Microsoft Word is an incredibly powerful piece of software, but it’s not really built for designing beautiful posters! And yet, if you’re a small organisation, sometimes it’s all you have. It might be that you can’t use anything else because the boss wants to edit your poster but they don’t want to learn how to use Canva, let alone pay for the Adobe suite. Fair enough – you’re stuck with Word. Let’s work on some simple ways to get better control over your layout and styles and make something half-decent!
This is what we’re starting with:
It’s not exactly eye-catching! Let’s look at some quick and easy ways we can brighten it up.
As a small organisation or a community group it’s unlikely you have a huge stock photo budget, but that doesn’t mean your options are closed! There are plenty of public domain stock photo sites around where you can legally use a nice image.
Head over to Pixabay and have a search. ‘Barbecue’ had some nice results but I found a cute cartoon under ‘Party barbecue’ – sometimes you have to get a bit wider with your keywords! Pixabay tells me my clip art doesn’t even need attribution, so we’re good to go. Download the image you like and move it to the same folder as your poster.
Insert the image (Insert -> Pictures) above your text. Your poster might look something like this:
Already it’s a vast improvement on a text-only poster. But we can take it a bit further. Later versions of Word have a fantastic tool that actually allows you to recolour an image – give it a try! Click once on your image to bring up the Format context menu. On the far left there’s a button called “Color”. I have a few options below with the opportunity to add more:
Let’s go with that burnt orange colour – it makes me think of burning embers and cooking meat.
So now my poster is getting a bit more interesting, but how about the text? Luckily Word has a few typography tricks up its sleeve …
Fonts and Sizes
Quick: how did you know that “Fonts and Sizes” was a heading? Is it because it’s bigger? A different font? A different colour?
Variations, however subtle, between sections of text can add interest and help the reader tell the difference between a heading, a description, and supplementary information.
In the example above, I’ve done the following:
- Changed the font of the header from Calibri to Broadway (a Windows system font)
- Moved the heading down slightly from the image
- Centred the heading
- Coloured the heading the same orange as the image
- Made the description bold
- Added a space between the description and the supplementary information
- Made “Time” and “Place” in the supplementary information bold
That’s about fifteen seconds worth of work and it makes a big difference to the poster already.
Tables and Layout
That supplementary information is still bothering me. I’d like it if things looked a little neater in that section.
You might like to create a table and cut and paste your information into it. In this case I created a table with two columns and three rows, and then I highlighted the cells in the last row, right-clicked, and clicked “Merge Cells” to create the wide row at the bottom.
It’s neater, but the lines are a bit heavy. Luckily we have full control over the inner and outer borders. What if we got rid of all the inner borders and tried something new for the outer border?
To do this, select your table by clicking the four-pointed arrow image to the top-left of the table (it appears when you hover over the top-left corner of the table). When your table is selected, go to the Design context tab and over to Borders. If you click the “Inside Borders” button, you can remove all the inner lines.
Once your inner lines are gone, go to Borders -> Borders and Shading and set the colours and width for your outside border. You might need to then click the “Outside Borders” button to actually apply this style. Play around until you find something you like.
Note: We could have laid out the supplementary information using Tabs, but these are a little harder to control and applying the border style would have been more complex this way. If you want to throw a box around something but also have it neatly spaced, Tables are still the easiest way to do that!
Our poster is getting there, but maybe it needs something to pull it all in together. What about a border?
Go to the Design tab and on the far right, click Page Borders. You’ll notice the dialogue box is basically the same as the one you just used to put a border around our table.
I’ve ended up with a bit of a retro feel so I’m going to go with a border that reflects the thick and thin lines in the Broadway font I used for the heading:
I like the border, but now I think it’s too much for my table to have a border too. Let’s get rid of that now (Table Tools -> Design -> Borders -> No Border):
Now the bottom of my poster feels a little bare. Maybe I just need something to jazz it up a little:
This little flourish down the bottom is simply a Symbol! Place your cursor where you want your symbol, then go to Insert -> Symbol -> More Symbols. A box will pop up with plenty of symbols for you to choose from. You’ll notice that at the top of the box is a drop-down where you can choose your font. I found these flourishes in the Windings font – Windings is a font made entirely of symbols and can be really useful for your designs!
This is just one of many ways this poster could have been designed. It’s not a groundbreaking design, but it’s clean and it’s an improvement upon what you were given.
Other ways we might have improved the poster include:
- Introducing a second colour
- A background colour (printing it on coloured paper would have a similar effect)
- More variation in typography (for example, playing with case and letter spacing)
- A photograph instead of clip art
I’ve deliberately kept this poster simple – it’s going to be passed around the department, possibly being opened in different versions of Word, so we’ve stuck to system fonts and a layout that is unlikely to get ‘broken in transit’ if opened in a different version of Word. Sometimes it’s best to go for a clean, simple design rather than shooting for the stars and having the software fail you.
And sometimes designing for clarity means working on the copy. In the version below I’ve rephrased the “call Edwina” line so that it can be included in the table in the same way that the Time and Date are laid out:
So our final poster is nothing jaw-droppingly innovative, but it’s inoffensive, and it’s immediately apparent what the event is, when it’s happening and who to call if you want to know any more. Viewers can immediately decide if it’s something they’re interested in attending and where to get more information if not.
If we compare the original to the improved version, we can see that even though Microsoft Word isn’t intended for design, it can really bring us quite a long way to a decent document!
What’s your go-to Microsoft Word tip for jazzing up a document?