Tag Archives: Simple design

Data Display of the Day: Shark Attack

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This simple infographic shares a very important message about our relationship to nature. The message is simple, the design is simple, the impact is lasting. The statistic “100 million sharks are killed annually” due to finning (a brutal and inhumane practice done to satisfy yet another one of our gustatory whims) can be hard to picture. It’s also difficult to empathize with an animal that has been portrayed as humanity’s biggest enemy long before Spielberg’s iconic opening sequence in Jaws. To put the statistic into perspective, designer Joe Chernov and the firm ripetungi created the “Shark Attack” infographic. Simple design at it’s best–emotive, evocative, thought-provoking:

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Visual Design Basics is a Top Presentation of the Day!

Thank you to Slideshare.net for choosing my quick and dirty guide to visual design as a top presentation of the day. While it is not as exhaustive as my Simple Design deck, I hope it helps encourage everyone to see that slide design is not a mystery, but a totally attainable goal! Check out the deck below:

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Simple Design: Ideally, One Idea Per Slide

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The SIMPLE design series covers my six principles for effective visual design. The first piece in this series covered the concept of simplicity in design, with a focus on a very basic truth–simple isn’t easy; it takes work. In this installment, I’ll cover the next letter in this acronym, “I,” which stands for…

Ideally, One Idea Per Slide

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Years of slideument conditioning has led all of us (including me as you’ll soon see) to see our slides as a document, something that is only really complete when filled with content (text, image, clip art, chart, random animated gif). This habit means that we’ve managed to keep our slides low in number, but high in noise (and conversely, low in signal).  According to Garr Reynolds, “[p]rojected slides should be as visual as possible and support our point quickly, efficiently (good signal-to-noise ratio), and powerfully. The verbal content, the verbal proof, evidence, and appeal/emotion comes mostly from our spoken word” (Source). So, in a live situation, it’s the presenter and not the slides who must carry the weight of the signal or content. Creating a content-heavy slide places the focus on the visual aid (in the worst way possible), can cause cognitive dissonance and confusion, and can damage a speaker’s credibility. As an educator, I felt the need to fill slides with as much content as possible, especially in courses I felt less than solid in or that required more lecture focus than composition and writing, particularly Latin American Humanities:

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What’s wrong with this slide? Well, even when I presented information by only showing one bullet at a time, my students first had no tangible concept to attach to ideas like “universal constructivism”, and second, as John Medina discusses in his must-read Brain Rules, the mind cannot multi-task, which is exactly what we ask audiences to do when we create slideuments. Our audience must read our slides AND listen to us, which they just cannot do. According to Medina, “[r]esearch shows your error rate goes up 50% and it takes you twice as long to do things” (Source) when the myth of multi-tasking is in play. Further, as Nancy Duarte asserts in Slide:ology, slides, like billboards are “glance media”, which means that your audience should be able to process your visual story quickly and then return to listening to your awesome content.

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The situation becomes even more complex when we are asked as presenters to provide our slides for publication or when we use our slides as study guides for our students. How do we keep our slides cinematic AND also communicate dense amounts of content? Reynolds has a few suggestions, including the most obvious and useful one–create a set of display slides and create a separate document with complete notes (Source). I find that doing this gives students the opportunity to use their critical thinking skills and decide what is really important or note worthy.  I want to share one of my most important design epiphanies that helped me find a good balance between content and design. Keeping this idea in mind has helped me move towards truly SIMPLE Design: An Extra Slide Costs Nothing!

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So, instead of placing every bit of information about Joaquin Torres-Garcia and Universal Constructivism on one slide, I can break the information up over many slides.

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Have you faced the challenge of creating cinematic slides that are also content-rich? What are your great ideas for moving away from the slideument? 

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Simple Design: Why Simple Isn’t Easy

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The Simple Design series will cover the basics of strong presentation design. The first part in the series is an introduction to the concept of simplicity in design and what that truly means when it comes to creating strong visual aids.

