Quality in Presentation Design

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009 2 comments


Subjective VS Objective Quality in PowerPoint Design

What makes a slide work? Well, we at m62 believe the ingredients are a strong and focused message, engaging slide visuals, intelligent presentation design and attractiveness, and professional delivery. But interestingly, since the design is the ‘skin’ of the presentation, the icing on a painstakingly-assembled cake, this is often the aspect that is most frequently subjected to scrutiny, debate, and adjustment ad infinitum.

When quality-auditing each other’s work our designers follow an interesting distinction between aspects of design that can contribute to (or detract from) the slides’ effectiveness, and aspects that similarly affect their ‘eye candy’ quality.  We refer to this distinction as Subjective VS Objective Quality Standards (or SOQS). Understanding this difference can save presenters and presentation designers a lot of time and effort.

Aesthetics and Presentation Design

When designers or presenters argue about whether a slide would look better in blue or green, they aren’t really making any claims about the colours themselves; they are not disagreeing on any point of fact. What they are doing is describing something about themselves and what kinds of things they find enjoyable. Discussions about slide design are often simply disagreements over aesthetics  - a very powerful, but frequently misunderstood, form of judgment.

It is frequently very interesting to compare and discuss our aesthetic judgments. Yet, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time arguing over whether a blue shape or green shape would look better on a slide – but, amazingly, that’s what a lot of presenters do.

Except where corporate brand guidelines apply (which frequently dictate colour palettes but little else where PowerPoint is concerned), our designers have free rein to apply their artistic instinct and make the slides look as stunning as possible. In this sense, having freedom of design within a framework of meaning (the storyboard) and rules (the Objective Quality Standards), our designers are artists collaborating on a work of craft. These Objective Quality Standards “clips the wings of genius” (Kant), making sure that clear communication is not compromised in favour of purely ‘nice design’.

Objective Quality in Presentation Design

m62′s Objective Quality Standards take the form of a fixed set of rules that our designers follow when designing slides. Each and every slide we produce is put through quality audit and measured against these Standards. Any deviation from the Standards, which set tolerances for over a hundred specific slide properties, requires a rework before the presentation goes live. The OQS are strictly enforced, but they have nothing to do with the graphics. Instead, they seek to prevent tiny but significant distractions. We need the audience to pay complete attention to the presenter and the slide simultaneously as the presentation is delivered. Anything that looks out of place, untidy or unexpected could provoke a “why is that like that..?” reaction in an audience member and make them disengage for a few seconds – grit in the Vaseline of smooth communication.

Objective Quality Rules

There is common sense behind all of the OQS rules.

  • An arrow that points downwards should be animated from top to bottom (e.g. ‘wipe from top’).
  • A row of pictures should be aligned and evenly distributed (using PowerPoint’s align and distribute tools, not by eye).
  • Graphical objects should adhere to a consistent palette and should not introduce a crazy new colour for no good reason.
  • Animations should not be too dramatic, last longer than three seconds or repeat themselves over and over – overenthusiastic animations can be mesmerising at best and irritating at worst.

Slide Titles, an Example

The first thing that usually appears on a slide is the title. We want the audience to read the title quickly and understand it so they can contextualise the information that follows. Therefore we always place our titles on a contrasting bar that wipes from left to right. Contrast is important because we need the text to be clearly legible and we need the audience to understand that this is a title and not part of the explanation. Wiping from left to right is important because that is the direction the eye travels as it reads. Title text (along with any other text) is also determined at an absolute minimum of 24pt – this is the minimum size that we find audiences can read comfortably and quickly in a typical setting. If they have to strain to read it, they might not bother, and if they don’t bother, it’s a waste of time having the text there at all.

Eliminate Distraction in Presentation Design

Arguments about subjective design quality can be a welcome distraction from rehearsing, but they rarely illuminate more than the individual tastes of the observers, and cannot provide much insight into the various tastes among the next audience.

The point is this: when you’re finalising a presentation, design matters just as much as messaging, visualisation and delivery. But the aesthetic aspects of slides will not make or break them. Think about the basics: “Does the slide look tidy? Is everything easy to see/read? Do the right things grab attention at the right time?”

Eliminating distractions in presentation graphics will go a lot further towards keeping your audience engaged than trying to guess their favourite colours.

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2 Comments to Quality in Presentation Design

  1. #1

    Dianne Gibson

    3:32 pm, March 28th, 2012

    Each and every slide we produce is put through quality audit and measured against these Standards. Is there a way to get all of the Objective Quality Rules?

    I’m very interested in reading them.

  2. #2

    Jessica Pyne

    3:53 pm, March 29th, 2012

    Hi Dianne, thank you for your interest. Unfortunately we do not publish our Objective Quality Standards, as they are an important part of the service we provide for our paying clients. If you look through the content in our PowerPoint Design section however, you should get a good idea of what we suggest!