Ubiquitous software such as PowerPoint has contributed to making layout an important semiotic resource in everyday professional communication. Drawing on developments in the visual arts, graphic design, and social semiotics, this paper presents two central and complementary principles for layout design and analysis: the grid and composition. These principles are then applied in a conceptualization of the template as an interface between the grid and composition, which provides a basis for comparing default layout templates in PowerPoint for Windows 2003 and 2007. The comparison reveals that options in PowerPoint 2007 are less explicit from the perspectives of both grid-based design and composition, and considerably limit users' freedom in layout design. We then consider the implications of the limited guidance that PowerPoint, through its default layout options and help menu, offers its users on how to use layout effectively with reference to a survey of twenty-seven slideshow presentations from corporate and higher education settings and three case studies selected from this data. The survey and case studies suggest that PowerPoint users can benefit from explicit advice about both grid-based design and composition as well as a stronger awareness of the limitations and advantages of using templates.