Category Archives: PowerPoint and Communication Design

Blog #8:

From the first day you step into a classroom until the day you retire from a career, you are bombarded with hundreds of thousands of PowerPoint slides. Teachers love them, professionals utilize them, students are forced to create them. Some are good, some are bad, some are hard to even look at. It is clear why PowerPoint is such a popular presentation tool: it is extremely user friendly and comes pre-installed on most computers. The question is, why are most of the PowerPoint presentations we are forced to sit through in life so terrible? Some critics blame the tool itself, but I disagree. I think the real problem is that most of the people who use PowerPoint lack the keen eye for design that any visual presentation requires.

I think of it this way: If I were to try, right now, to make a flyer for a band, it would look just plain awful. I am not creative, I don’t understand which colors go well together, and I can’t choose fonts to save my life. From this, you can conclude that I would also be bad at making a poster, a website, a t-shirt design or anything else you would find in a graphic designer’s portfolio. So… Why would I think I could make a stunning PowerPoint? Like any presentation, PowerPoint utilizes color, font, layout, and design. If these elements are not done well, the PowerPoint will not be aesthetically pleasing. Here is one example of a good vs. a bad PowerPoint slide:×417.jpg

Notice how the first slide is too crowded, there are way too many words, and your eye doesn’t know where to look. The slide on the right is clean, the message is clear, and the image is relevant. I can see this when the two are put side-by-side, but it is much harder to take a blank slide and make it into something great!

Here is another example of a successful PowerPoint presentation:

This PowerPoint has bold colors, interesting layouts, and clean and easy to read slides. Unfortunately, I could never design a presentation like this one, and I think many people are in the same boat as me. No matter how I try, I just don’t have that eye for design.

At the end of the day, after I’ve tried and failed to make a beautiful presentation, I can’t blame Microsoft. I think the fault lies with the users. Anything that is meant to present information in a creative way (magazine, flyer, billboard, commercial, etc.) practically requires an artist for it to turn out well, and PowerPoint is no different. Microsoft supplies themes and layouts, but these are too basic to allow for a truly stand out presentation. This may be the reason that Prezi has become such a popular tool. It requires users to put even less thought into the design of the presentation. Just pick a theme and fill it with your information. This way, even those of us with no creativity whatsoever can have an aesthetically pleasing presentation.

In conclusion, I think that too many people use PowerPoint without taking the time to learn about what they are doing, slapping a graph and some words onto a slide and calling it a day. Since so many schools require students to create PowerPoint and other presentations, students could likely benefit from a basic design class in middle or high school. This may not completely solve the problem, but I think it would be a step in the right direction!

PowerPoint vs. The PowerPoint Designer

In our modern, highly technologically advanced society, does Microsoft PowerPoint still stand a chance as an effective method for professional presentation?

In my opinion, yes it does!

More specifically, I think the issue here is whether PowerPoint is naturally incapable of adapting to the times or is the designer of the presentation lacking the necessary skills to create an effective presentation utilizing appropriate design choices and styles.

In my opinion, the issue with PowerPoint falls on the designer and his/her ability to create an effective professional presentation.  Many times throughout my high school and college career, I have been a victim of slow, confusing PowerPoint presentations, whose slides are overrun with either images, texts, or an obnoxious mix of the two.  Unfortunately, many people do not take the time to focus on the effects their PowerPoint presentation will have on the audience.  Often, the designer will focus on aspects that please only him/her during the construction period, such as applying unnecessary background colors or typing paragraph notes that will only be read verbatim come presentation day.

The purpose of your PowerPoint presentation is to aid in whatever point you plan to make to your audience.  The text and language used in your slides should be short, preferably in some bullet list form and consisting of key words.  Your audience is there to listen and learn something new, not read the information on the slide or listen to what is already in plain sight.  Images should also be used as an aid to enhance what the presenter is discussing.  The designer should avoid unnecessary decoration or  over-stretched images as a background for your slide.  Graphs and charts are encouraged to appease those in the audience who prefer visual learning.  However, these graphs should be relevant and laid out in a nice, organized fashion.  The colors used to highlight these charts and graphs should be minimal in use. According to Sarah Jacobsson Purewal, the presentation designer should “stick with two or three — not six or seven — and use them consistently.”  

