In this article, you’ll learn nine different ways to fix the new Designer feature in PowerPoint, if your Design Ideas command is not working (or greyed out).

While the Design Ideas feature can be extremely useful, it can also be frustrating when it suddenly doesn’t work.

That’s why understanding how to troubleshoot the Design Ideas command is a big step forward in learning how to best use it. But before you get lost in how to fix this new PowerPoint feature, let’s first make sure you fully understand what the new feature is.

What is Design Ideas in PowerPoint?

The Design Ideas command in the Designer group in the PowerPoint ribbon

The PowerPoint Design Ideas command (or Designer), is a new PowerPoint feature that generates slide layout ideas for you. The coolest thing about this feature is that it uses the content you already have to create fast PowerPoint backgrounds for you, which you can see in the video below.

As designing slide layouts is one of the biggest challenges people face in PowerPoint, Microsoft created this handy tool to help you out. High-five Microsoft!

Example of the Design Ideas command open on the right of your work space inside PowerPoint

As you can see in the picture above, the command gives you a variety of layout ideas based on the content of your slide. If you then click on a layout in the Design Ideas dialog box, that layout is applied to your slide as a slide background.

Terminology-wise, PowerPoint Designer is the same as the Design Ideas command. It can also be called the Designer Pane. I will be referring to these interchangeably throughout this article.

When it works, it can be great. When it doesn’t work, it can be frustrating.  So let’s look at how to quickly fix it.

[Watch] PowerPoint Designer NOT working

In addition to the 6 fixes discussed in the video above, I’ve included 3 additional fixes in the article below. I will also continue adding to this article, so I recommend bookmarking this page.

1. Microsoft Office 365 subscription only

If you do not have an annual Microsoft Office 365 subscription, you do not have access to the PowerPoint Design Ideas command.

That means that unless you purchase (or have access to) the latest version of Microsoft Office, you will not be given the automatic layout ideas for your slides. This is one reason why I highly recommend getting an Office 365 subscription (now called Microsoft 365).

To purchase your own Microsoft 365 license, see Microsoft’s website here

2. Design Ideas requires internet access

The Design Ideas command is powered by what is called Office Intelligence Services.

That means that to generate new layout ideas for you, PowerPoint needs to have access to the internet.

If you are working offline or have a spotty internet connection, try troubleshooting your internet connection or find a better wifi zone.

To troubleshoot your internet connection in Windows 10, right click the internet icon and select Troubleshoot problems

To troubleshoot your internet connection in Windows 10, simply:

  1. Right-click ​the Internet Access icon in your taskbar
  2. Select Troubleshoot Problems
  3. Follow the prompts to fix your internet

VPN Warning: Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access the internet will also disable the Design Ideas tab. As of right now, the Office Intelligent Services do not work with VPN connections.

So that is somethign else to check if Designer is not working for you.

3. Remove mixed shapes on your slide

PowerPoint Designer does not work with mixed shapes on your slide.

Consequently, if you add a shape, line, text box, ink or video to your slide, the Design Ideas command will likely not work. That’s because it’s designed to work with placeholders (editable elements set on the Slide Master) only.

So if your Designer is not working, double-check that you don’t have any of these objects on your slide.

Alternatively, you can try copying and pasting your content on a blank slide to see if Design Ideas works there.

4. The 10-6-1-1-1 content rule

The PowerPoint Design Ideas command can only generate slide layout ideas for certain types of PowerPoint objects and only a certain number of each of those objects.

PowerPoint Designer only works for up to 10 pictures, 6 icons, 1 SmartArt graphic, 1 table or 1 chart on a PowerPoint slide. I call this the 10-6-1-1-1 rule for PowerPoint Designer.

Additionally, you cannot mix and match any of these shapes on a slide for Designer to work.

Notice in the picture below how the Design Ideas command works for 10 pictures on the slide, giving you a variety of layout ideas on the right.

PowerPoint Designer works with up to 10 pictures
But as soon as you add an 11th picture, Designer doesn’t work anymore.
If you add an eleventh picture to your slide, the Designer command will no longer work

Depending on the size of your picture, sometimes you can only sneak 6 pictures on a slide too before Designer stops working.

So that’s another reason why your Design Ideas might not be working: You’re either not using the right type of content, or you’re using too many objects on your slide for it to properly work.

On another picture note, if you are using lots of pictures in your presentation, you might need to compress your images to reduce your PowerPoint file size. To learn how to compress images in PowerPoint, read our guide here.

Note: If you use SmartArt to crop your images, or fill a shape with a picture to make it transparent, the Design Ideas command will also not work. That is because PowerPoint considers your image as a shape, rather than a picture.

To learn how to make an image transparent in PowerPoint, read our guide here.

