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20 Design Terms You Must Know If You Want Epic PowerPoint Slides

by Adam Noar

20 MUST KNOW DESIGN TERMS FOR awesome PowerPoint slides

Contrast, Hierarchy, Parallax Scrolling … Ohhhhh my!

In the world of design, there are so many technical design terms that get thrown around they can be hard to keep track of.

I’m willing to bet that this “design language” gets overwhelming for the non-designer who is simply looking to create a kick butt presentation.

But here’s the thing:

There are some design terms you should know in order to better understand some key elements of a good looking slide.

To make things easy for you, we have put together a list of 20 design terms you need to know and explained them in simple language for the non-designer. If you happen to be a designer this should be a good review for you too.

Let’s begin!



Image courtesy of Justin Mezzell

At its most basic level, typography with presentations is all about working with fonts to make your text on each slide look good.

But what constitutes “good”? That’s the question you have to ask yourself when you’re designing a killer slide.

The main things you want to keep in mind are clarity and readability. There are a lot of things that go into making a font clear and readable – and this is also one of those things that, at its best, is completely unnoticeable to your audience.

Some of the most common mistakes are bunching up the letters too much (tracking), using too many different fonts, using clashing fonts, and overdoing the emphasis. These all negatively affect your audience’s ability to understand your message – the moral of the story is to not let your design desires overshadow your content.


Kerning is the amount of space between two letters in your text – you know how sometimes you read something and the “r” and “n” next to each other look like an “m”? That’s an example of bad kerning.

Orphans and Widows

This is a very common mistake for novice presentation creators, and once you know what it is, you’ll see it everywhere.

In bodies of text with multiple paragraphs, it’s when there is one word at the end of a sentence that doesn’t quite fit, so it goes all by itself to the next line – or, worse, the next page. You ideally won’t have big paragraphs in your slides, but in case you can’t avoid it, this is a good thing to check for. You also don’t want this to happen to your title or subtitle, as it just makes it feel more unbalanced and sloppy.


Use hierarchy in powerpoint slides

Image courtesy of Caleb Royce Lummer

You are definitely familiar with visual hierarchy, even if you couldn’t tell us exactly what it is. It’s all about which order you are supposed to read the content, and the creator of the content – you, in this case – has to make that very clear for the reader.

There are 6 main things you have to consider:

Size: The rule of thumb for this one is that the more important something is, the bigger it should be. Think about a newspaper article – the title is always the biggest.

Color and contrast: Using one or two accent colors that complement or contrast each other can be a very effective way to draw the eye to thing you want to emphasize. For fool-proof color choices, use the handy dandy color wheel.

Typographic hierarchy: Start with 3 “levels” of text at a minimum – header, sub-header, and body copy. This will help you organize your message into the most important information, followed by the sections or grouping of your main message, and finally the complete message.

Fonts: Consider how the personality of the font fits your message, and how readable it is.

Spacing: You want your typography to be well-spaced, and you also want whitespace in your image, one of the 10 tips we give for image selection.

Composition: Make sure your slide is put together in an interesting and purposeful way, by arranging the images and text in a way that achieves balance and structure for your reader.

Serif Typeface and Sans Serif Typeface

powerpoint serif font - powerpoint sans serif font

Image courtesy of Henrick Rolandez

They may sound like magic spells, but really, serif and sans serif fonts are just about the little strokes at the top and bottom of the horizontal lines in your font. Serif fonts have the little strokes. Sans Serif fonts don’t have them. 

Serif and Sans Serif fonts have very different personalities, which is what makes them important in your design. Times New Roman is a super common serif font, and it’s very easy to read and professional. The font in the image above is also a serif font.

Calibri is a great example of a sans serif font and looks much more modern and stylish.

Consider the feel you want your message to have, and choose your font – serif or sans serif – with that in mind.

To see some of my favorite fonts for presentions click here.


use alignment in your powerpoint to clean up your slidesImage courtesy of Alexander Bickov

Alignment is super important for slide design. There are six types of alignment: left, right, center, middle, top, and bottom. There’s not any right answer except to keep it consistent and neat, each message and design will call for its own type of alignment.

The alignment will help with the balance and order of the slides, keeping the audience reading your message in the intended order, and not jumping around the slide or getting distracted.

Color Palette

create a color palette for your powerpoint

Image courtesy of Natalie Kirejczyk

Bring out your inner artist! The palette you use will give off a certain mood, personality, and vibe to your entire design. If your company has an official palette, definitely use those – you can always match it to their corporate branding colors or their logo (like in the above example).

If not, let your imagination run wild – well, not too wild. Stick to 3 to 4 colors so the look isn’t too overwhelming. If you’re looking for inspiration, nature can be a great place to start! You can also turn to the World Wide Web at www.designseeds.com or www.colourlovers.com.


Resolution is an easy thing to forget about when you’re creating your presentation, and then be rudely reminded of when it’s put up on a big screen and suddenly your images look terrible.

Make sure you’re always using high resolution images, because then it’ll look good at any size – if the resolution is too low, you risk having nice details turn into blurry, pixelated chunks. This is a common beginner’s mistake, so don’t make it!

Parallax Scrolling

parallax scrolling in powerpoint looks awesome

Image courtesy of Dave Chenell

If you’ve been hanging out around the cool websites lately, you’ll have noticed a lot of them have started implementing a really cool looking scrolling effect with their images and text – you guessed it, it’s called parallax scrolling. It’s when your background image moves more slowly than your foreground image, and it looks awesome (like in the above example).

