Monthly Archives: March 2014

Do you Alltop?

I ran across the site Alltop during my first month of teaching Professional Communication and Presentation as I was gathering a go to list of resources on presenting, communication, and presentation design. It was Alltop that introduced me to the work of Garr Reynolds, Dr. Nick Morgan, and Decker Communications. I recently joined the aggregation engine’s speaking section, speaking.alltop.com, and am proud to say that today,  a Tweak Your Slides post, “Design Smarter: find the best blend for text and image”, was one of the “Most Topular Stories” of the day.

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If you haven’t checked out Alltop, which was created to fill the “where is all the best stuff on the web?” void, you are missing out. The web is a big place, and simple Google searches don’t always yield results for the best and brightest the web has to offer on a plethora of subjects. Alltop takes some of the work out of searching for and curating quality sources of information. For bloggers, writers, students, and teachers, this is an invaluable service. I am proud to have earned the badge below. Go Alltop!

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Slideshare of the Day: 29 Design Resources That Work Miracles

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Today marks the end of my two month break from classroom teaching. I’ve been busy writing up lesson plans for the Professional Communication and Presentation course reboot, revising assignment for the coming month, and tweaking my core slidedecks. As I am always working on minor or major adjustments to my deliverables, I am always looking for new sources of design inspiration and know how. A Tweak Your Slides reader, Richard Garber, who writes Joyful Public Speaking, shared the Assertion-Evidence format created by Michael Alley with me yesterday, and today, while browsing the latest Slideshare offerings on design and presenting, I ran across today’s Slideshare, “29 Design Resources That Work Miracles” by SEO.com:

The deck begins with a brief rationale–visual content today is one of the most powerful marketing tools for individuals and companies alike. But, like any good tool, it must be used in the right way, and this means placing the focus on good design and using good design resources. I was surprised at how many of the resources listed were new to me. Several are sources I wish I’d had in creating particularly difficult decks in the past and several others are sources I cannot wait to try this coming month. Here are a few of my favorites:

For Design Inspiration:

Creattica: though I already use Pinterest to curate designs I am inspired by, the added value of Creattica is that the site’s offerings are voted on and only displays examples of a designer’s greatest work–it’s a great way to filter inspiration down to great design for someone who is not a formally-trained designer.

For Image Editing:

Pixlr: I am lucky enough to have the entire Adobe Illustrator suite on my employer-provided laptop, but on my personal mac, I am limited to photo editing tools inside of Keynote and PowerPoint. Thankfully, user-friendly photo editing services like Pixlr are here to help. Available as a full online editor, express editor, and mobile app Pixlr is an easy to use tool for the novice designer

For Patterns:

Subtle Patterns: this is my absolute favorite new source. Again, as I am now teaching myself to use the Adobe Creative suite with the help of Lynda.com, my skills in creating depth through texture and patterns are limited to what I can find on image sites like compfight.com, ColourLovers, or what I can create myself using slide design software. As soon as I opened Subtle Patterns, I fell in love. The site contains hundreds of patterns available for download as .pngs and also features a Photoshop plugin similar to Kuler‘s that allows you to access the patterns without visiting the site.

Check out these and the other 26 awesome resources by scrolling through today’s Slideshare of the Day!

 

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Design Smarter: Find the best blend for text and image

The picture superiority effect occurs when you combine visuals and text together to increase audience retention of your message. The picture superiority effect is what allows you to create one of Nancy Duarte’s STAR Moments, evocative visuals. Not every visual needs to utilize text; Lisa Kristine in her amazing TED talk uses no text on her images; using text over her haunting and beautiful images of human slaves would have diminished their impact. However, text, especially in stand-alone presentations can help enhance a slide, communicate a more impacting message, and add to that cohesive look we want from original slide decks.

There are a few ways to blend text and image together on a slide. What you do depends on what you want to accomplish, the nature of your image and the amount of text on your slide. Your choice depends on what your main focus is in displaying the word with the image. Are they equally important? Is one more important than another? Here are a few variations to get you started.Below, I’ll cover a few of the more common combinations I see from designers and students. There are several ways to combine a bit of text with an image. Here are a few variations to get you started.

