Design Better PowerPoint

In my line of work, I find myself constantly producing PowerPoint presentations. Sometimes these are just individual slides (like a diagram or case study), sometimes they are templates, and sometimes they are whole, individual presentations. Most of my PowerPoint work is completed at my day job where I am an in-house designer, but my freelancing alter ego occasionally comes across a client needing some presentational pick-up. Over the years, I have built and edited hundreds of PowerPoint files.

I know a lot of people think PowerPoint is the devil incarnate, but in the corporate world, it is an ubiquitous evil. To shake some of the negative stereotypes, I apply traditional design principals to make my company and clients look better than the competition.

We go to 120 trade shows a year, and we present at every single one. We also use Macromedia’s Breeze for hundreds of online demos. Our PowerPoint is often the first thing a potential customer will see from us, so it is critical (and easy) to make a good impression before they even receive a brochure.

PowerPoint is used by nearly sales guy on the planet, with a whole industry of accessories built around the presentation guru / road warrior concept. It is employed for downloadable or live web demos, and it is even used (or abused, depending on your point of view) to pass along copy, concepts and notes between internal team members. With this volume of use, PowerPoint slide design becomes just another facet of a company’s identity program.

From Chuck’s Neighborhood PeeCee Warehouse to Apple Computer, the local cafe with the amazing bagels to Starbucks Coffee, every business benefits from a unique identity, a look and feel that separates them from competition. The company logo is only a small part. Corporate colors, type treatments, illustration styles and repeated graphic elements are all parts of the greater whole. This identity is carried through to stationary, trade show graphics, packaging, advertising and yes, PowerPoint.

The software has become so ubiquitous that I consider it part of a greater paradigm shift in mainstream communication. The only problem is that this evolution is hindering communication. Like text messaging or 200-pixel banner ads, the information is compressed to a set of key buzzwords, crippling the message by stripping the skeleton of any meat. Bullet points become rapid-fire metadata. I give you the words “purple” and “fish” — you figure out what I am trying to say.

  • Leverage your existing technology
  • Realize rapid ROI
  • Streamlined implementation

Is about as meaningful as:

  • Parsed cabbage flux capacitor
  • Disco glitter manifestation
  • Expressive giraffe BLT

Maybe a hundred years ago those phrases denoted something, but by sheer repetition and abuse, the PowerPoint generation has crushed the meaning like 200,000 people at a Stones concert trampling through a flower garden.

In the same way a good logo supports a successful identity program, good PowerPoint transcends half-assed bullet points and reinforces the speaker — their personality, message and purpose. It doesn’t recycle the same, tired messaging over and over. Not only does it look awesome, good PowerPoint hammers home the presenter’s message with unique phrasing, interesting design elements and a certain disregard for the status quo bullshit buzz-speak.

All the flashy backgrounds, painstaking animations and intense clipart research are for nothing if the message has been gutted from the shell. So while I “design” PowerPoint, I design for the audience because I am focused on how they will react to the information.


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