The beautiful and the useful in PowerPoint presentations



Traditional thinking is that making a slide look beautiful is the last, and only, thing to do when designing a presentation.  But that approach is wrong, because it’s just not possible to design the right slides without considering the spoken message they’re meant to reinforce. The fact is that the visual aspect of a presentation must address the message as effectively as the speech does. So the slides have to be designed in the context of what lies behind the presentation.


For this reason, the graphic design of presentation slides becomes much more than just making something “look beautiful.”


With this in mind, here are some principles you can apply the next time you’re creating presentation slides, so you can optimize your chances of being effective when delivering your message:


1)   Content is one thing, message is another.


The role of the graphic designer is to perfectly understand the message and “play around” with the conceptual content to get the best out of it.


For example:


Slide #1 Content: A presentation with the title: “Our Process Flow Today”


Message: We have a great opportunity if we optimize steps X, Y and Z.


Slide #2 Content: An organizational chart


Message: Our company is lean and client-oriented


If the graphic designer in the cases understands the individual messages, he/she will not only make the process flow slide and the chart slide look beautiful, he/she will also find a way to emphasize the messages for the slides. The result will be a process flow slide that clearly depicts in some way the processes that need optimizing, and the organizational chart slide will in some way highlight the company’s client focus and lean structure.


2)  If you understand what’s behind the content of the slide, you’ll get a much better design than if you’re just illustrating that content.


3) Before making your slides look good, here are some things you have to do:


  • Understand the overall message


  • Visually interpret it


  • Put it on paper


  • Now look at it with your “audience eye” and ask yourself, “What comes to mind when I look at this slide?” If the answer is, “Yes, this is the message I’m trying to convey,” then  great! If not, go back to the drawing board and try again.


  • … and finally, and only finally, you can make things look good!


4) The person who writes the presentation story is responsible for creating the script that will be interpreted by the graphic designer. The designer is the artist who gives visual life to the content so it can be assimilated easily by the audience.


5)  Understanding comes before engaging. You will never hear somebody say, “That’s confusing, but I like it because it’s pretty,”  Although the opposite can happen (we don’t recommend it!): “Well, it was ugly, but at least I understood it.”


6)   Usability is not just a Web concept, so how useful are your slides? How ‘friendly’ are your slides? And, finally, how impactful are they?


7) It’s easier to apply all the guidelines while the content and the slides are being created. So if you outsource the graphic design of your slides, make sure the message(s) you expect the slides to express is clear.


The graphic design of presentation slides must always exactly convey your message. If it doesn’t, then all you did was add some eye appeal to confusing content. And in that case, you’ll probably have to put on a hell of a show as a presenter or your audience won’t have a clue what the presentation is about and you will have lost your opportunity.