One idea, one image with empty space

One way to combine an image with an idea is to look for an image that has empty space. Often, images that employ the rule of thirds  include enough space for text. You know there’s enough space when there is little to no overlap between image and text. In this example, the original image by Flickr user Photoco. was licensed for commercial use with adaptations or remixes allowed. I was able to fill the slide with the image (which was large enough to display without pixelation) and use the empty space to the left of the figure to add my idea.

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One idea, one image without empty space

In other situations, you might have a fairly busy image you’d like to use on your slide; there is no one specific detail in the image that is more important than another that must be visible as in the example above. So, you can use a few strategies to blend image and text. The first is to adjust the brightness and exposure of the original image and place one large word over the picture (fig. a); note that this works well with a typeface like Intro, but might not work well with a typeface that has a thinner weight. In the first two examples (fig. a, fig. b), I adjusted the brightness and exposure of the image. In the next, I added a shadow to differentiate the text from the background (fig. c). In the final example, I adjusted the opacity of the text (this sometimes improves readability) (fig. d). Notice that the color changes depending on the option.

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After tweaking colors, shadows, and image settings, I chose this variation:

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Now, let’s assume you want to use a font with a thinner weight, like District Pro. Notice that without a bit of help, the text here is difficult to read. This is where a supporting shape comes in. Placing a shape behind the text (as long as it doesn’t make an important element on the image impossible to see) can be an option when blending text and image. In the example below, I’ve used several shapes to emphasize the text.

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One quote, one image with empty space

So, what if you want to place a quote or a lengthier idea (keep words to a minimum on a slide; 5-8 words is enough) on a slide with an image? Your first and best bet is to seek out an image with empty space, like the one above. Using an image with empty space and a readable typeface will help you maximize the impact of the quote by providing simple, clean visual support.

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One quote, one image without empty space a quote

At times, it’s possible to place a quote on a slide that has is busier–again, as long as the quote does not interfere with important parts of the image. However, this is the option I would advise the least. Placing a quote on a slide with a busy image will increase your chances of creating noise and it could minimize signal. In the case below, the quote on the slide combined with the image creates noise.

 

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The solution here is to rearrange the image to fit the frame (fig. e), find an image that allows the blend to happen naturally (fig. f), or allow the quote to stand alone.

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These are only a few of the many ways to blend text and image together.Whatever your choice, it’s important to consider these three best practices when pairing text and image:

1. The picture superiority effect is maximized when text and image are blended.

2. Create the most seamless blend possible.

3. Keep signal high and noise low.

What are your go to strategies for maximizing the picture superiority effect?

 

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Want to Change your World? Present better!

Yesterday, I received a phone call from a current online student who works as a data analyst. She called to share her amazing news with me. After taking Professional Communication and Presentation this month and learning how to develop, design, and deliver a presentation inspired by the work of today’s presentation revolution leaders like Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds, TED, and the Heath brothers, she was inspired to create a cinematic presentation for her company. Her task was to inform and train others on new software being used. She’d previously shared with the class that her company was firmly in the “death by PowerPoint” abyss Andrew Dlugan describes on Six Minutes. Presentations were tedious, forgettable, pointless, and sterile. But, for this student, being aware of these revolutionary ideas made it impossible for her to create yet another boring presentation.

Instead, she created a well-structured, well-designed presentation, and she delivered that presentation in a way that was natural and engaging. The results were remarkable. One attendee commented that in 20 years with this company, it was the first time he had felt engaged during a presentation. The student has been asked to visit other offices, present the information to the rest of the company’s employees, and even conduct future webinars based on her presentation. Not only was this student’s world changed by a strong presentation, but she has begun the great work of revolutionizing a company’s communication culture. This is not something that happened by accident or because the student was inherently already a strong presenter. A world-changing moment like this takes preparation, practice, contemplation, and a true empathy for a target audience.

