Let’s shift gears now and talk about design. Well-designed slides alone don’t make a presentation great, but they certainly don’t hurt either.
Design is a tricky topic to address because people tend to see design as a profession, something only “designers” do. In the same way that too many people think they can't be creative, too many people think they can't design things.
When we’re little kids we spend hours and hours painting pictures. We are born as little designers. We draw the things we see, the things we think about. We don’t worry about critics or cynics. We don’t care what others might think if we express ourselves, if we show our feelings. As little kids the world is full of new things. We notice a lot of little nuances, so many we can’t help but express the world we see. Yet somehow this creative drive gets sucked out of us as we grow up. We get used to the things in the world and start to feel self-conscious about expressing ourselves. We forget we were once little designers. We forget what we can do.
The first step to good design is good observation.
Slowing down just a little bit, paying attention to the world and noticing the nuances that make things interesting is the best design education you can get. Design is all over the place.
A Photography Lesson
There’s a great design tip photographers use that slide designers can learn from. It’s called the “Rule of Thirds.” (I’m normally not a big fan of “rules” in this context, so ignore what it’s called and think of it as a principle. “Rules” are hard boundaries of what you should and shouldn’t do. “Principles” are sails that guide you in the direction you’d like to go.)
You can set two photos of the same object side by side and see two very different images. Next time you see a photo you like, pause a moment and ask yourself why you like it.
The “Rule of Thirds” has to do with framing your shot, which is to say it has to do with where you line up the things in your photo.
Imagine drawing two vertical and two horizontal lines across your image, dividing it into thirds each way (like a grid with nine boxes). The idea is to line up the important elements of your photo (the horizon, the person’s eyes, etc) with these lines and their intersections, instead of lining them up with the exact center of the image as we’re inclined to do.
It isn’t exactly clear why (it has to do with the Golden Ratio), but images lined up on the thirds tend to look much more natural and appealing. Something about them is more interesting.
Applying it to Slide Design
Once you know about the Rule of Thirds you’ll see it being used all over the place. Magazines and other print media regularly use it for their layouts. Cinematographers line up movie scenes along the thirds all the time. Television directors do the same thing (notice where the news anchor sits and where the graphic lines up in the upper corner).
The Rule of Thirds can make your PowerPoint slides look a lot better too. Our first impulse is usually to place objects on the horizontal and vertical centers of our slide. Instead, next time you're making a presentation try aligning your text boxes and images on the thirds. It will often lead to a less typical and more interesting looking slide that's more appealing to an audience.
Using grid lines of any kind in your slide design also adds a consistency to your slides that makes the whole presentation look more polished and professional.
The Rule of Thirds is one of those great design tips that comes from nature, so it can be picked up intuitively. It resonates well with human perception and can make your slides look a lot more appealing. It’s a design tip that’s simple to implement and yields big results, so give it a try in your next presentation.