The 2012 Design-a-Template Contest

American Idol Meets Slide Design

As the Presentation Summit enters its tenth season, we continue the happy tradition of our Design-a-Template contest. From several dozen entries, we will award a trip to the conference (Oct 7-10, Scottsdale AZ) to the person whose work is chosen as most appropriate to serve as the conference template.

For nearly a decade, we have created a tradition that includes: brilliant work by exceptionally talented people; the discovery of a unique challenge when creating a template that is to be used across many dozens of seminars; spirited debate between our own versions of Simon, Paula, and Randy (now Randy, J-Lo, and Steven, of course); and the requisite dose of comic relief that accompanies it.

Be Noticed…But Not Too Much

Conventional wisdom would suggest that your first order of business as a contestant would be to stand out from the crowd—to make sure that your design is noticed.

That would probably disqualify you in the first five seconds, as it did for one of our first entries in our inaugural contest in 2005.

This template is very creative...but how attractive would it be the 30th time you see it?

No doubt a lot of thought and effort went into this design, but the one piece missing is the notion that these slides needed to serve as the backdrop for all of the brilliant ideas of our team of experts. Our template needs to wear well; it will be seen eight hours a day for three consecutive days. A design like this one would promote eye fatigue as it competes for attention with the foreground elements or tries to integrate with those elements. As attractive as Steve Rindsberg and Jennifer Card are (the two people waiving on the title slide), we would grow weary of their greeting by about the third hour of the first day.

This is not unlike some of the auditions that we regularly see in the first few episodes of an American Idol season—the people who want to make the most of their 30 seconds of fame. Some of them can actually sing a few bars, but that gets lost in the flash and dazzle that they choose to lead with.

The winner that year, Karen Giblin or Largo FL, authored a much more understated design motif and its quiet elegance impressed our versions of Randy (yours truly), Paula (slide:ology and Resonate author Nancy Duarte), and Simon (the then-product manager of PowerPoint, Ric Bretschneider). Its even background would not compete with the ideas of our presenters and would facilitate showing large-sized slides.

Less flashy and easier on the senses...

A Picture is Worth How Many Words?

Paying homage to the age-old adage, we offer many seminars on the value of using an evocative photo in place of a paragraph of words. We think there are few things better than transcending the conventional bullet slide. This advice was taken a bit too far by this 2006 entrant who was apparently trying to make a slide that was worth about 15,000 words.

A picture might be worth a thousand words, but too many pictures is probably worthless.

On the title slide, they all faded in on a meticulously-created cascade, giving rise to the question of who exactly would see that effect. Only those who entered the room the moment that the presenter started the show? Or would the presenter wait until everyone was there before “presenting” the title slide? Sorry, animation on a title slide just doesn’t work…unless it is on a loop…and then it is working way too hard…

The winner that year did not try so hard. Deb Shenenberg of Scottsdale AZ produced this smart and inviting design that won over all the judges.

Trying softer is often better than trying harder.

As one of the presenters, I especially appreciated all of the small boxes on the content slides that I could use to create hyperlinks to other slides or other files.

Local Knowledge

In 2007, our conference (known at the time as PowerPoint Live) journeyed to the heart of the French Quarter as our effort to help restore the New Orleans economy. We expected many of the entrants that year to use the storied city as the basis for creating themes. And many of them did…they just took their sweet time doing it…and I panicked…two weeks before the deadline and there were only two entries, neither of them any good…so I created my own entry to the contest…unbeknownst to the judges…until this very moment.

Desperate conference hosts often resort to desperate measures, like crafting their own contest entries.

Randy thought it was the best thing he had ever seen in his life (wait, who was Randy again? Oh…right…). Paula felt as if the design was a bit heavy, and Simon called it juvenile and horrific, a complete embarrassment to the competition, and a miracle that I wasn’t arrested for it. Okay, so Ric didn’t react in character quite to that extent, but the end result was that my disguised entry did not make it out of the quarterfinals.

And my fear was unfounded, as we soon received a flood of entries, including many fine New Orleans-inspired designs. The winner, belonging to Liane Fuji of San Francisco CA, might not have been received with as much enthusiasm in another city—it might have been thought of as too loud. But the judges agreed that with a host city like New Orleans, special consideration was called for. And any concern that the design would get tired across the conference was completely eliminated when Liane agreed to create three separate designs, one for each day.

This multi-themed design was perfect for a New Orleans-based conference.

Analog and Digital

The notion of creating multiple designs was never part of our criteria, but Liane seemed to have started something in 2007, because our 2008 winning entrant, Lindsey Strobel of Austin TX, went so far above and beyond the call of duty, we felt guilty. She created six separate designs, each sporting a wonderful two-world quality merging the analog and digital environments in which we all live.

This potpourri of slide masters guaranteed fresh visuals morning, noon, and night.

While these title slides are full of personality and energy, the interior slides were clean, consistent, and in keeping with our quest for these slides to sink into the background. And with these title slides, our presenting team felt like kids in the candy store when allowed to choose which motif was the best to use for which seminar topic.

Matching the Carpets and Drapes

Last year’s winner, Tany Nagy, cornered the market on talent and luck. Her creative design was full of charm, local flavor, and an uncanny sense of decor, as the colors she chose matched perfectly with the carpeting and accent colors of the conference hall. We were so tickled, we used the design for the cover of the conference guide, the t-shirts, and the posters.

Our 2011 winner made us wonder if she had traveled to the conference venue and matched the decor.

Would you like to show off your creativity to your peers? This year’s contest is open for business and the winner is awarded with a free trip to the conference and the thrill of seeing his or her work showcased before over 200 of the most passionate and dedicated members of the presentation community. We use the phrase “his or her” generously: so far, all of our winners have been women. Guys…c’mon…maybe it’s time to break up this sorority party…

Details on how to enter can be found at the conference website—just click the Design-a-Template Contest link. We look forward to seeing the product of your inspiration…!

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