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)

Julie Anixter Selected As AIGA Executive Director

We’re thrilled to announce that Julie Anixter, a longtime friend and mentor to Maga and our Chief Innovation Officer, has been selected to serve as the next executive director of AIGA, the professional institute for design.

Julie Anixter
Source

Julie will help represent and lead AIGA’s 25,000 individual members and 70 volunteer chapters around the country when she takes over in January.

She’ll come to AIGA after years serving as a principal at Think Remarkable consultancy, and as a managing partner at Innovation Excellence, the largest crowd-sourced innovation learning community. She co-founded both endeavors.

AIGA has been promoting design as a professional craft and fundamental cultural touchpoint for more than a century.

They were looking for an individual with a proven ability to manage complex teams, project a strong image, and have a deep understanding of the professional design world. Julie certainly fit the bill.

“In Julie, we found a leader who can be a connective thread across our increasingly diverse community of designers, innovators, educators, and advocates,” said Su Mathews Hale, the president of AIGA’s national board of directors.

An 8-member search team had been looking for a national executive since the fall of 2014.

So what is Julie’s mission at AIGA?

“Continue to amplify our thought leadership and influence on the profession of design and society-at-large, so that design is recognized as the force for good that it is; ensuring that the craft of design is valued, the discipline is taught more broadly, and the expert use of design helps us all navigate our information-laden world with greater ease.”

Our simple reply: Amen.

How to Host Frustration-Free Virtual Meetings

Meetings are not known for being the favorite pastime of the modern employee, even though everyone seems to be spending more time in them. But virtual meetings—now wildly popular thanks to telecommuting, globalization, and improving technology—have an even worse reputation.

If the video above feels familiar to you, you’re used to the frustrations of conference calls and communications platforms:

  • Tech that doesn’t work (or people that don’t know how to use it)
  • Boring, voice-only meetings that drag on and on, losing sight of the original goal
  • Off-topic rambling or inside jokes that only part of the team knows
  • Feeling ignored when you’re the only one not in the room—or the loudest one on the line
  • Lack of body language to gauge participants’ engagement and feelings

Virtual meetings do have some advantages, like reducing travel time and expenses as well as convenient document sharing, recording, and whiteboard features. It can also help unite teams that usually work in different geographical areas. But without some careful thought, the downsides can quickly destroy any potential gains.

Fixing the virtual meeting takes more than just getting everyone up to speed on the software. It requires a few simple, humanizing touches that help bring out the best in every member of the team. Remember, meetings need to help participants do their jobs better. So design the meeting around the job and the people, not the other way around.

Virtual Meeting Design Tips

In order to design human-centric virtual meetings, it’s important to ask these five questions:

  1. How can we make this meeting shorter?

Long meetings and virtual tech don’t go well together. It’s too easy for participants to multitask or lose the flow of the conversation. Once they’re no longer engaged, it’s even harder to generate good ideas and stay on track. If you need to have a six-hour brainstorming session, try to get everyone in the same room or break up the meeting into clearly-defined segments.

Better yet, try to figure out what’s taking the most time and consider ways to do some of that work outside the meeting. Can you post a project in a private workroom for people to comment on beforehand? Can presentations be uploaded centrally so people can view them ahead of time, allowing the meeting to focus on discussion? Could an emailed agenda take the place of some of the information-sharing?

  1. Is this meeting scheduled fairly?

If different timezones are involved, try to make sure that the burden of waking up early or staying late is shared by all participants. If someone is waking up in the middle of the night to join, respect their time and keep things on point. Listen to their input and offer to let them go as soon as possible—and then switch which team gets the awkward meeting time.

  1. What’s the goal?

Is there a clear agenda? Is everyone aware of it? Keep everyone on the same page with a central, organizing document shared multiple times before the event. Refer to it often so no one gets lost.

  1. Does the tech work? Can you control the audio?

Test equipment and send out meeting codes early and often. Try to equip your team with good headsets and mics as well as decent lighting if video is involved. Also, unmuted microphones are the bane of the virtual meeting. Find a platform that allows you to control the mic in case one of your team members forgets to mute theirs.

