Feb 27, 2011

[Free E-Book] Principles of Good Presentation Design

In this e-book, you will learn about basics of good design. These simple principles will help you make better-looking PowerPoint slides. These principles are simple to understand and easy to apply.

This e-book is based on the six-part series 'Design Basics'. Go ahead, download the e-book, apply the principles and make awesome looking slides. Share it with your friends and colleagues.

Click here to download (from Google Docs; no login required)**
Click here to download e-book (SlideShare 2.40 MB)

** To download, first click on the link. Then go to File (on your left) and choose Download.

Feb 26, 2011

11 things I have done with MS PowerPoint [Other than making usual PPTs]

MS PowerPoint is a software for making presentations. Over the last many years, I have been using it for doing all weird kind of things. Here are 11 such things I have used the software for.

1. Designing posters / leaflets
Designing logo
3. Writing e-books
4. Photo editing
5. Image creation (creating shapes and saving as a picture)
6. Making a screen saver (by running PPT in a loop)
7. Preparing presentations to wish friends/relatives Happy Birthday (a complete audio visual affair; almost like a mini movie)
8. Designing press advertisements
Designing a scratch card
10. Designing a book cover (the author actually rejected the deisgn :-(
11. Designing the layout for websites

Other than making PPTs, what have you used MS PowerPoint for?

Image credit: scottchan

Feb 23, 2011

Design Basics Part 6: More Tips & Conclusion

This is the last part of the six-part series called 'Design Basics' where we are learning how to make our slides look good. This series is based on the book 'The Non-Designer's Design Book' by Robin Williams.

In the last four parts we have covered the four principles of good design; Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity (in short C.R.A.P.). In this post, we will learn a few simple tricks.

1. Have a lot of white space on the slide
2. Avoid all capital letters in the text. It makes the design very busy and uncomfortable to read. The same rule applies to emails as well.
3. Break all the rules.

White Space
The invisible element of any design is the amount of blank space that is there in it. It is our tendency to fill the slide completely with either text or image. Example, open a newspaper and look for an advertisement by a small company. You will see no blank space at all. Afterall, the owner has paid for it and hence has to write as much as he can.

The problem is, the less the white space (blank space) the more the clutter. The more the white space the more catchy the design becomes. Don't think so? Have a look at these examples.

This ad is by Apollo Munich Insurance and it is extremely catchy. The moment there is so much white space, the eyes get drawn, like a magnet, into the image in the middle. Now look at the ad below:
This ad is so full of text and hence so poor in catching our attention. The only good part is the box above which is catchy because of its contrast (read more about contrast here).
This ad, in trying to be creative, commits the mistake of being too busy. We should avoid having slides like that as well.

To conclude, remember that a good design happens because of six things:

1. Contrast
2. Repetition
3. Alignment
4. Proximity
5. White Space, and
6. The guts to break all the rules!

Do not get bogged down by the rules and kill your creativity. Know which rule you are breaking and for the betterment of the design, break it!

About the six-part series
I was very impressed with this book and hence I wrote this 6 part long series. The objective of these posts was to dispel the myth that only professional designers can design good stuff. If we learn these basic principles, we can also become good designers. Good enough to not commit basic design mistakes and make your presentations much more appealing and aesthetically good looking.

Feb 21, 2011

Design Basics Part 5: The Contrast Principle

This is the fifth post in the series 'Design Basics' where we are discussing how to make our slides look good. Read the first post of the series here. This series is based on Robin Williams' book 'The Non-Designer's Design Book'.

Design Principle #4 of 4: Contrast

What does it mean?
Contrast means difference. The difference between two elements on the slide. The difference can be of colour, size, font type, bold and not bold, vertical and horizontal text, etc. A simple example of contrast is the headline. See the image below.
The two headline texts are in bold and they are bigger in font size. This is the contrast here. It makes it easy for us to read the text.

What is the Contrast Principle?

