Slaying the Slideshow Dragon

We’ve all been there, shuffling into an early-morning meeting, hoping that this time, things will be different. The presenter will be engaging. The slides, compelling. The room, awake! And then… the dreaded bullet points appear, and the morning becomes a painful offering to the Slideshow Dragon.

Nobody wants meetings to be boring or presentations to fail. But even the most engaging presenter will find it difficult to reclaim the audience once their attention has been devoured by black-and-white text or slides that could have been emailed out.

But what exactly is wrong with traditional presentations? Do you have to use newer tools like Prezi to save the early-morning meeting? Let’s break it down with some basic design thinking.

Who are the end users?

In a presentation, the end users are the audience, whether they are colleagues, employees, or clients, and success can generally defined by whether they engage with and remember your quarterly report/new marketing pitch/project update.

Because people like connecting with other people, warm, engaging, enthusiastic presenters can do a lot of this work themselves, so why use visual aids at all? Unfortunately, most people remember only a small percentage of information they hear.

Organizing that information visually can increase retention considerably, as well as make the presentation more interesting—thus the allure of the Slidshow Dragon. But this is where many presentations go wrong and the dragon shows his ugly side.

Here Be Dragons

(Creative Commons)
Photo by Milos Milosevic (Creative Commons 2.0)

In order to communicate information, the presenter can use words (spoken or written), images, colors, media, and sounds. Problems tend to arise when those elements are out of balance. If a presenter is spending most of the time talking (i.e. it’s not a discussion or roundtable), then the words are already taken care of.

It may be tempting to highlight key words or phrases with bullet points, but the brain can only handle so many words at once—and most people would rather read than listen, especially if they think they’ll get the information faster.

Some people try to combine words with cool animations to help keep people engaged. Prezi is built on the idea that flying back and forth across a giant canvas and zooming in on important points is more visually interesting than flipping slides.

But visuals that are too interesting (or dizzying) can backfire, keeping the audience’s attention even more firmly planted on the screen, not the presenter. And if the visuals are that engaging, then they might be better off on their own with a voiceover and posted online, rather than upstaging (or consuming) a live presenter.

Define the Need

Photo by Jan Tik (Creative Commons)
Photo by Jan Tik (Creative Commons 2.0)

The answer is to use slides that aid the presentation visually. That means focusing on images, symbols, colors, and movement to support your message.

  • Convert words to images, symbols, or metaphors. Did something decrease? Use a picture of down arrow with the topic at hand and then talk about what happened. Is there a logical flow of information? Use a flow diagram. Make your information beautiful, or give people a memorable picture to latch onto. Only use words that can be integrated into the image).
  • Use the right tool for the job. Is the information you need to present spatially related (like a map, landscape, or 2D diagram)? Then Prezi might be your best choice. But if your information is hierarchical or linear (A à B à C), stick with something like PowerPoint or Keynote to avoid distracting or unnecessary movement.
  • Make any movement part of the message. If you’re flipping to a new slide, start a new thought. If you’re zooming in on an object, zoom in to the details of the topic. If you have a big, dramatic transition to a new image, transition to a new topic or thought as well.
  • Choose visuals you (or the audience) can interact with. Pick images that you can envision someone asking you to zoom in on or that change based on audience participation.
  • Keep it simple. People are there for your content, not a feature film. Choose simple, clear, relevant images, and don’t overdo them, or the Dragon of Excess Clip-Art may yet devour your masterpiece.
clip art dragon
Beware the clip-art dragon! Image by Clarissa Ridney (Creative Commons 2.0)

In the end, good presentations are like any other form of communication. They connect the speaker and listeners and result in the mutual sharing of information. They increase engagement and generate new ideas. Don’t be the Slideshow Dragon’s next victim—regardless of which presentation software you use!

Featured Photo by Richard Fisher (Creative Commons 2.0)

What 5 famous logos teach us about design

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But these five images are worth millions… of dollars.

In today’s crowded digital and physical marketplace, a strong logo is like a brand’s signature—it’s a key way to set a company apart or identify a brand. But designing one that “feels right” can be a challenge, as even Google found out back in September when designers and consumers showed up to criticize its visual updates.

But some logos stand the test of time and form a unique part of a company’s history. A few factors can make all the difference, as illustrated by these five well-known logos.

  1. Personality: Coca-Cola

From ice-skating polar bears to hippies singing in a field, Coca-Cola has a very clear personality. Although it’s done much to update its brand with hip stars and upbeat associations, it remains a classic. And that’s exactly what this scripted “wordmark” evokes. It’s not formal or stuffy, but it makes you think of wholesome soda shops and 50s-era nostalgia, even though its iconic logo was designed all the way back in 1887.

  1. Symbolism: Microsoft

In 2012, Microsoft capitalized on its most recognizable product for its new logo design. The new logo modified the previous lettering and added the iconic colored squares.

The new symbol is colorful and easily recognizable as an avatar on small screens, a key factor in modern logo design. Symbols and words must be visible and identifiable regardless of the screen they’re viewed on, whether it’s a 72-inch high-definition television or a 4-inch phone screen.

Now that many companies use their logo as an avatar on social media, it’s even more important to have clear, seamless designs that are instantly recognizable—perhaps part of the motive behind Google’s sans-serif shift.

  1. Simplicity: Apple.

Apple_2003_logoOver the years, Apple’s logo changed from the rainbow-hued apple of the 80s to a much simpler image as the company’s brand became more streamlined. The symbol reflects the name, not the product, but it’s easily identified (the reason a bite was taken out of the apple was to differentiate the image from a cherry) and makes you think of the company’s name using a symbol alone.

  1. Competition: Ford

Part of the purpose of a logo is to differentiate a brand from its competitors. Ford does this by appealing to the same classic ethos Coca-Cola does. Where many of its competitors have gone the symbolic or single-letter route, Ford differentiates itself every time the logo is printed and conjures up images of tradition, stability, and quality. The icon is also in the shape of an oval to accommodate the “Ford” name, which differentiates it from the round logos of car companies like BMW and Volkswagon.

  1. Patience: Nike

200px-Logo_NIKESometimes, it simply takes time for a logo to take hold. When Nike’s logo was designed for $35 by a design student named Carolyn Davidson in 1971, the company’s founder was ambivalent. Today, it’s one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. The company even removed its name, preferring to let the “swoosh” speak for itself.

Of course, it helps that it was well designed. The swoosh implies motion, which makes it perfect for a sports-shoe company, and it is simple enough to almost have predicted the modern preference for unfussy branding. Sometimes, it just takes a little time for good design to be recognized—and with time, a mark comes to be accepted. Try to design for the long term and not jump ship when the next trend comes along.

If these logos tell us anything, it’s that good design can weather changes in pop culture, design trends, and even technology. Will yours make the list?

What is Skeuomorphism?

Skeuomorphism is a mouthful of a word, that’s for sure. If you’ve read any reviews for the newly redesigned iPhone interface in iOS 7, you’ve probably seen it pop up. Pronounced “skew-a-morph-ism”, it concept of design that makes an object imitate the look or feel of another. Continue reading What is Skeuomorphism?

Map of the Week: Subways

Some of us here at Maga, myself include, ride the Metro to work every day. D.C.’s metro system’s map is a common sight around the city. Daily commuters have their route memorized, the result of day after day trekking to work in the morning. Tourists flock around the big lit up boards to study the squiggling, colorful lines, seeking out their destination. Continue reading Map of the Week: Subways