If your ideas matter–if your business plans, your research results, or your cause are worth spreading–then design and presentation matter. –Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen Design

Within my own institution, I often hear students and faculty complain about yet another boring presentation, another bullet-riddled death machine, another wasted hour. It’s clear that audiences don’t respond to the standard operating procedure; however, in speaking to those presenting the information, it’s clear that they perceive what makes for a strong presentation to be a matter of opinion or preference. I often hear, “students love my slides,” or “yeah, Chiara, that’s YOUR way of doing it, but we are not you,” or “Bullets work for me; people need this information!”, or “I don’t have time to put into presenting; I’m already good at presenting.” Internally, sometimes I feel frustrated, as if I am a small voice in a giant void called the status quo. But, as an eternal optimist, my response is to try to share with them the irrefutable work of brain scientists like John Medina, the Zen philosophy of contemplation before action created by Garr Reynolds, and the multitude of case studies, examples, and stories that prove that engaging in presenting as a process truly helps propel ideas forward and is the only way to reach an audience.

Where does a strong presentation’s power come from? In part, it is the clear experiential difference an audience feels when they participate in a well-developed presentation. But, more than this, a well-designed presentation harnesses the power each and every one of us has to connect with another person, be inspired by an idea, and find ways to actualize that idea. As Nancy Duarte says, “Presentations create a catalyst for meaningful change by using human contact in a way that no other medium can” (Source). I am not talking about opinion–this perspective is designed to tap into what appeals to people, how people think, and what leads people to internalizing an idea. Creating yet another poorly prepared, cookie cutter, boring presentation squanders that power in each of us to be a catalyst for change.

Your idea becomes alive when it is adopted by another person, then another, and another, until it reaches a tipping point and eventually obtains a groundswell of support. –Nancy Duarte, Resonate

It cannot be denied–proper preparation, thorough content development, design-centered thinking, and deliberate practice are the keys to a strong presentationand a strong presentation can change the world. If you want to change your world, you must present better!

 

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Data Display of the Day: How does the brain retain information?

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Audience retention and application are top concerns for presenters of all forms–teachers, public speakers, leaders, interviewees. Ensuring that our audiences not only retain the information we present to them but also find a way to apply and implement that information through experience is what drives much of our content development, visual design, and delivery processes. There are several models available to us that can help us understand how to create content that our audience will retain including the Made to Stick model I’ve previously discussed and John Medina’s brilliant Brain Rules. In this introductory video to the Brain Rules concept and the first rule, “Exercise boosts brain power,” Medina explains just why we need to understand how the brain works in order to best maximize its potential–in essence, it’s because our modern business and educational environments are designed to work against our natural brain rules (cubicles, stationary desks in sterile classrooms).

Today’s data display, which comes by way of Daily Infographic, provides further insight into the brain, how it works, and how it retains information. Created by mindflash.com, “How does the brain retain information?” first explains where information is stored in the brain. As presenters, we should recognize that how we structure and present our content will appeal to a different part of the brain (literally, it will cause our electrical systems to fire neurons in that particular portion of the brain). For instance, when we use pathos or ideas that appeal to emotion, we are tapping into the amygdala (which also happens to be the root of presentation anxiety); when we apply the picture superiority effect, we fire a complex series of actions in the cortical structures of our audiences’ brains: the occipital lobe processes the visual information, the parietal lobe pairs that visual with the text on that visual, and if we do our work well, the frontal and temporal lobes store that information in our working and long-term memory (hence why applying the picture superiority effect–pairing image and text together leads to 65% greater retention of information).

So that’s where the brain stores information, but how does it actually store that information and retain it? The second part of today’s infographic describes a working theory for this process, which is still somewhat of a mystery. What is interesting about this complex system is that everything begins with electrical impulses.  In a flash, the brain reacts to external stimuli, synapses fire, and the brain then sorts and stores information into short term, working, and long term memory. Check out the infographic below and consider how your content, visuals, and delivery impact your audience’s ability to turn your information into working or long-term memory aka retention.

