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Implementing Professional Design Principles in Your PowerPoint Presentations

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Applying a packaged design can greatly streamline the design process, but it comes at a price. Although it does address a key issue, it may not be the answer for presenters who want to truly stand out from the pack. In this chapter, Tom Bunzel examines the PowerPoint Design Templates and looks more deeply into proven design principles and how to apply them to our own work.
Tom Bunzel is the Host for Informit's Microsoft Office Reference Guide.
This chapter is from the book

I could try to convince you that I deliberately kept the figures in Chapter 1, "Planning an Effective Presentation," ugly, but I doubt you'd be fooled. What I did do, however, was to keep them as simple as possible leading into this second chapter.

For a verbal person like me, what professional designers do is almost like voodoo—they seem to follow some sort of arcane process, and at some point, they transform the ordinary and ugly into something that is astonishing in its clarity and beauty.

If you've sat through a lot of PowerPoint presentations, and most of us have, you've undoubtedly been struck at rare intervals by the thought that "This doesn't look like PowerPoint."

Frequently, this is not the result of some dramatic new template or look for the presentation.

In fact, it is almost certainly the result of the absence of an intrusive look or design.

The word that most frequently crosses my mind when I have this experience is "clean." Like many presenters, I strive for a clean and clear design for any presentation that I create, but invariably I fall short of what I perceive to be the unmistakable clarity of something designed by a professional.

The quintessence of this level is epitomized, in my estimation, by two regular contributors to Presentations Magazine and participants in the PowerPoint LIVE show: Nancy Duarte and Julie Terberg.

Both have carved out a special niche in the world of presentations by mastering the medium of PowerPoint both technically and artistically and by marshalling their own skills along with those of teams of designers to create visually effective presentations.

Again, what both of their samples share is a simplicity.

Nancy's and Julie's respective styles are quite different. I would describe the Terberg method as more colorful and dramatic, while Duarte Design is more corporate and understated. This probably results at least in part from their main clientele; Julie Terberg has written an entire book on doing medical presentations, while Nancy Duarte has created templates and collateral material for some of the world's leading corporations that reflect their brand identity.

Before we even begin to cover a few techniques and processes to attempt to emulate the clean and crisp look of a professionally designed presentation, I encourage you to look at the portfolio samples at Nancy's and Julie's websites:

What Designers Think About

One of the things that separates professional designers from other people is that they can spend hours and days talking about things like fonts and colors. On the other hand, I am a guy who has used sets of Polaroids from a tailor to dress himself in an outfit of matching slacks, jacket, shirt, and tie.

Can the basic principles of sound design be learned and applied by everyone?

I believe that as a presenter, you would accept this premise at your own peril. You are much better served by using the guidelines and taking advantage of the expertise of someone skilled in the design field.

Even Microsoft doesn't believe it—that's why each version of PowerPoint has been released with its own Design Templates that strive to make the implementation of a well-crafted design a no-brainer.

The results have been at best mixed. On one hand, applying a complete Design Template gives your presentation a blended look, along with complementary colors and fonts that seem to work well together...up to a point.

As we'll see, applying a packaged design can greatly streamline the design process, but it comes at a price. Although it does address a key issue—after you have chosen a complete look for your presentation, you can get on with the work of creating your content—it may not be the answer for presenters who want to truly stand out from the pack, represent a unique identity, or communicate a message using the subtleties of color, space, and professional design.

Let's examine the PowerPoint Design Templates more closely before we look more deeply into proven design principles and apply them to our own work.

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