How aligning on PowerPoint actually works


Aligning objects on PowerPoint is broken and it’s mildly infuriating. Let me explain…

By default, PowerPoint aligns to the outermost shape selected. This means Align-Right aligns to the rightmost shape and Align-Top aligns to the rightmost shape. Predictable and precise right? Think again.

The real troublemakers and Align-Middle and Align-Center. Whichever Microsoft employee who designed these tools must have had an off day. Aligning two shapes center will either (1) move both shapes to their collective midpoint OR (2) move one shape to the other shape’s centerline.

Option 1 may sound like a useful feature, but I find there are rarely use-cases for it. While it aligns both shapes on the same centerline, it also moves them both to a midpoint position that you probably don’t care for. Option 2 at least conserves one of the shape’s positions but it’s uncertain which shape will stay, and which will move. The worst is you can never really be 100% certain of which of these options PowerPoint is going to pick.

What would be useful instead is for Align Center to move one of the shapes to the first selected shape’s center line (option 2 on the diagram above). This way, you can place shape A at the position you want on the slide, and then align shape B to it, resulting in both shapes being at known and pre-selected position on the slide.

To overcome this problem, I use a PowerPoint add-in that makes all alignment tools align to the first shape I selected whenever I hold shift.  For example, I use the shortcut ‘ALT+1+SHIFT+C’ to align shapes to the center of the first shape selected (note that you need to put the Align objects tool in the first position of your quick access toolbar for this shortcut to work). This might seem like a small improvement but, as someone who uses PowerPoint at work every day, my frustration would bubble up to incredible heights if I didn’t have an ‘align to first’ feature.