 

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Slideshare User to Follow: Placester

Are you a blogger, freelancer, or new start up? Looking for free sources to help you as you get your body of work off the ground? Check out today’s Slideshare User to Follow, the first in a new series to join Slideshare of the Day and Data Display of the Day on Tweak Your Slides.

I ran across Placester while perusing Slideshare presentations on my dashboard. The company, whose main focus is assisting real estate professionals in marketing themselves and growing their businesses through web hosting, custom sites, and infoproduct, has several infographic and presentation resources budding freelancers can use to grow their brand. I particularly found their latest offering, “The Content Wranglers Guide to Ebook Marketing” to be particularly useful, as I have been advised my several folks that creating infoproducts, specifically an e-book based on Tweak Your Slides is a great way to market my brand and also reach new readers (while at the same time eradicating bullet-riddled death by PowerPoint visuals and presentations). The infographic not only provides the why of self-published e-books but also a succinct how-to. Check out the deck below and all of Placester’s decks at http://www.slideshare.net/Placester.

 

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Course Reboot: Visual introduction to the Professional Persona Project

The Professional Communication team has entered the design phase of the course reboot. We’ve developed our structure, written instruction sheets, and designed a course calendar. Currently, we are working on designing our instruction sheets, planning lessons, and creating visuals. I tasked my superstar lab specialist/teaching assistant, Justin Hardy, with designing the instruction sheets for the reboot. I gave him a very loose mock up of a layout, color scheme, and headings. Below is a draft of the instruction sheet Justin created. I love his overall approach, use of supporting shapes, cohesive color scheme, and attention to readability. Something I’d like to work on is streamlining the information and applying some of those ideas I’ve been learning about in Duarte Design’s Slidedocs. Trying to find the balance between a readable, visual document that is also brief enough that students are encouraged to read the content is our challenge. Keeping text large when the instruction sheets are being written by the most verbose woman on the planet (me) is a challenge Justin is taking on head first. One solution we are implementing is creating “splash pages” for our instructions that provide an at a glance view of the activity. The way our learning platform works, student see a basic instruction/description page before they download the actual instructions for an activity. I am confident he will find that balance between readability, succinctness, and visual attractiveness.

PPP Intro Infographic_Page_1

Click on the image to access the full instruction sheet

What are your ideas for shortening a document while maintaining readability? 

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Data Displays of the Day: Online Discussion and Online Contact

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One of the big topics up for discussion this year among my colleagues is engagement. As online numbers continue to grow, the need for engaging our online learners increases. Research has shown that synchronous engagement in the online environment is what leads to student success and student learning beyond Bloom’s lower levels. Engagement, however, can be difficult when one has a demanding schedule or when students don’t seem as connected to course content and ideas as they would be in a campus class. Today’s infographics, both created by Mia MacMeekin, curator of the blog An Ethical Island and founder of Epigogy Inc., a company whose mission is to improve instruction and instructional design. The first infographic, Online Student Contact, provides some practical tips on interacting with students online. My favorite tip is “don’t forget about the A students.” Often, it’s easy to focus on challenging students over those who excel; acknowledging amazing work can help inspire other students to grow!

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The second infographic covers a specific facet of online contact and engagement, online discussion boards. I can admit wholeheartedly that this is one of my most challenging. An important tip Mia shares here is always praise something in every discussion post. Again, as above, it’s easy to focus on negativity, but too much turns a student off of learning and could lead that student to failure.

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Are you a teacher or trainer? How do you engage your students? What do you find works best?

