Forgive the radio silence over the past four weeks; I have been busier than ever before. I was involved extensively with a defense contractor that I an not allowed to identify, a pharmaceutical company that I am (Bristol-Myers Squibb), a foreign country that I cannot name, and an upcoming trip to one that I can (Norway).

In all cases, I note two phenomena that have a potentially profound impact on how our professional community moves forward:

1) Few of my clients understand what the word "design" means.

2) Most of them equate the set of slides that they create with their "presentation."

I accept and forgive the first tendency; I bristle at the second. And together, they comprise a healthy challenge for those who hope to advance the state of the art within our profession.

Most of my clients confuse "designing a presentation" with "making slides look pretty." If something is well-designed, does that mean that it is attractive? Maybe, but not neessarily. Design should refer more to function than appearance. If something is well-designed, it should mean that it is properly constructed, has benefitted from forethought, and is part of an effective system. A well-designed presentation is one that delivers the right message in the right way. A pretty slide can guarantee neither.

An equally common occurrence is the client who gives me a printout of their slides and says "Here is my presentation." This grates on several levels, most notably how willing these people are to denigrate their own value statement. What does that say when presenters thinks that their slides are more important than their words? Where is the priority when the product of PowerPoint rates higher than the product of a person's thoughts?

Pretty slides = a good presentation. That is the simple equation that these two misconceptions create. It is incumbent on all of us to raise our consciousness around these points to a higher plane.

3 Responses

  1. I’m relatively new to the concepts you’re talking about here. Although I understand them at a gut level and appreciate their importance, some examples would be really helpful. What does a “designed” presentation look like versus designed/formatted slides and text?

  2. I design presentations for law firms and these are consistently my challenges as well. Too much info crammed on to each slide and little forethought as to how they will play together and support the ‘story’ of our case at trial. Getting in early helps, then you can help them develop the storyline of the presentation and create graphics that tie information together. The problem with trial is that there is so much info that needs to be admitted into the record that most times I have to bite the bullet and add all the extra, ugly details. But the worst, you are correct, is the dreaded Powerpoint ‘dump’. Wherein the night before trial I receive a trainwreck.ppt file that someone just wants ‘prettied up’. Ugh, what a nightmare.

  3. All actual graphic designers will disagree that appeal is not part of the design. Appeal is incredibly important. Appeal is what draws the viewer in, what makes the design memorable. What you’re describing is content development, maybe copy-writing if you’re cutting down the words, maybe information architecture or storyboarding if you’re putting structure into the story.

    When I try to describe the distinction between a graphic artist, and graphic designer I tell people that the only difference is that
    A graphic artist will make you feel
    And a graphic designer will make you do
    Both professions are visual and use aesthetic to create whatever it is they are making. BUT A graphic designer is also a problem solver. Design is deliberate, and functional but it still uses visual aesthetic. I think this is where MANY Power Point “designers” fall short. They are not designers; they are presentation developers or presentation architects.

    This is why the website industry has made it clear to call people either a website designer or a website developer. The designer creates what you look at, the developer creates the code behind it, and how things work. And even another person is in charge of the copy; the words on a web page belong to a copy-writer.
    Presentation developers tend to wear ALL these hats, and often not very well. It’s not easy being amazing at several separate disciplines.

    For example, I’m a graphic designer/information designer and a content developer. I work both in litigation and business sectors of presentation development. I do storyboarding, concepts; I add meaning to data etc. When I look at other peoples slides I can tell whether a trained graphic designer created them. I see where visual cues are missing and could add more value.
    But I don’t have any formal training in copy writing. I can only spot the obvious mistakes. Copy-writing in presentations requires plain language experts.

    Our industry is based on too many all in one combos that can’t do neither role very well.

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