5. Change your PowerPoint layout

Only 6 powerpoint layouts work with design tips: title slide, title and content, section header, two content, title only and picture with caption

PowerPoint Designer only generates design ideas for the 6 default slide layouts that come with PowerPoint. These 6 slide layouts include:

  1. Title Slide
  2. Title and Content
  3. Section Header
  4. Two Content
  5. Title Only
  6. Picture with Caption

If you are using a custom PowerPoint layout or tweak one of these default PowerPoint slide layouts on your Slide Master, Design Ideas will not work.

To expand your knowledge and learn how to set up (and design) new slide layouts for your templates without Designer, read our guide here.

From the home tab, open the layout drop down to choose a new slide layout

To change your PowerPoint layout to one of the 6 layouts that work, simply:

  1. Be active on the slide layout you want to change
  2. Navigate to the Home tab
  3. Open the Layout drop-down
  4. Select one of the 6 default PowerPoint layouts

If you select one of the 6 default PowerPoint layouts and Designer still doesn’t work for you, you’ll want to double-check your content. See Fix #3 and Fix #4.

Note: If you add an extra placeholder to one of the default 6 PowerPoint layouts on the Slide Master, that is the same as creating your own custom slide layout.

The PowerPoint Design Ideas command does not work with custom slide layouts. Therefore, make sure you don’t add placeholders to your slide layouts if you want Designer to work for that type of slide.

If you think you are using the right type of content, you can always copy and paste it into a blank presentation to see if that fixes the issue.

6. Set Design Ideas to automatically pop up

If the Design Ideas command is working for your colleague but not for you, it’s probably related to this setting.

That’s because you can choose to use the Design Ideas command in one of two ways:

  1. Have it automatically pop up whenever it has layout ideas for you
  2. Only open when you select it in your Ribbon
To turn on Designer, open the File menu, Options and choose to Automatically show me design tips

To have Design Ideas automatically pop up for you in PowerPoint, simply:

  1. Navigate to the File tab
  2. Select Options
  3. Navigate to the General tab
  4. In the PowerPoint Designer group, select Automatically show me design ideas
  5. Click OK

With this feature active, any time that Designer can give you layouts ideas based on the content on your slide, it will pop open.

In addition, checking the Automatically show me design ideas gives you a second option to show you suggestions for the entire presentation.

New option to show the Designer pane for new blank presentations in PowerPoint

With this option selected, when you start a brand new presentation, Design Ideas will give you what appears to be the usual layout ideas for your one slide.

However, when you choose one of those layouts, Designer will then apply an entire theme to your presentation. Furthermore, that same style will be applied to all your slide layout options.

The theme includes slide layouts in the Slide Master, a font combination, and color palette. To learn more about PowerPoint themes, read our guide here.

Note: You don’t have to have Design Ideas set to automatically show up to use Designer in PowerPoint.

Click the Design tab and click Design Ideas to open the Designer Pane

At any time you can open the Designer Pane for a specific slide. To do that, simply:

  1. Navigate to the Design tab
  2. Click the Design Ideas command

Whether or not your see layout ideas for your slide will again depend on your content, your layout, and other factors as discussed in this article.

7. Check your PowerPoint file type

PowerPoint Design Ideas does not work with the following two PowerPoint file types:

  1. PowerPoint Macro-Enabled Presentation (.pptm)
  2. PowerPoint 2003 to 2007 Presentation (.ppt)

While you can save your presentations this way, the Design Ideas tab will not work in those types of presentations. It will simply appear grayed out.

To fix this, all you need to do is save your presentation in the PowerPoint .pptx file format.

To save your presentation in the PowerPoint Presentation file format, simply:

  1. Hit Ctrl + Shift + S (or F12) on your keyboard
  2. Navigate to where you want to save your file
  3. Change the Save as Type to PowerPoint Presentation
  4. Click Save

If you were previously using a Macro-Enabled or 2003 to 2007 presentation, you should now find that the Design Ideas works again.

8. Look out for multiple PowerPoint collaborators

If you are collaborating on the same slide with one or more people, Designer will not display Design Ideas. This is true for you or any of the other collaborators.
Multiple collaborators on the same PowerPoint slide will block Designer
As soon as you are the only person working on your slide again, the Design Ideas command will open itself back up.

9. Have your company turn Design Ideas on

If you have the latest Microsoft Office 365 subscription at your office and you don’t see the Designer group in your Design tab, it’s likely that your company has turned the feature off.
If you do not see the Designer group in the Design tab, your company has probably turned it off

The Office Intelligence Services is something that an IT administrator can turn off within your company. Therefore, if nothing else in this post works and you believe you have an Office 365 subscription, double-check with the IT department in your company.

Final Thoughts on Designer

That’s 9 different ways to fix your PowerPoint Design Ideas command if it is not working.

Assuming you have a Microsoft Office 365 subscription and your company has not turned this feature off, the main thing to remember is to check your content and your layouts.

If Designer is not working, it can almost always be traced back to one of these two things.

However, as you can see above, there are a number of other issues you might face, so it’s good to know how to troubleshoot Designer when it’s not working.

If you enjoyed this article, you can learn more about our PowerPoint training courses and other presentation resources by visiting us here.


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