by Adam Noar
Like double edged swords, blind dates, and nuclear power plants, either a PowerPoint presentation can go really well and make you look totally awesome or it can completely suck and be the scourge of your existence. If you’re a savvy panda you’re no doubt aware that there are certain flaws in presentation design which can wreck an otherwise perfectly good slide presentation.
In case you’re well-versed in the do’s of presentation design but need some reinforcement about the don’ts to make sure you don’t screw up an otherwise perfect presentation, here are FIVE PRESENTATION DESIGN TIPS to remember the next time you create a presentation.
Presentation Design Mistake #1: Using Display Fonts For Body Copy
As tempting as it is to use that super cool looking display font for your body copy, in practice it looks absolutely terrible, and in some cases it is downright illegible. Using a display font such as “Pacifico” throughout the entirety of your text is kind of like wearing a ballgown or tuxedo to the grocery store when you are doing your vegetable shopping. While you might look great in your ultra-fancy three thousand dollar dress with all the bells and whistles, it does not belong in the pasta aisle (sorry if I burst anyone’s bubble). The same can be said for using display fonts in your body copy: most likely you will confuse a bunch of people, no matter how good it looks.
Display fonts are fonts that are better suited to small areas of text, not body copy. This is because a title or subheader, which is where you summarize an entire slide in a few words, is the core of the slide. As such it requires a special text to highlight its important, and that is why it is a good idea for you to use flashy fonts such as Pacifico to grab your audience’s attention. But please, please, please do not make the mistake of using the same font in your entire body. To give you an idea of how messed up it looks, here is a side-by-side comparison of a slide with entirely the same font and one where the header font changes to something more legible in the body section.
I see this terrible design crime committed all the time in PowerPoint presentations, and the affect is cringe-worthy illegible text which serves no other purpose than to make the presenter look like a fool for choosing such a flashy font. There is a time and place for display type, and body copy is not the place to do it!
Presentation Design Mistake #2: Lengthy Line Spillover
This seems like a nit-picky sort of problem, but it is the sort of minor detail that can turn an important presentation into an amateur hour piece of you-know-what if you’re not careful.
With no offense meant to the downtrodden, we in the copywriting and presentation design industries refer to a specific kind of design flaw in presentations as orphans and widows. An orphan refers to one or two trailing words in a paragraph that end up spilling over an extra line in your slide and looking quite forlorn, dejected and despairing by themselves—just like orphans in real life. A widow refers to when a column of text is too big to fit within one window on the slide and so a final line or two—just big enough to make the format look super awkward—gets cut off and left at the top of the next window. Widowed lines tend to wail for their beloved body paragraphs, emanating feelings of woe and sadness across the rest of your slide.
The odd few widows and orphans are inevitably bound to pop up in any type-based design you undertake, so recognizing them and dealing with them is a must to ensure that your presentation looks flawless and is despair and sadness-free. Luckily it is not very hard to correct this sort of mistake and keep your words from becoming orphaned and your lines from becoming widowed. When it comes to dealing with orphans and widows you have a few options at your disposal:
- Manually edit the text to adjust the line length to remove the problem altogether.
- Adjust the margins of your slides to allow for wider or narrower columns.
- Change your font to conserve or eat up more space, depending on the font and size.
- Decrease the amount of words you use. This is probably your best bet—less is always more when it comes to presentation slides, because they’re not supposed to be wordy in the first place.
Keep words from spilling over onto the next line and columns from spilling over to the next window of the slide—doing so will give your presentation a shipshape, smooth appearance.
Presentation Design Mistake #3: Throwing Multiple Random Images on One Slide
There is nothing wrong with using images to illustrate your presentation and give it that extra little touch to make your point or add the right sort of visual vibe to your message. However, it is easy to get a bit carried away and go image crazy on your slide, which is not what you want to do.
As a general rule of thumb you almost never want to use more than one image on a single slide. Anything more than that simply looks too cluttered and will give your presentation a really disorderly appearance, which is something you should definitely aim to avoid. Remember: Presentation slides are meant to look sleek and simple—they’re not supposed to look like a Picasso cubist collage!
When you select images to use in your slide be sure to make sure they directly compliment the topic. If your topic is about marine biology, don’t throw in a random picture of a guy dressed in a penguin suit, unless there’s a direct tie-in (I’m doubtful). If your topic is about summer fashion trends, keep your images on point and show people dressed in summer clothing, not wearing long winter coats (unless you’re trying to be ironic or you are discussing summer fashion at the North Pole). As obvious as this seems, I’ve seen some pretty disastrous slide images that have nothing to do with the topic at hand, so that’s why I’m telling you this.