Contrast adds visual interest in the design and makes it interesting. In order to be effective, the contrast HAS TO BE strong. Example, font 18 and 20 is not a strong contrast. A strong contrast would be 18 and 30. Contrast also helps organise a document, so readers can skim through the material.
In the image above which slide looks better? Which is more catchy? The one on the right and the reason is 'contrast'. A strong contrast gets attention. If the highlight colour is made light grey the contrast will become poor and lose it power.

The contrast principle states that we should find one important thing on the slide and highlight it.
If there are two important things, bring them together physically and highlight them as one element (unit).

Our eyes always get drawn to contrast. This is a natural tendency. Hence, we should decide the most important point on a slide and use contrast to draw attention.

How to apply this principle?
Look at the ads below. Where does your eye fall first? Is it the most important message?
The contrast is poor. Whenever there is so much text in a design, you need a strong contrast to focus the eyes on the main point. There are many elements which get our attention and nothing stands out well. The eye movement is haphazard here.

Contrast this to another text-heavy ad which we saw earlier as well.

The eye movements are well planned here. After we have looked at the product, our eyes move to the brand name (because of its larger bolder font), then to the header text (larger font size and blue colour) and then to the bunch of text above Neutrogena. This contrast helps readers navigate better. It also focuses the readers on the brand name.

Remember to have strong contrast on your slide. This will enhance the visual appeal of the slide and make 'eye navigation' easier.

To read about the third principle Repetition click here.

Feb 16, 2011

Going on a summer vacation

I am going to stop blogging for 3 months due to personal reasons.

I will write till February end and bury the blog from March to May. This is the 290th post and I will try to reach as close to 300 as possible before the long summer approaches.
In these three months I will be sharing old posts which will be of use to new readers who have joined in the last one year.

I have been updating this blog 2/3 times a week since the day I started and this break seems to be too long.

However it also seems like a blessing in disguise. Imagine that God came to me and said; "You have 10 more days to blog." What will I do? Write to the best of my ability. Write like I have never written before.

If you are new to the blog, you will like the old posts I will share. Others, please hang on till I come back in June. I will also share few more blog links which you can read while I am gone. However, do not stop emailing questions and queries. I will answer all your questions.

Take care and make every presentation awesome!

Feb 12, 2011

Design Basics Part 4: The Repetition Principle

This is the fourth post in the series 'Design Basics' where we are discussing how to make our slides look good. Read the first post here, second here and the third post here. This series is based on Robin Williams' book 'The Non-Designer's Design Book'.

Design Principle #3: Repetition

What does it mean?
Repetition is a simple word which means to repeat. To repeat an element across the design. In our context, it stands for consistency as well. Consistent use of elements (colour, fonts, etc.) on a slide and throughout all slides.

What is the Repetition Principle?
This principle of good design states that we repeat some aspects of the design throughout the presentation. It helps organise information and guides your reader through the presentation.

How to apply this principle?

Here are a few tips to remain consistent throughout the slides

1. Use a template (can be created by you as well) so that the looks across all slides remain the same.
2. Use the same font size across all slides (one size of the header and one for body text).
3. Use the same font type across all slides.
4. Use the same font colour across all slides.
5. Use the same colour scheme for all tables & charts (graphs) across all slides.

Repetition of elements can also be on one slide. To know more see examples below.

Example #1

Look at these three print ads which belong to the same company. Even without reading a word you will know why they belong to the same company.
There is a strong visual connection between all the various ads (which are like slides only). The element of repetition is at work here. This is an extremely helpful tip if you are designing a newspaper ad, a website (inside pages), a brochure or a newsletter.

Example #2

There can be a repetition within the slide as well. Look at this newspaper ad and find out what is being repeated here and how is it affecting the audience?

The element that is being repeated is the colour green. This adds to our definition of the element in the first post. An element on a slide is a text, an image, a combination of text and image or colour of image or text. The green colour which comes at the top and bottom is making sure your eye stays on the slide for more time and it alternates between the top and bottom. This way we spend more time reading the ad.