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Design Smarter: Three Views on Storyboarding

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Yesterday, I talked about creating a design decisions slide to serve as a guide for designing a presentation. Today, I’d like to share with you another strategy for designing and organizing a presentation. In Ideate, we learn that the first step of design is to storyboard ideas. But, what does it mean to storyboard a presentation? Storyboarding is a strategy we use in Professional Communication and Presentation as an alternative to an linear outline. While outlining works well for presentations that are content-only, it is difficult to think like a designer and visualize design using a word processor or text-based organizational tool like a formal outline. Storyboarding, a term borrowed from film, television, and animation, essentially means creating a structure that allows one to not only determine the order and organization of content but also begin visualizing the design that goes along with that content. How does one create and execute a storyboard? Here are three professional presenters on the subject:

Scott Schwertly, Ethos3

Schwertly and his firm Ethos3 are leading the presentation revolution (be sure to scroll to the end of their blog to download a copy of the Presentation Manifesto) by following their core values–my favorite of which is “Embrace and Drive Change.” In their latest addition to their comprehensive and beautifully designed blog, “Ethos3 Secrets: Crafting a Storyboard,” Schwertly shares his team’s process for creating and using a storyboard. The starting point is the big picture, the big takeaway, or the big idea. Having this in place before even beginning a storyboard can help a project stay on track. Then, using presentation software, paper, or a word processing program, create the template for your storyboard. In class, we use the layout below for storyboarding along with sticky notes.

This student drew in ideas for slides ,and in the lines provided, explained what he would cover on each slide.

This student drew in ideas for slides ,and in the lines provided, explained what he would cover on each slide.

Once you begin filling in your storyboard, remember a few important things: 1. Imagine your visual support as you craft your content and 2. Revision is part of the process and is key to generating a strong structure.

Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen

I was first introduced to the concept of storyboarding via the Zen master, Garr Reynolds. I had always known about presenter’s notes and the ability to use them as a way to combine content and visuals, but as I was still creating “slideuments,” my use of these notes was minimal. Reading the article “Lessons from the art of storyboarding” helped me move into the realm of cinematic presentations. Reynolds’ article is less a how to and more an inspirational tool illustrating what we can learn about visualization from the folks who’ve done it best since 1923, The Walt Disney Company. According to Reynolds, storyboarding helps presenters visualize the story behind their presentation. To be a good storyboarder, one must be not only a good communicator who can create a clear, engaging, and cohesive story, but also be a great storyteller, using visuals to communicate “the meaning and the feelings behind the idea” (Source). Reynolds suggests going analog for this process–a whiteboard with sticky notes and markers, a strategy used by other leading professionals in the field (and which works very well for team projects).

Nancy Duarte, Duarte Design

Duarte Design uses whiteboards and sticky notes, a practice Nancy Duarte, Fairy Godmother of Presentations, discusses in her books Slide:ology, Resonate, and the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations. In the final article I’ll share with you, Duarte explains her unique approach to storyboarding in developing a presentation on visual thinking. For this particular presentation, the traditional storyboard and stickynote format left the presentation disconnected and disjointed. So, Duarte used receipt tape (just as Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road on one continuous roll of paper as opposed to separate sheets) to storyboard the presentation. The result was a cohesive and connected presentation. Check out the result on Duarte’s blog. The lesson here is be creative! The strength of your drawings doesn’t matter, neither does any one way of storyboarding. The point is to use the best tool for you in a specific presentation development situation.

To learn more about storyboarding, check out the following articles from Tweak Your Slides:

Storyboarding a PechaKucha

Storyboarding: Four Patterns of Organization

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Want to create an original design? Create a “design decisions” slide.

Slide-full presentations have become a ubiquitous standard in most major fields–scientists, educators, CEOs, and military personnel are expected to have a PowerPoint to accompany their verbal presentations. For most people, that means opening slide software, choosing a template, and in 30 minutes, creating what I call the bullet-riddled death machine. After countless meetings, workshops, and student presentations full of generic, forgettable, confusing, or pointless slides, I’ve begun tuning out most presentations with slides. The presentations with slides that I do pay attention to are those that are so subtly, cleanly, and minimally designed that they simply serve as visual support and enhancement for a presenter’s beautifully structured content and engaging delivery.

