Morph in PowerPoint: Conversation with Lauren Janas

Created: Thursday, May 9, 2019, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 9:30 am



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Lauren Janas
Lauren Janas is a Senior Program Manager on the PowerPoint team, where she has been working to infuse research about the psychology of effective presenting into the experience of using PowerPoint itself to help people give better presentations. She was the original PM for the Morph transition, which allows users to add advanced motion effects to their slides in a single click, as well as the recent improvements to give users more control over which objects Morph.

In this conversation, Lauren talks about the Morph transition.

Geetesh: Lauren, can you share some thoughts on the Morph transition? How can people use Morph for more impactful presentations?

Lauren: Morph is unique among all the PowerPoint transitions because of its intelligence and its ability to show relationships between concepts. Unlike other PowerPoint transitions, which can be useful for adding some professionalism, visual interest, or flair but fundamentally leave the content of the presentation unchanged, Morph can make your slides greater than the sum of their parts.

Morph looks for commonalities across your slides, and smoothly transforms them from their starting point to their ending point. However, the transformation itself can be used to convey information. For example, imagine that you were a teacher and you wanted to teach students about the components of a cell. You could use Morph to show the entire cell, but then zoom into certain parts, and then pan around the cell to show the relative positions of different parts of the cell. The motion itself reinforces the learning of the concept – by seeing a visual zoom-in, the students can more easily understand and remember that the mitochondria is a sub-component of the whole cell, and by seeing a pan from left to right, the motion conveys information about which cell parts are close together and how they are positioned relative to one another. There is research that suggests that this kind of motion which is meaningful, rather than decorative, can enhance learning and attention. Morph is most effective when it goes beyond simply adding some movement to your deck, and allows you to use motion to tell a story about relationships.

One of my favorite real examples someone shared with me was for a professional presentation where they had tried adding Morph to all their slides, without knowing what the transition would do, since they hadn’t had Morph in mind when they created their slides. Then when they went through their deck, they were surprised to discover an unexpected relationship between the content on two consecutive slides. So it seems Morph isn’t just useful for conveying relationships in your presentation, it can also be useful for discovering them!



Geetesh: You recently introduced the Morph by name option uses exclamation marks to match objects. Is there a story somewhere that inspired and motivated this feature?

Lauren: We learned about the user need for more control over which objects Morph while connecting with customers at the Presentation Summit, an annual conference for presentation professionals. During the conference, Jona, an engineering manager on the PowerPoint team, attended a session about using PowerPoint Morph transitions. During the session, the presenter demoed some cool ways to use Morph in PowerPoint presentations, but often had to say, “but here is the workaround you have to do to get this to work,” or “it doesn’t work exactly how you’d like, but we don’t have control over what morphs where.”

Jona realized this was an opportunity for improvement and met with the presenter and several other attendees after the session to see how we could address the issues brought up in the session. He emailed the PowerPoint team, and they built a quick prototype that night and had it ready to demo to the group at the Presentation Summit the very next day. It was a big hit, and everyone wanted to see those changes in a future version of PowerPoint.

After that, several PowerPoint engineers took advantage of an upcoming company hackathon to take the prototype and the feedback from the customers at Presentation Summit, and fully flesh out the improvements to Morph. They also saw an opportunity to improve table and SmartArt morphing while they were at it!

Table morphing improvements

SmartArt morphing improvements

To move from the Hackathon project to real, shipping code, I worked with the PowerPoint MVPs, some of our biggest power users, to refine the designs. It was our MVPs who suggested using “!!” as a keyword to match objects since it was quick and easy to type, but would also ensure Morph didn’t accidentally match shapes based on their name when those names were being used for another purpose.

After the hackathon and the working sessions with MVPs, the PowerPoint team worked to implement the tweaks to the original fixes to get the hacks into a shippable state. Thanks to shared code, the team was able to build these features for all platforms at once! As a result of the team’s efforts, the feature came to life, and all of the Morph improvements from the hackathon are now available to customers.

Default Morph object matching behavior

Users can now fix Morph matching using the selection pane


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