The new rules of PowerPoint design

PowerPoint is estimated to be installed on a whopping 1 billion computers. It’s a ubiquitous communication tool used in business and education throughout the world. So why do most PowerPoint presentations suck, and how can they be improved?

Please don’t just paste your content from Word into a PowerPoint template and assume that’s enough. Presentations are a visual medium and structures that work in written form rarely translate well to slides. Instead, establish a slick and organised PowerPoint design that communicates your content in an effective way.

Your presentation will be judged on its appearance as much as its content, and these two things are inextricably linked: visuals are extremely important to how information is presented, processed and retained.

You don’t need to be a professional designer to take steps to improve your presentation collateral, and our PowerPoint design experts have put together the below rules under the assumption that you aren’t.

Follow them and you’ll find that you’re able to really start communicating with your audience: your messaging will resonate with more impact and you’ll find that they’ll be more engaged than ever.


Don’t dive straight into design

We can’t stress how important it is that you outline your content before you even think about launching PowerPoint.

Once you have your content hashed out in written form, decide what goes on which slide and sketch each of them out onto post-it notes. This way, you can gauge the scope of your presentation in a visual way and avoid time-consuming edits of your final designs later in the process.


Keep text to a minimum

There’s nothing more disengaging than a PowerPoint slide crammed with text. Presentations shouldn’t be an exercise in reading comprehension for your audience – they’re a visual medium and so textual information should be light and visuals should form the forefront of your approach.

It’s good idea to limit your presentation content to one key point per slide, so that you can focus your audience’s attention on one thing at a time, so as to guide them through your message while avoiding information overload.

And no matter what, please don’t resort to bullet-points. They’re the devil. Really. Instead separate these points out onto individual slides, each set against relevant background visuals. Or if they have to be on the same slide, use an image or icon for each point coupled with a short caption.

The key thing to remember is that you don’t have to say everything on your slides: use them as a visual prompt and talk around them. If you have to explain difficult concepts it’s always better to use imagery coupled with some key text that you can elaborate on than to exhaustively detail the mechanics with on-slide text.

You’ll find your audience will be much more responsive and switched on when you use this approach.


Follow core design principles

There some core principles for that should be followed in PowerPoint Design the same way that they should be in other areas of visual communication.

These It’s useful to outline these 4 high-level rules before getting into greater detail on individual aspects of PowerPoint design. Keep them in front of mind when putting together your key presentation layouts.

If elements on your slides are different, make sure that they appear distinct from one another – graphic elements and text should contrast well with backgrounds. This can be achieved through use of colour (use this colour contrast checker) and by differentiating the shapes and sizes of elements.

Make use of repetition to create a visual uniformity that ties your PowerPoint design together. Consistency makes designs appealing, and you can ensure it using a PowerPoint template and slide master.

Balance in created in design by aligning elements together. Everything looks like it’s in the right place when things are properly aligned, so the position of each element should correspond with another.

Elements that are related to each should naturally be placed close to one another. This allows your audience to easily follow and correlate information, while eliminating any ambiguity.


Use visuals to enhance content

Each visual element in your PowerPoint design should serve a purpose: your slides aren’t just there to contain your content, they should be powerful visual assets that enhance it and deliver your story in an impactful and compelling way.

The visuals you choose to include in your presentation should be relevant and high-quality. Ditch tacky stock photos and just forget about clip art (is that still a thing?). Start communicating with visuals that match the quality of your message and brand.

With a bit of digging, you can find good images for your PowerPoint presentation from subscription stock libraries – but also free services like Unsplash and Death to the Stock Photo.

Ever wondered why most bank logos are blue and those of fast food outlets usually include red? It’s no coincidence – it’s because blue is culturally associated with trust and responsibility, while red is connoted with energy and immediacy (the latter is also said to increase metabolism, increasing appetite).

Colour plays a big part in how we digest and process information, and the culturally and psychologically constructed meanings behind colours are definitely something you should take into account in your PowerPoint design.

Think about how you want your message to be perceived and pick a colour scheme that reflects that. You can use Adobe Colour to find popular palettes if you’re stuck.

Choosing the best presentation fonts depends largely on the tone of your presentation – they should be suited to what you’re talking about.

Serifs are more prevalent in print, whereas sans-serifs are ubiquitous in web design. Perhaps because of these applications, serifs are considered more ‘classic’ and sans-serifs ‘modern’. Consider this when selecting typefaces for your presentation and how these associations align with your subject.

Try and limit yourself to 2-3 typefaces per presentation to ensure visual consistency. Type can tie your content together when other design elements vary, and having too many can damage the cohesiveness of your design. Decide fonts you’ll use for headings, sub-headings and body copy – then stick to them. A practical tip is simply to use different weights of the same font for these three paragraph styles.

Legibility is the most important thing for presentation – so keep it simple, stick to between 45-90 characters (including spaces) per line, and pay special attention to spacing. If you use decorative fonts and scripts, make sure they’re just in the headings.

White Space
Utilising plenty of white space ensures that your content has the proper breathing room. It stops your slides from feeling cramped and overwhelming, and draws the audience’s attention to what’s important.

White space doesn’t actually have to be white – it can be whatever colour your slide background is. It ensures your design is sleek and aids readability by eliminating distractions. The point we’re trying to make is don’t be scared of leaving room on your slides: less is often more.


Employ animation sparingly

PowerPoint animations and transitions are often approached with trepidation – which perhaps isn’t surprising considering we’ve all endured a few ill-advised fly-ins in our time.

The trick to effective animations and transitions is making sure that they’re in service of the story you’re telling: use them in a minimalist way to reduce disruption between slides, help your information flow along naturally from one point to another, and build up multiple layers of messaging.


Visualise your data effectively

If data forms an important part of your presentation, you’re going to want to deliver it in an exciting and interesting way. Pedestrian Excel sheets and tired graphs just aren’t going to cut it we’re afraid.

Researchers from Harvard and MIT determined that visualising data in a unique, interesting way actually makes the information itself much more memorable. You don’t have to go wild – just small design variations on the classic formats are enough to make a big difference.

When dealing with large numbers, it’s also a good idea to use scale to your advantage – providing a visual size contrast between between two data points makes it much easier to comprehend the difference, for example. You could also communicate the data using visuals of the thing you are talking about to establish context for your audience.

If you really think about the data in your presentation, it’s probably just a few figures that matter and support your message. So alternatively, why not pick these out and display them in a large, visually impactful way on their own slides? They’ll focus your audience’s attention and you can then talk around them, adding relevant supplementary information.

Above all, the key is to just keep things simple. Tell your story by introducing one piece of information at a time, arrange your presentation in a logical narrative and keep your design clean and focused. Following these PowerPoint design rules will ensure that your presentation is easy for your audience to follow and absorb.

Rules of Presentation Design

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