By now you have understood that these design principles apply as much to slide design as to a newspaper advertisement. We are using newspaper ads as examples only to illustrate the principle. It does not mean our slides should be as full of text as the paper ad above. An ad and a slide are two different forms of communication and have a different purpose.

Example #3

Another example of repetition can be seen in this newspaper ad.

The first three images are similar and the font style is also similar. This is a repetition. This repetition ties these three elements together and brings about unity in design. Had these three images been totally different the unity would have been lost.

I don't find this paper ad very nice but have still used it just to give examples of 'repetition'. In the end, a design will only look good when all the four principles of design come together; contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity.
What more?
Break the rule in the interest of design. You need not follow this principle to such an extent that it gets boring. Break it when you feel so. Take the risk. Breaking this repetition (if done once or twice) will get a lot of attention which can be used to one's advantage.

To read about proximity click here, to read about alignment click here. In the next post, we will understand the fourth principle; contrast.

Feb 10, 2011

Design Basics Part 3: The Alignment Principle

This is the third post in the series 'Design Basics'. Read the first post here and the second post here. This series is based on Robin Williams' book 'The Non-Designer's Design Book'.

Design Principle #2: Alignment

What does it mean?
Alignment is the adjustment of an object in relation to other objects (Wikipedia). You are aware of left alignment (often called left justify) and right alignment. By alignment here, we mean the way every element is positioned in comparison to the other element.

What is the Alignment Principle?
Every element on the slide should have a visual connection with other elements on the slide. A slide which has all the elements aligned gives a more cohesive look. It appeals more to the eye.
Robin suggests that every element should be aligned in the same manner. If the slide header text is aligned left, the body text should also be aligned left. Have a look at the image below. The slide on the left is the most common thing to do. Robin urges us not to. The slide on the right gives a more 'balanced' look.

Robin also urges us to avoid center alignment at all times. Choose right or left but not center because it is too old style and dull. Right or left alignment gives a more sophisticated look. I am not sure why she is so against center alignment. Personally, I am not totally convinced. But then she is the expert, not I.

In the example below, center alignment is the worst choice but that does not mean it is worse everywhere. I personally need to study more examples before I can buy her point fully.
When there are text and a (related) image on a slide, align the text to unite it strongly with the image. Take a look at this example:

It is very clear which slide looks better. The text which has been right-aligned creates unity. It strengthens the lines of the book and creates a strong alignment.

Alignment in real life?
After browsing scores of paper ads on the website afaqs.com I figured out that most ads have the basic alignment in place but they have not followed the rule to the last word. Which I guess is fine. There is one ad which kind of follows the principle to the last word. Here it is.

The header, the body text, and the bottom text are all right aligned. There is a strong structure which is visible because of this alignment throughout.
What are the benefits of alignment?
Overall, aligning all the elements to each other makes the various elements part of the same design. All the elements appear united thus making the slide look better and appeal more.

In the next post of the series, we will talk about Repetition. To read about the first principle Proximity click here.

Feb 8, 2011

Design Basics Part 2: The Proximity Principle

This is the second post of the series 'Design Basics'. This series is based on Robin Williams' book 'The Non-Designer's Design Book'. Read the first post here.

Design Principle #1: Proximity

What does it mean?

This is the first principle of good design. Proximity means closeness. Physical closeness of elements on the slide.

What is the Proximity Principle?
On a slide, there are many elements (images, text). The elements which are related should be placed together (physically closer) on the slide. The elements which are not related should never be placed together. Physical closeness (proximity) implies a relationship.

Example #1

Look at the example below. This is something very similar to what Robin shares in her book. Which visiting card looks better?
The one at the bottom looks better. There were 4 elements on the top visiting card. The proximity principle wants us to group the similar elements together. So we put investment banker with the name. We put the logo with the company name and address. Thus we make the card more organised, easy to understand and more appealing.

