I first discovered the concept of thinking like a designer when I was promoted to Course Director of my class, Professional Communication and Presentation. When I first taught the course, I followed the preexisting course structure–I used the schedule, notes, text, and slides of my predecessor–I’d never had a more miserable teaching experience, at least not since my first semester teaching Beat Generation Lit at Valencia College. I quickly learned that the way the class had been taught before–much more a crash course in corporate communication with a focus on delivery over content or visual design–was not the way that I was going to be able to teach this class. I am not a jet setting business woman, nor do I have any experience in business.
So, I adapted. I integrated principles I’d taught in writing classes into the class, and speeches got better and better. I was then introduced to TED, Technology Entertainment, and Design, the brainchild of Saul Wurman and now full-fledged powerhouse lead by Chris Anderson. This instilled in me a love of storytelling, dynamic delivery, and the sharing of ideas. I turned my classroom into a monthly TED conference, a space where students share their vision and passion with each other. Students are not allowed to discuss their core subject area–music and entertainment. They must instead find what they are really passionate and knowledgeable about. I love it. It’s my sneaky way of learning new things every day.
But none of this helps explain why I refer to myself as a tweaker, why I use the phrase “deep in the hold of a tweak” more often than not, or why I firmly believe one should as often as possible tweak not only one’s slides but also one’s class, life, and self. So, as I did in order to assuage my friends’ and family’s concerns about my ‘tweaking”, I will define tweak for you, dear reader. Note: this has nothing to do with crystal meth. Promise.
So, the term tweak is most often defined as “to twist or pull something sharply.” It is also defined as “To make minor adjustments; Meaning ‘to make fine adjustments’ attested to 1966. I believe we’ll go with the second. That one gets us a bit closer to what I mean. But, why tweak over adjust, change, or adapt? When I hear the word, I visualize the most minute of change, almost so subtle as to go unnoticed/unappreciated, but nonetheless has great impact on the finished product. I see an engineer at her console; a Star Fleet (yes, I love Star Trek) ensign making fine adjustments to the warp nacells.
My definition of the term, as it relates to the design of visual aids, stems from the majestic work of David McCandless. His visualization answering the question of what makes good information design is a definition to live by! Successfully tweaked slides are a combination of 1. form, or an slideshow’s ability to apply good sense in terms of aesthetics or a slideshow’s beauty (harmony, balance, polish); 2. function or how usable the slides are–this means that well-designed slides have a clear role in a presentation (is this support for the speaker? Is it the speaker’s entire message?) as well as being easy to process and understand within a few seconds; 3. integrity or a slidedeck’s use of current, relevant, properly cited, and properly displayed information; and 4. a slidedeck’s relevance to the target audience and a slidedeck’s ability to convey meaning in addition to content.
Lately, i’ve been thinking, maybe this definition could go further. I’ve tweaked my slides, and I’ve tweaked my approach to teaching; maybe I can tweak my life…
My current tweaks: gardening, reading fantasy books, working out five days a week, keeping up with blogging, and eating way more fruits and veggies. Making minor adjustments to my life has so far only yielded positive results. Why not try it? Fine tune those problem areas in your professional and personal life. Tweak often!