Let’s talk about customization…

Later this week, we’re going to launch Deckset 2, which includes the most requested feature of all time, ever: the ability to customize themes. Here’s why this has taken so long, and what you can expect from the release.

Pretty much immediately after we launched in early 2014, what was perceived as a glaring omission to some, was perceived as one of Deckset’s biggest strength by others: we didn’t provide any way to change the design of your slides.

We shipped with a couple of themes, and that was it. Deckset, was very opinionated at that. We felt that by not allowing to fiddle with design controls endlessly, we would ultimately act in our users best interest, helping them to focus on the content and not on the design.

As a user, you shouldn’t have to worry about the design of your slides at all. That’s what you hire Deckset for. Your time is much better spent getting the narrative of your presentation right.

Theme customization will finally land in Deckset 2

But understandably, everyone asked for the ability to customize and we can totally see why. For one, you don’t want your presentation to look like everyone else’s, secondly, when you’re working in any kind of corporate context, chances are high that you have to stick to a corporate design guideline.

So, not a day went past without someone asking whether it was possible to make some tweaks to the slide design, even if it was just changing the colors or the typefaces. And trust us, it was very painful seeing people ask for the feature over and over again and not having a good answer for that.

So why did we not “simply build it”. Well, philosophical questions as to what the essence of Deckset is, where its job ends, and another tool’s job begins aside—it’s just not that easy. Contrary to popular belief, we’re not using HTML/CSS for slide rendering, but instead we’re using native macOS views to construct each slide. This allows us to leverage built-in system capabilities like exporting to PDF, native video players, great text rendering and many more.

That’s not to say we didn’t try, though. It just took a few approaches until we found something worth shipping.

One approach we tried was to create a full-blown stylesheet language. This got out of hand very quickly, and it felt counter-intuitive to impose our own, Deckset specific syntax on people. It felt like we would be reinventing CSS and even parts of JavaScript. With this approach, it would have also been possible to take control over the layout rules that decide how to treat a slide with only a header differently from a slide that has a header and an image, for example. But when playing around with it for a few weeks we didn’t see any way to release this and stopped working in that direction.

The turning point was when we introduced a feature we call “configuration commands” early last year. With these commands, you’re able to control some parts of your presentation such as whether to display a footer, slide numbers and so on. It’s implemented in such a way that the commands can be used both globally and on a per-slide level.

Which made us think: Why not use these configuration commands for theming?

We played with this idea for a little while and it began to feel pretty good. When we felt confident enough that this was a useful addition to Deckset in the long run, we shipped a first Beta version in 2017.

People did get a lot of value out of that early implementation already and we were close to shipping but found that the notation was tricky to master: it’s just unnecessarily hard having to type in the exact name of a specific typeface weight, for example. It wasn’t the experience that we want you to have with Deckset.

Change any theme to suit your needs.

So, a couple of months ago we decided to go the extra mile and add a user interface that would make customization so much more accessible and easier to use. With this new interface, it really only takes a couple seconds to change the look of your presentation entirely—and since Decket’s core premise of separating content from presentation still holds true, your changes apply globally. In addition to your Markdown, you can now export a file that holds all your theme’s information, which you can share with others.

We can’t wait to see all the cool looking presentations that you’re going to make with this new release once it’s out.

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