Note what I am saying here–your content and delivery matter more than your visual design, but if you do use visuals, your first concern must be design. As Nancy Duarte says, having great slides with poor content is like putting lipstick on a pig–it’s still a pig (Source)! A colleague walked by my desk while I was working on Ideate and loved the design, but said “but, how long did that take you?” It definitely took longer than choosing the craft template and transferring hundreds of pages worth of content onto slides, but like anything else, the time one puts into something reflects how others will perceive the finished product.

So, what do we do? We have to have slides (another colleague is in danger of losing his job because he doesn’t use PowerPoint, Prezi, or other slide software in the classroom), but more importantly, we have to begin creating slides that serve as visual support, are worth displaying, and that are uniquely aligned with our topics. The answer is of course design, but design doesn’t necessarily have to take hundreds of hours of work. Great design is simple, and simplicity starts by creating your “design box” for a project via a design decisions slide. This slide, which one would hide before presenting, serves as a guide for the rest of the deck. Using a design decisions slide restricts the presenter to the elements needed to create a unified look while also being unrestricted enough to allow for variations.

How to Create a Design Decisions Slide

Before tackling a new project, begin with design. First, choose a black or white slideshow to start with a blank canvas. This will help you keep the focus on design.

Core Colors

The first step is to choose two to three core colors (any more than this can create discord or disconnect for beginning designers). With these two to three colors, a presenter can create a diverse yet connected palette. One can adapt the brightness, lightness, and saturation of these three colors to vary the color palette. Align the color palette with a discipline, mood, or industry. A great place to go for complimentary and mood-based palettes is Design-Seeds.com. Creating a new color palette is easy in both Keynote and PowerPoint due to the “color grabber” tool (pictured below).

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Typeface

Next, choose your typeface. One or two fonts working together can help you further emphasize unified design. It’s important though, that if you choose two fonts, you work to use them together consistently. If choosing one font (which is in my opinion even better), choose a font with multiple weights. Choosing a font like Josefinsans is an excellent beginner design strategy. Fonts like these come with multiple versions (light, italic, bold, semi-bold, etc.) or weights that can be used in different ways (to show emphasis, for instance). Using one font with multiple weights further emphasizes unified design.

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Supporting Shape/Imagery

Presentation design can take on many forms. Sometimes an image alone can communicate volumes; sometimes an image or well-aligned series of images paired with text can work better. According to the Picture Superiority Effect, words paired with images help us retain information far longer than text or image alone. Sometimes, though, an image is great, but helping that text gel with the image (especially when one is trying to use a full-bleed image) can be difficult. Using a shape on a visual can help that text more visible as well as reinforcing your design’s overall unity. You can also begin making decisions about the type of imagery you will use. Will you use pictures, icons, or a combination of these?

Here is my design decisions slide for Ideate:

Design elements; Network designed by Brennan Novak from The Noun Project, Brain designed by Linda Yuki Nakanishi from The Noun Project, Earth by  NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Design elements; Network designed by Brennan Novak from The Noun Project, Brain designed by Linda Yuki Nakanishi from The Noun Project, Earth by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

These are the rules for creating a design slide for a presentation. What about for a slidedoc, the new brand of design introduced by Nancy Duarte’s firm a few weeks ago? Well, according to Duarte, a slidedoc needs the same kind of visual support that a presentation does–consistently treated imagery, colors, and a typeface set. However, a slidedoc, because it is meant to be read can be more diverse. Instead of one typeface, a slidedoc can feature multiple typefaces for heads, content, and highlighted text; a slidedoc can also include five colors with two additional neutral colors (grey, black). Finally, a slidedoc needs a system of images, icons, and shapes.

Here is my design decisions slide for my first slidedoc, “An Introduction to the New PCP.” I chose five colors plus two neutrals (as I tell my students, I’ve done this enough to move beyond basic visual design and they can too with time!), two fonts, Josefinsans and Josefinslab, and as this is a slidedoc, I’ll be using a combination of shapes, icons, and imagery to create emphasis.

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