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Pretty Up Your Office 2013

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Microsoft Office 2013 isn’t just a once-size-fits-all suite of programs anymore. Now you can change the look of the software by changing the Office theme, or add a special design element - and maybe a bit of fun - by choosing an Office background. You can also change the look of the ribbon and add space around key interface elements by displaying Office 2013 in touch mode. Katherine Murray shows you how you can use these simple customizations to personalize your Office 2013.
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If you are tired of looking at the same old screen day after day as you work on your documents, worksheets, and presentations, the new customization features in Office 2013 may liven up your life a little. Now you can change the color scheme of Office 2013 by choosing an Office theme or add a special design element to the screen by adding an Office background. This article shows you how to make those simple changes and display Office in touch mode, which adds space to the interface so that you can easily tap the tools and options you need.

Shades of Gray: Choosing an Office Theme

In previous versions of Office, there were no easy ways to change the color scheme of the ribbon, work area, or dialog boxes. Now in Office 2013, you can easily change the look of your applications by choosing a Color theme. You get to the Office themes by clicking or tapping File to display Backstage view and then clicking Account. In the Account tab, click the arrow to the left of Office Theme, and a list appears, showing three choices (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 You can choose White, Light Gray, or Dark Gray as your Office Theme.

By default, the White theme is selected for Office 2013. This theme displays the white work area and white ribbon on a light bluish-gray background, with a blue status bar and blue highlights as you select tools. When you click File to display Backstage view, the column on the left also appears in that Microsoft blue.

If you choose Light Gray, the ribbon is displayed in a light gray color. Blue is still used (although it’s a slightly deeper blue) for tool highlights, the status bar, and Backstage view. If you choose Dark Gray (shown in Figure 1), Backstage view shows the selections in a gray column, with the selected tab highlighted in blue. In the application window, the page is white on a dark gray background, and the ribbon is displayed in light gray, contrasted against a darker gray screen of ribbon tab names. The status bar appears in gray, and tools on the ribbon highlight in blue.

It’s worth experimenting with the different Office themes to see which one you like best. You may find, as I did, that your preferences change over time. At first I preferred the White theme, but somewhere along the road switched to the Dark Gray theme, and now I prefer the contrast it offers.

Embellish Office a Bit with Office Backgrounds

If you’re using Office 2013 with Windows 8, you already know that there’s a huge redesign with the new operating system that enables you to choose from a wide range of color palettes and special screen personalizations. Office 2013 continues on with the “personalization” approach by adding Office backgrounds you can choose that give your applications a little design flair.

The backgrounds actually appear along the top border of your application window, and offer fun designs of many different types. They’re subtle, but obvious enough to make a difference. You can choose from a variety of different styles and personalities.

The background you selects won’t appear on anything you save and share or print, however. This little bit of creative whimsy is meant just for you, to break up those long work hours just a bit.

  • No background, which shows just your ho-hum, blank window border
  • Calligraphy displays scrolling pen marks (very elegant)
  • Circles and Stripes shows a modern design in bold gray lines
  • Circuit displays schematic stylings
  • Clouds shows very light cumulus
  • Doodle Circles displays hand-drawn circular doodles
  • Doodle Diamonds looks like it’s raining kites
  • Geometry displays alternating patterns of white and gray shapes
  • Lunchbox shows a bunch of creepy lunch items with staring eyes and insincere-looking smiles (Figure 2)
  • School supplies resembles a spilled backpack, with pencils, pens, and notebooks
  • Spring shows the graceful branch of a budding tree
  • Stars displays a set of cartoon-like flower-power stars
  • Straws resembles a pile of pick-up sticks
  • Tree Rings displays cross-sections of a set of trees
  • Underwater shows crab, octopi, and submarines, all swimming at the top of your Office application window

Figure 2 You can choose an Office Background to give your Office apps a little more personality.

Whenever you choose a new background for an Office app, that same background is applied to all your other applications as well. This means that you can change the Office background in Word 2013, and the next time you open Excel, there is the same background you saw in your Word document window.

Give Yourself Some Space with Touch Mode

As you may have heard, Windows 8 struck a chord with touch-device and tablet users, because the operating system is built for touch. Office 2013 followed suit to a large degree and now offers what Microsoft is calling touch mode, which adds space around the tools you are likely to want to tap in the ribbon. You’ll also find when you use touch mode that other items on-screen have been spaced out as well; for example, when you tap a tool that offers additional options (like the Borders tool in the Paragraph group), Word recognizes that you’re using touch and shows you a spacious list as opposed to the tighter options list you’ll see if you click the tool.

You can display Office in touch mode by clicking or tapping the Touch/Mouse Mode tool in the Quick Access toolbar in the upper-left corner of your screen and tapping or clicking Touch (Figure 3). The ribbon changes immediately to include more space between tools in the various groups on the ribbon (Figure 4). You’ll also find that other items on the screen—for example, mini-toolbars and galleries offering options—include more space as well, so that you can tap your choices easily. Note that you don’t have to use touch to get the full benefit of touch mode. If you simply like the more spacious display, you can use that mode as your default for all your Office creations.

Figure 3 Display Touch Mode by choosing the Touch/Mouse Mode tool in the Quick Access Toolbar and selecting Touch.

Figure 4 The ribbon changes to include more space between tools in the various ribbon groups.

Final Thoughts

With each of these simple design changes, you can add more personality to your Office apps and tweak the screen so that you can navigate and use the tools more easily. As you get comfortable with the various applications, you’ll discover which settings work best for you and help you focus on the task at hand. In the meantime, have fun experimenting!

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