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.
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).
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.
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:
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.