  1. Do you have a facilitator in palce?

Remember, not everyone knows good virtual meeting etiquette, like introducing yourself before you speak. Work with your team on good protocols and choose a facilitator who will make sure everyone is included. This person can call on others, either in order by name or by their area of expertise, to make sure everyone is sharing. The facilitator can also set aside time for silent brainstorming and get people back on track if the conversation wanders.

Make the People Matter

Most importantly, try to solicit a significant contribution from every team member. This humanizes the conversation and gives people a reason to be invested. Remember that all those phone numbers, screen names, or camera boxes represent real people. Design your meeting around those people, and your virtual meeting can become the center of connection and innovation instead of a dreaded chore.

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?

Learn to think like a designer

Image via Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0
Image via Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0

Designers of all stripes—software designers, graphic designers, and even interior designers—have a unique way of thinking that can solve a whole host of business and marketing problems. It’s more of a process than a business plan, but it creates an environment that fosters creative solutions, innovative ideas, and the opportunity to learn and grow from mistakes. How can you empower your team using design thinking? Consider planning your next project using the following steps.

Big-Picture Planning

Most design thinking processes start with the big picture. What do we have? What do we need? What steps can we take to get there? These steps can go by many different names, but they usually include things like customer/audience research, leveraging available assets, and planning out the whole process from the beginning, paying careful attention to detail.

Design thinking is emphatically human-centered, so it relies on a thorough understanding of the people the product will serve. What are their needs? What are their pain points? How can this product or idea simplify their lives? How can we make their jobs or lives more interactive and engaging? By keeping the intended audience front and center throughout the process, design thinking provides built-in values that streamline decision making. If it doesn’t benefit the end user, it doesn’t get included. Period.

At this stage, it’s also vital to take stock of the assets and limitations you and your team have to work with. This includes manpower, funding, timeline, and specific requests from your client or team. Design thinking is meant to be holistic, balancing the needs of the business, team members, and clients throughout the process, creating a supportive environment that promotes teamwork and motivation. Making this list now also allows for better decision-making later on.

Brainstorming

Once the process is laid out, it’s time to start generating solutions. This can happen in several formal sessions or informally over a longer period of time and usually involves a fair amount of research, interdisciplinary teams, discussions, and focus groups, and prototyping of the most promising options. Many teams also incorporate “refresher” activities into this phase of the process that boost creativity and prevent burnout. This can include attending conferences, participating in enrichment projects like visits to art galleries or film showings, and anything else that feeds creativity and introduces new ideas into the mix. This keeps people’s minds fresh, sharp, and engaged during the most creative part of the process.

In order to generate the broadest variety of options, it is vital to make space for brainstorming and to use it exclusively for idea generation, not idea critique. This protected space promotes new ideas, encourages lateral thinking, and enables creative solutions by making team members feel free to propose unique or even radical solutions without fear of criticism. If you’re working on your own, separate brainstorming from critique to give you the space to explore all possibilities.

Once a list of ideas has been researched and generated, prototypes can be built based on the most promising ideas and evaluated by focus groups and interdisciplinary teams. This step highlights potential issues both on the user/client side and in the production process. If multiple teams will be involved in the implementation of the product (like marketing and tech support, for instance), it’s important to ask for insights from representatives from all of them to red flag any potential issues.

At the same time, when making the final decisions, guiding principles should remain focused on solving problems for end users. This means prioritizing aspects like functionality, aesthetics, experience, and simplicity, even if it requires a little more work in development (within the limitations of available resources).

Launch

The final stage of the process sees the production and implementation of the product. But it doesn’t stop there! Design thinking is iterative, so this part of the process involves collecting user feedback and refining the product as well as taking any lessons learned into account for the next project. This can also be a good time to review all the ideas generated during brainstorming and seeing whether any of them should be applied to other problems before restarting the process.

A “post-mortem” with the design team can also be helpful in order to review any mistakes or difficulties and resolve any outstanding issues before the next project begins.

This structure may be a little different from what your team is used to, so it’s OK to implement it slowly. But if you need an injection of creative ideas, start by focusing on the needs of users and making space for brainstorming, and you’ll quickly begin to see the benefits of design thinking.