Respect the audience you’re presenting to and avoid using any sort of crass or vulgar images (unless your audience is the sort that appreciates that sort of thing). Make sure that when you do use an image, it is a high resolution one and will look beautiful and pleasing to the eye when it is blown up to full-screen proportions on a projection screen.
Another great tip to remember is that by no means should you feel obligated to use images for every single slide presentations. Yes, people are highly visual creatures. However, there’s nothing wrong with having certain slides that are solely text, so long as you keep your words concise and follow the other design tips in this article.
Presentation Design Mistake #4: Slapping Solid Text Boxes Over a Busy Picture
Oh, the horror. When you insert an image with a lot of stuff going on, the last thing it needs is a layer of text. Well, actually, I take that back: the only thing worse than putting a solid text box over a busy picture is to put a lot of text in that box!
In case you are wondering what this nightmarish presentation design mistake looks like, here is a great (and by great I mean terrible) example:
There are actually two crimes being committed here:
- The picture chosen has no white or negative space to place text in without blocking out part of the image
- The designer tries (and fails) to fix the problem by first inserting a solid color box over the image and then placing text directly over the shape
It doesn’t take an MFA in graphic design to see that this is a poor example of smart presentation design. The composition of the image comes off as extremely cramped, because there is too much happening within the frame, even before the addition of text. And placing the words and that hideous box over the picture makes it look like you hired a lazy monkey to make your slides. I’m guessing that’s not the impression you are looking to make with your clients.
Fortunately there are some easy ways to prevent this sort of image atrocity from happening. If you really want to add text onto an image, look for photos that have plenty of whitespace or are blurry. These are perfect for adding words without giving off a cramped feel. Additionally, there are some super useful and easy tricks to manipulating your presentation images before you overlay them with text.
Presentation Design Mistake #5: Formatting Inconsistency
Formatting a presentation slide is like balancing the books for a business: it ain’t sexy, but if you don’t do it right then your whole enterprise will fall of kilter like a house of cards in a breeze. Whether you are dealing with just a few slides or a hundred of them, it is super important to set up a style guide and stick to it. Consistency is fundamental to beautiful, orderly slide presentations—the only thing worse than using monochrome, boring design elements is using boring design elements inconsistently!
If you decide that you’re going to use Times New Roman (heaven forbid—you can find tons of stylish fonts here) as the font for a slide, for the love of all things cute cuddly and bamboo-munching, please remember to make sure it stays that way for the duration of the slide. For a super formal presentation it is best to avoid switching fonts between slides altogether, because a coordinated slideshow will look much more professional if there are not font deviations throughout the presentation.
If you decide to use graphic design elements such as borders, frames, and other visual patterns on your slides, make sure that they also remain consistent. Don’t switch from a retro faux iron grille pattern on one slide to a minimalist modern black line border on the next. When you keep external visual elements the same it lends a heightened sense of unity and conformity to your design, which is always a good thing.
You should also keep in mind that it is a bad idea to vary your colors and backgrounds too often. At the very least make sure that you keep these aspects of your presentation complimentary, or simply decide upon one set type of style and stick with it for the entirety of the presentation. The resulting coherence will do wonders for the look and feel of your design.
Yes, formatting isn’t so exciting, but take it upon yourself to make sure that your formatting is consistent and your presentations will benefit for it.
Presentation design, no matter how subtle it may seem, is too important to neglect—you want to make sure you get it right.
It is the sort of underrated characteristic that might not seem like a big deal, but if something such as your formatting is off or the images you use are low resolution, it might make a potential client hesitate before hiring you for a project—if you can’t make an effective PowerPoint presentation, are you going to be careless when you’re working for someone else?
I hope that you won’t be making any of these five presentation design mistakes in the future.
Here’s my question for you:
Have you ever created or seen a presentation that had mismatched slides, random images, or any of the other design flaws discussed here? If so, how was the presentation received? Let me know what you think below and please try to be specific as possible. Also, which of these mistakes do you see the most in other people’s presentations? Sound off in the comments below!
Lastly, do you have a friend that could benefit from learning about these presentation design tips? If so, email them the link to this post.
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