With the creative use of bleeds and transitions in PowerPoint, you can now create a cool looking parallax scrolling effect in your presentation.

Toot toot! Here comes the Influencer train and we’re tooting the horn. Check out our template, which coincidentally features parallax scrolling – you won’t regret it.

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Scale, put simply, is how big or small an object is in relation to the other objects. But as simple as that sounds, there are some really fun and unique things you can do with scale!

On an organizational note, you can use scale to create or emphasize hierarchy, like we talked about above. You can also use scale to make the image interesting or unexpected to catch the reader’s eye, like making something that would typically be very small, very large. Get creative!


insert transparent shapes in powerpoint

Image courtesy of Caleb Royce Lummer

If you’ve fallen in love with a photo that doesn’t have a lot of white space, putting text straight over it is going to be pretty tough to read – and that’s where transparent shapes (like the triangles in the above image) come along to save the day. Overlaying a simple transparent shape on top of the image is a great way to make the text more readable on the slide, and help it stand out a bit.

You can also use transparency to make your image a bit less intense – it’ll make it fade into the background a bit more.


Resolution is an easy thing to forget about when you’re creating your presentation, and then be rudely reminded of when it’s put up on a big screen and suddenly your images look terrible.

Make sure you’re always using high resolution images, because then it’ll look good at any size – if the resolution is too low, you risk having nice details turn into blurry, pixelated chunks. This is a common beginner’s mistake, so don’t make it!


Bleeds are a great way to get some of the cool look and feel of Prezi without actually having to use Prezi.

A bleed is when part of your image is “cut off” on one edge of the slide. So for example, you use a picture of a rocket, and you make part of it fall outside of one of the edges.

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The way to get the cool Prezi effect, where it looks like each slide is just part of a bigger whole, is to combine bleeding with one of the directional sliding transitions. For example, part of the rocket goes on the first slide, and it’s cut off by the right edge of the slide. For your next slide, put the other half of the rocket on the left side of the slide, and use the sliding transition. That will make it appear as though it’s a whole image, and you’re just moving from one part to the next. It creates a really nice seamless effect.

Stock Photo

Going out and taking your own pictures is usually a waste of time with all the resources available on the web! Unless you’re showcasing a specific product that you need pictures of, just search around to find the images you want to use in your presentation.

Stock photos can be free or paid, so just do a little hunting to find ones that work well for your slide. Unsplash is a great place to start for free ones!


create gradients in powerpoint

Image courtesy of Nabil Kazerouni

A color gradient is when the tone of the color gradually transitions from one tone to another (like the mountains seen in the above image). You can do this along a line, where it transitions from left to right (for example), or radially, where it transitions from the center moving outwards.

If you want a simple way to add a bit more depth to your slide, using a background with a gradient is a subtle and classy way to do it.

Rule of Thirds

This one is a little different than the oft-quoted Rule of Threes that we love so much (which we, of course, still highly recommend). The Rule of Thirds is about where the audience’s eye focuses on an image.

To find the focus points, divide the image (or the slide) into three parts vertically, and again horizontally. You should get four intersection points – that’s where the eye will focus, and where you want to emphasize the most important stuff in your design.


Your presentation may always be on a flat screen, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give your images the appearance of texture – in fact, as far as increasing the interest and engagement with your image, this really gets you good bang for your buck.

The easiest way to do this is to put in some images with a lot of texture into your design, and boom – visual interest!

White Space

White space (i.e., negative space) is probably one of the most important things you need to consider when designing slides, and we touched on it briefly earlier. It can really make or break a good slide design.

If your slide has no white space – which can just be any space without text, images or a lot of visual interest – your audience has no place to rest their eyes. A lot of times this is referred to as letting the slide “breathe”.

To emphasize what you want to emphasize, you have to remember to leave some white space that is de-emphasized to balance it out, or your audience won’t know where to look and will get overwhelmed.


Margins are just the amount of white space you leave around the edges of your design, and ties in with the whitespace above. More margins is more whitespace, which creates a more calm design.

Don’t get us wrong, though – you can definitely still use small margins. But keep in mind that you’ll have to balance that out somewhere else in the image.

Lorem ipsum

No, you don’t have to learn Latin to be a designer – lorem ipsum is simply referred to as “filler text” so that it can create a realistic looking final product without distracting you with real words or a real message.


use contrast to create beautiful powerpoint slides

Image courtesy of Arkadiusz Radek

Finally, we have contrast.

Using contrast in your slides – between images, fonts, or colors – will create visual interest and texture. You can use contrasting font colors for two opposing points, thick fonts and thin ones, or even low contrast to de-emphasize your image.

If you’re not sure where to start with contrasting colors, head to the color wheel again.

Those opposite from each other are contrasting colors – for example, red and green or blue and orange. Keeping them the same tone will create a really clean look to your slide, while still keeping up the visual interest.


We hope this list will help you to start deciphering some of the coded “design-speak” and guide you towards using design tips to make your presentation rock.

Did we miss any terms that baffle you? Do you have any other go-to tips for awesome presentation design? You know what to do – let us know down below!

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    José Omar


    Nice job but the question is: how make (used) this in design slide?


      Presentation Panda


      Good question José! The goal of this post is to highlight some of the key elements of good looking slides. By knowing what a good slide contains (contrast, hierarchy etc.) you should have an easier time creating your slides