outlook appearance hero

If you tend to use visual cues to help organize your workday, Outlook can help.

Outlook 2016 contains a multitude of actions and functions to help you sort, file and respond to messages efficiently. Did you know that you could also alter your perspective to provide another level of productivity? Here's a look at some of the most useful options.

Personalizing Outlook's appearance

How to change the color and design

outlook theme

To change Outlook's background pattern and theme:

  1. Click on the File tab in the navigation ribbon.
  2. Click on Options.
  3. Navigate to Personalize your copy of Microsoft Office under the General section.
  4. Choose a background pattern from the Office Background dropdown list.
  5. Choose a theme from the Office Theme dropdown list.
  6. Click OK to finish.

The Background option provides various patterns to decorate the area surrounding the navigation ribbon. Your options include clouds, underwater imagery, and calligraphy. The theme option changes the colorization of Outlook and your Office theme in general.

How to move the reading pane in Outlook

To move Outlook's reading pane:

  1. Click View on the navigation ribbon.
  2. Click on Reading Pane under Layout.
  3. Choose to place the reading pane to the right or below the Message Preview. (You can also remove the reading pane.)

How to change the reading pane options

To modify the reading pane:

  1. Click on Reading Pane under the View tab.
  2. Click on Options.
  3. Check Mark items as read when viewed in the Reading Pane.
  4. Choose to modify the five-second delay.
  5. Check or uncheck additional options.
  6. Click OK.

How to change the view of the Navigation strip

To modify the Navigation strip view:

  1. Click on the more (…) icon.
  2. Select Navigation Options.
  3. Modify the maximum number of visible items.
  4. Select/Deselect Compact Navigation to swap between icons and words.
  5. Modify the order of the Navigation strip links.
  6. Click OK to save changes.

Changing views within folders

How to change a folder view

manage outlook folder views

To switch between views:

  1. Select the View Tab.
  2. Click on Change View in the Current View Tab.
  3. Choose between the predefined Compact, Single or Preview views.

You can click Reset View under the view tab to revert to the default view.

How to apply a view to all folders in Outlook

To apply a view to all folders:

  1. Click the View tab.
  2. Select Change View.
  3. Select Apply Current View to Other Mail Folders.
  4. Click on all folders that require an application of the view.
  5. Select Apply view to subfolders if needed.
  6. Click OK to apply.

How to create your own view

To create a new Outlook view:

  1. Select the View tab.
  2. Select Change View under the Current View group.
  3. Select Manage All Views.
  4. Select New.
  5. Enter a name for the new view.
  6. Select the type of view to use.
  7. Choose All Mail and Post folders under the Can be used on section.
  8. Select OK.
  9. Select options to use in the Advanced View Settings: New view window.
  10. Click OK.
  11. Select Apply View to finish.

How to build on an existing view

To use a predefined Outlook view as a template:

  1. Choose View Settings in the View tab.
  2. Make modifications to presented options in the Advanced View settings window.
  3. Click OK.
  4. Click Change View in the View tab.
  5. Select Manage Views.
  6. Choose Current view settings under Views for folder.
  7. Select Copy.
  8. Enter a name.
  9. Select All Mail and Post folders under Can be used on.
  10. Select OK.

How to remove a created view

To delete a custom Outlook view:

  1. Click on the View tab in the navigation ribbon.
  2. Select Change View.
  3. Select Manage Views.
  4. Select the custom view.
  5. Choose Delete.
  6. Click OK.

Changing the appearance of messages and notifications

How to change the font size of the message preview list

To change the Outlook font size:

  1. Click on the View tab in the navigation ribbon.
  2. Click View Settings in the Current View group.
  3. Select Conditional Formatting.
  4. Click Add to create a new rule.
  5. Enter a name for the new rule.
  6. Click Font.
  7. Select a font, style, and size.
  8. Select Color.
  9. Select Script.
  10. Click OK.
  11. Click OK to save new rule.
  12. Click OK to save changes.

How to remove a created font size rule

To delete an Outlook font size rule:

  1. Select the View tab.
  2. Select View Settings.
  3. Select Conditional Formatting.
  4. Click on the rule.
  5. Click Delete.

How to change the appearance of Plain Text messages

To change the Plain Text message font:

  1. Click on File in the navigation ribbon.
  2. Select Options.
  3. Select Mail.
  4. Click Stationary and Fonts under Compose Messages.
  5. Select the font theme.
  6. Choose when to use font theme.
  7. Select font settings for new mail, replying or forwarding messages if no theme selected.
  8. Click OK to exit.
  9. Click OK to save.

How to assign a category to all new mail messages

outlook categories

To assign a category:

  1. Click the Home tab in the navigation ribbon.
  2. Click Rules in the Move Group.
  3. Select Manage Rules & Alerts.
  4. Click New Rule.
  5. Select Apply rule on messages I receive under Start from a blank rule.
  6. Click Next.
  7. Select the condition(s) that apply to the rule.
  8. Check Assign it to the category category under Select action(s).
  9. Click the underlined category.
  10. Choose a color to assign.
  11. Click Next.
  12. Add exceptions to the rule.
  13. Click Next.
  14. Enter a name for the rule.
  15. Select Finish.

How to modify the separator line between messages

outlook separator lines

To modify separator lines in Outlook:

  1. Select the View tab.
  2. Select View Settings.
  3. Select Other Settings.
  4. Navigate to Grid Lines and Group Headings.
  5. Select an option in the Grid line style drop-down.
  6. Click OK.
  7. Click OK to finish.

How to modify the Message Preview pane

To modify the Outlook Message Preview:

  1. Click on View.
  2. Click on Message Preview under the Arrangement group.
  3. Click an option to view zero, one, two or three lines of the message body.

How to change the order of messages in Message Preview

To rearrange messages in Message Preview:

  1. Click on By Date at the top of the Message Preview pane.
  2. Select a sorting open in the window.
  3. Click on View Settings for additional options.
  4. Make modifications in Advanced View Settings.
  5. Click OK.

How to change visual notifications for incoming mail

outlook mail notifications

To change incoming email notifications:

  1. Click on File.
  2. Click Options.
  3. Select Mail.
  4. Navigate to the message arrival section.
  5. Select or deselect Briefly change the mouse pointer.
  6. Select or deselect Show an envelope icon in the taskbar.
  7. Select or deselect Display a Desktop Alert.
  8. Click on Desktop Alert Settings.
  9. Choose the duration for the Desktop Alert.
  10. Choose a transparency level for the Desktop Alert.
  11. Click OK to save.
  12. Click OK to finish.

Wrapping up

With these options available, you can truly customize your view and experience in Outlook. Email management can be as simple or as detailed and organized as you want. Which view are you currently using? Do you assign category colors to your inbox? Let us know in the comments.