What are the benefits of following this principle?
1. The slides become more organised. Grouping similar things make logical sense. It also reduces the number of elements on the page, thus the total 'space' is managed better, visually.

2. This organisation tells readers where to start reading, how to navigate through the page and where to end.

3. All of this enhances the communication. The slide becomes easy to understand.

4. 'White space' is needed to rest the eye. By grouping similar elements, we are freeing more white space. We will discuss and understand more on 'white space' in a later post in this series.

Example #2

Let us take a look at this slide from Marico's presentation taken from their website. Marico is a leading FMCG player in India with market leadership position in hair oils. This slide relates to that.
This particular slide does not look very good. The space on the slide is ill-managed. The elements are all haphazard. Let us try to apply what we learnt in this principle. Place similar things together. Do not place dissimilar things together.

The slide talks about two things: Volume market share & Market size. The images, in this case, are only illustrative of the brands they are talking about. PCNO is the blue bottle, Nihar is the green bottle. I have marked 1 for elements which relate to market share, 2 for market size and 3 for images.

By grouping these together, we arrive at this:
This slide looks much better. The white space has been better managed. It can be improved further by applying the other three principles of design, but we shall not do that now.

Through this example, we have learned how we can apply the 'Proximity Principle' to a slide and improve it. Tomorrow if we are touching up our slides we know how we will use this principle and make a small but important impact on the look and feel of the slide.

In the next post of this series, we will learn about Alignment.

Feb 5, 2011

What makes a design look good? [Design Basics Part 1]

[In this post we will learn what makes a design good. In the next few posts will discover how we can make our slides look great.]

A good presentation is a result of three things; meaningful content, good-looking slides and powerful & engaging delivery. These three elements are equally important and we cannot get away by mastering only one or two out of the three. Most of us have no formal training in design and many of us do not consider ourselves creative.

In this series of posts, termed as Design Basics I am trying to learn and share with you what makes a design appealing. Why do we like some slides and don't like others? What are the basic principles we can use to make our slides awesome? Principles which are easy to understand and easy to apply. Our guide here is Robin Williams and her book 'The Non-Designer's Design Book'.

The term design applies to every type of design; slide design (a PPT slide), newspaper advertisement, newsletter, websites, etc. etc. The approach of her book is very simple and anyone can understand and apply the same.

The Four Basic Principles

1. Contrast
2. Repetition
3. Alignment
4. Proximity

First, we need to understand each principle (this will be covered in next few posts). Second, we have to recognize when we are violating them. Third, we have to use the principles to make our design awesome. (These will also be covered in future posts using examples)

What are these principles? I will offer a small description here. We shall understand each one in a separate post. But before we can understand these principles we need to understand the meaning of the term Elements. We will be using this word often.

Elements are the various objects on a page (or a slide). A line of text or image placed physically together is one element. Robin says, "To know the number of elements on a page, squint your eyes and count the number of times your eye stops, seeing each separate item."

Example: In the image below, the visiting card on the top has 3 elements whereas the one below has only 2. Notice how your eyes move to three places on the first card. In the bottom card, because the logo and company name are so close, they become one element.

Let us now understand the four principles in brief.

Contrast -
Contrast makes the design attractive. This is what gets reader's attention. It also helps organize the design so readers know what is going on.

Repetition - Repetition is consistency. All the slides of a presentation should have a consistent design for the audience to know it is from the same presentation. Even within a slide consistency matters. It brings unity to design.

Alignment - Every element in the design has to have a visual connection with the other elements. It gives the design a balanced unified look.

Proximity (Closeness) - Elements which are not related should be placed far away. Elements which are related should be placed physically together.

We will understand each principle with practical examples in future posts. Read the next post here: Design Basics Part 2: The Proximity Principle

The Non-Designer's Design Book by Robin Williams is highly recommended. Read more about Robin Williams here.