Often, when I consult with students, teachers, and professionals on presentation design, the subject of simplicity comes up. The idea that something complex should at the same time be simple can be a road block for novice presentation designers, particularly because we are so conditioned through misuse of presentation software to fill up every available inch of presentation “real estate” with bullets, clip art, non-sensical diagrams, doo dads, fire animations, wingdings, company logos, word art, and any other number of PowerPoint distractions. Imagine if Abraham Lincoln had used PowerPoint? What would we actually remember about The Gettysburg Address.

Simplicity is a powerful element to creating strong visual aids. Further, simplicity is something we crave, something we are now primed to seek out as we are driven to seek out meaning. Simplicity is the key to meaning; it allows your audience to move past noise directly to signal. But, simplicity isn’t simple or easy. John Madea, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, understands the power of simplicity first hand; in fact, he wrote the book on it. In his 2007 TED talk, “Designing for Simplicity”, Madea dissects the intersection of simplicity and complexity; simplicity is complexity, but it’s complexity at its most elegant and meaningful.

For Madea, simplicity is a part of the human experience; it’s about living life with more joy and less pain. But, simplicity isn’t simple, which is where design comes in. Design is the intersection of art and technology, the simple presentation of the infinitely complex human experience. At its best, design is about simplicity because design is about focusing on the meaningful. In a world of death-by-PowerPoint, this idea of simple design is even more important in the creation of visual aids and slideshows. Why? Because at the core, slides are a form of information design, the use of design elements to communicate, persuade, or inform.

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However, when we choose a template and create a seemingly endless repetition of title, bullets, clip art, incongruous transition/animation, we make content more important than the visual presentation or design of that content. So, what’s the solution? Well, you guessed it–it’s time to make presentation design SIMPLE. The six simple design elements are:

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The first lesson in the Simple Design series is “simplicity takes work.” Before jumping right into designing slides, we must first prepare ourselves for the design mindset, and that means defining what we mean by work.

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When it comes to slide design, one of the first and very honest things I tell students and teachers alike is that paring your work down, resisting the urge to jump right into a template, and being ingenious with the tools presentation software provides you with takes much more work than the opposite. To work towards simplicity, begin by considering three areas.

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Firstly, it’s important to analyze the context of the presentation and whether or not slides are truly necessary to communicating your message (yes, they are expected, but are they necessary?). A set of slides, if it’s only decoration, can quickly become a distraction for your audience and can cause them to focus less on what you have to communicate and more on what is happening behind or next to you.

Secondly, if you’ve determined that slides are necessary, you should then create a framework for the presentation by developing a storyboard of your content and organization. One of the most consistent pieces of advice given by professionals like Nancy Duarte, Garr Reynolds, and Steve Cherches is go analog! Get away from that computer (believe me, you’ll spend plenty of time on the computer), use your visual thinking skills, and draw your ideas out. Drawing out your presentation can help free you from the restriction that can come from only relying the imagery you search for (whether it is stock photography or creative commons images/iconography). Drawing and storyboarding also helps you see connection you might miss via the linear layout of a slideshow.

Finally, it’s important to set your slides up for design.

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This means beginning with a blank slate, so that you can resist the urge to conform your ideas to a template, as opposed to building a “look for your ideas”; turning on grids and rulers (would you build a house without a way to measure your dimensions?), so you can make precise placement a priority; and familiarizing yourself with your presentation software’s advanced tools such as cropping and image editing, font or typography, shapes, objects, and visual effects, so you can polish your individual elements and overall design.

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Whether you use Keynote, PowerPoint, Prezi, GoogleDocs, or Slide Rocket, it’s important to begin with a blank canvas. The biggest detriment to original simplicity is the pre-made template.

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Any good presentation software includes features that assist you in designing. Designers make deliberate decisions and consider alignment and hierarchy above all. Using grids, rulers, and getting a “bird’s eye view” of your slides will help you move towards simple design.

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Finally, explore your software’s advanced features. Keynote and PowerPoint both allow users to edit and enhance images, for instance, which can help you mold an existing image to fit your original theme.

Once you’ve set your slides up for design, it’s time to move on to the I in SIMPLE Design. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, in which I’ll cover the glance media rule and its connection to slide design.

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