Half of the problem stems from  people being unaware of the wide range of functions PowerPoint has to offer.  The other half is that PowerPoint does need to update a little bit to offer more current methods of presenting.  However, blogger Christopher Maloney offers an insight into the new and improved PowerPoint 2013 in his post titled, “PowerPoint 2013: Presentation is Everything”.  He discusses the new improvements to the most recent version of the program, primarily the “eight newly designed themes” so that “variants have complete control over all elements of the presentation’s design — colors, fonts, effects, layouts, text properties, paragraph properties, design elements, and photos and textures.”

With such improvements, it is only possible for PowerPoint to become more prevalent in professional presentations, both in school and the workforce.

Sources Cited

Microsoft. (2012). The New PowerPoint.

Purewal, Jacobsson Sarah. (September 20, 2010). The World’s Worst PowerPoint Presentations.


Blog #8: PowerPoint or People?

Boring PresentationPhoto courtesy of Envision Presentations


The problem with bad PowerPoint (PPT) presentations is the user’s application of poor design and implementation. If we choose to use PowerPoint as our medium, then I feel like we must be able to do the best with what we are given. Here, I explain why users are the problem and how to fix these problems. I will be making several references to Mike Markel’s Exploiting Verbal-Visual Synergy in Presentation Slides. Also, I will conclude by explaining how to be considerate of our pitch presentations in order to convey our messages and ideas successfully next week.

We Are the Problem

Photo courtesy of SomeEcards

An example of poor implementation and inappropriateness of use is the most common mistake that users/presenters make with PPT presentations: reading from the slides. As Chris Anderson stated in How to Give a Killer Presentation, “Don’t use a slide deck as a substitute for notes […] and don’t repeat out loud words that are on the slide.” If you look at a TED Talk in which the presenter uses a PPT (my favorite is My invention that made peace with lions), then you will notice that some things are better experienced visually with verbal comments and background information. The TED Talk video applies to Markel’s principle “Show what is best shown; say what is best said.”

My Problem

Although I argue that people are the problem, I think that space limitations of the medium are also a problem; however, there is a way around this. I have experienced space limitations in my PPT slides in my module presentation about modalities. For instance, I wanted to show the use of good spatial modes in a professional profile vs. the use of bad spatial modes in a different professional profile by providing examples of each one on the same slide. I wanted to have both pictures side-by-side so that I could verbally compare and contrast how different audiences would react; however, if I would have done that, then my audience (our class) would not have been able to see everything because the examples would have been too small.

My Solution


Photo courtesy of Center for BioMolecular Modeling

What I have learned is that whenever I feel like I have space limitations, I should use a diagram because it will allow me to eliminate visual clutter and highlight just what I need. The diagram above of an individual cell and its parts is a good example of drawing tools; it is an example of the tools that I should have applied to my module PPT presentation. As Markel explained, we should use one drawing or photo of our primary subject and use another to provide a close up of it; this way, “[we] would not have to worry about space limitations, poor figure-ground contrast, and visual clutter.”

Pitch Presentations

Obviously, the drawing tools that I have mentioned cannot best convey every PPT presentation’s purpose. So, here are a few things to consider when we are pitching our presentations to our clients this coming week:

  • Analyze the audience and purpose of your presentation.
  • Only use visuals when absolutely necessary; otherwise, they are distractions.
  • Do not simply slap words on the screen; otherwise, a handout may be a better medium (Markel).
  • Make fewer, better slides (i.e. less is more) (Markel).
  • Use the assertion-evidence structure when convincing your client that your product is the way to go: making a claim in the form of a brief sentence in the title section of the PPT slide and inserting a graphic that validates your claim in the main content area (Markel).
    Example of the assertion-evidence structure:cheetah3

Photo courtesy of Penn State University

Blog #8: PowerPoint — Bad tool or bad design?

More than a decade ago, John Schwartz asked in a New York Times article, “Is there anything so deadening to the soul as a PowerPoint presentation?” That negative view has been reinforced and extended by Edward Tufte in his monograph, The cognitive style of PowerPoint: pitching out corrupts within, in which he castigates PowerPoint as a medium for presentation. And we’ve probably all seen too many really, really bad PowerPoint slides.

The question, though, is whether the problem is inherent in the medium and technology, as Tufte maintains, or is the problem the result of poor design design and implementation? Continue reading Blog #8: PowerPoint — Bad tool or bad design?