Feb 3, 2011

Share your presentation stories with me

You have made lots of presentations in your life. Some worth remembering, some may not be so. You would have given successful presentations; where you cracked the deal or got the sale or received a warm response from the audience.

Share your presentation stories with me. Tell me what the presentation was about, what did you do and how did you feel during and after the presentation. Don't worry if you think it was a small thing. I want to listen from you. Tell me your stories so I can share them here (with your permission) and we all will learn something about how to become better at making presentations.

Share your stories by shooting an email to vivek @ allaboutpresentations dot com. I am waiting for you.

Feb 2, 2011

Retrospection after every Presentation

To become awesome at making presentations I strongly recommend: Retrospection after every Presentation.

Sit back, relax, rewind, think about the presentation you have just given. What did not go well? and how can you correct that next time. What went well which you can replicate next time. You need to do this within 24 hours of giving the presentation and write down your learning for future reference.

I delivered a presentation today to a group of 60 first year MBA students. I was representing my organisation and had gone to offer them a small market research project. The objective was to get students excited about the (glamour less) project. My aim was to enroll atleast 30 of them.

What went well?

The presentation was liked by the students. I am gauging from the response I received. 48 of them enrolled (48 out of 60). My objective was met and that was the most satisfying part. I was really worried that only 5 or 10 students will like the project. The project is too small and not so exciting for a student.

Another good thing was the short duration. The presentation hardly lasted for 20-25 minutes. You cannot interest young MBA students for any longer than that. Due to this, no one slept during the presentation. This was a conscious effort from my side. After making the first draft of the presentation, I cut not less than 15% of the slides just to keep things simple.

I did most of the talking and the slides hardly had any text. I did not want them to read because no one likes to read much during a presentation. The average amount of words on a slide was around 7. I kept talking while slides helped students to focus on the key points.

I tried my best to give a logical flow to the presentation. Things followed one after the other. Who am I? --> Why am I here? --> Why are we doing the project? --> What is in it for the students?

What could have been better?

[This is the part where we have to be tough on ourselves. We cannot rest on our laurels if we have to become awesome.]

I hardly had time to prepare. Is it not always the case? We get to know of a presentation one day before and try to put in a few extra hours at the last minute. Yesterday I slept at 1am and that was not at all comfortable.

I should have rehearsed more. My content was fine and the slides were very simple. Yesterday night I rehearsed 2 times. I rehearsed again once during the day. This was not enough. If we spend 2 hours preparing the content and 2 hours making the slides then we must spend 2 hours rehearsing the presentation. Rehearsal should be done exactly the way we will be presenting. Stand up, be loud and present to an empty room.

I made changes to the slides at the last minute. That was done to make the content better. This becomes a problem because we need to rehearse and go for every presentation. The rehearsal which I did before making the changes loses if effectiveness if changes are made to the slides. Many a times I had to look at the slides to figure out what was there on it :-)

Overall was I awesome?

Yes I was. My presentation met the objective, the students gave a warm response and the faculty wanted me to come regularly to conduct guest lectures. If our overall objective is met, small small issues don't really spoil the show.

Image: Evgeni Dinev

Stop being average & start becoming awesome at PowerPoint Presentations

PowerPoint Presentations are going to be there for as long as we can imagine. The hardware may change or the software may change but we will have to continue to make presentations. Even if we love them or hate them our job (or college) will ask us to present and present well.

Let us decide not to be happy with an 'ok-ok' presentation and go out and give our best shot. Plan better, design better slides and rehearse more so that we can deliver a better presentation.

Why not try to become the best presenter in our college or place of work?

Let us make a conscious effort to evaluate ourselves on the three aspects of making a presentation; planning the content, designing the slides and delivering the presentation. We won't be bad on all three. Let us become conscious of our flaws and give our best to improve on these.

Let us stop being average and start being awesome*.

* I have borrowed this word from an awesome blogger
Chandoo who inspires so many people (including myself) to become awesome in life.