Q: How do I use fonts and colors to organize my Outlook Inbox?

A: At an airport recently, my eye caught the screen of another Outlook user. This user’s Inbox contained many items with varying font sizes; he was clearly using fonts to organize his Inbox. Seeing this Inbox reminded me that there’s more than one way to organize an Inbox view: You can use color and font size properties to make certain messages more readily identifiable in your Inbox.

To organize your Inbox in Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 using color and font size, go to the Tools menu and select Organize. This opens the Organize box. If the Inbox is open when you select Organize, then the Organize box is called Ways to Organize Inbox, as shown in Figure 1. If the Contacts folder were open when you selected Organize, then the Organize box would be called Ways to Organize Contacts, and so on. (The Organize feature behaves the same way in Outlook 2003, Outlook 2002, and Outlook 2000.) Click the Using Colors option in Ways to Organize Inbox to assign colors to messages based on the specific recipient’s SMTP address. Figure 2 shows an Inbox with different colors used for various message properties.

To change fonts and font sizes in the Organize box, click Automatic Formatting. You can also open the Automatic Formatting box by clicking View menu, Arrange By, Custom, and Automatic Formatting. Figure 3 shows the Automatic Formatting box with italic green 8 pt. Tahoma font selected for Mail sent directly to me. Font settings can be manipulated for messages matching very specific filter requirements. Figure 4 shows an Inbox with a variety of font and color presentation configurations. When you select a rule in the Automatic Formatting box, or use the Add button to add a new rule, the Conditions button is activated. Click Conditions to filter the basic conditions for capturing message properties, as shown in Figure 5. The Advanced tab, also shown in Figure 5, provides even more granular message properties that you can use to enhance the Inbox view with specific font type, font size, and font color.