceless man speaking broken Russian helping you set tabs that don’t stay put. You’ll send Mac files to confused clients on Windows XP that haven’t updated their software since Y2K. In a Hulk-ish rage, we’ll find ourselves ordering voodoo dolls of Bill Gates and 8” knives off of Ebay. Meanwhile, the devil on our shoulder keeps reminding us we would have been finished 6 hours ago had we started in InDesign. 

Acceptance or “How I learned to stop throwing mice and love Microsoft Office.”

Eventually, Nihilism takes hold and we achieve complete, Zen-like clarity. We’ll end up blunt forcing enough square pegs into round holes. We’ll consider adding “Microsoft Office Proficiency” to our resume. Ascension into a higher plain of design feels complete. Erupting confidence, we’ll find ourselves eager to expand on our new knowledge- perhaps learning a programming language; C, Java, or even Python. Alas, hubris will fade like a dream upon daybreak, as the only thing more fleeting than learning Microsoft Office, is retaining its secrets. Like a man forever rolling a boulder up a hill, we are destined to repeat these 5 stages, evermore. 

Have you, or a designer close to you, ever experienced the loss of Adobe Suite in favor of a Microsoft Office product? The comments below can be a safe place to get the additional support we all may need.