Slide Design Done Right

For those of you who have some experience with creating content for presentations, you already know that some slides are common to almost all of them. Besides the title, closing statements and references, we also frequently employ data slides, charts, bullet point slides, subtitles and so on.

Unfortunately, like we discussed before on the blog, most slides are poorly designed. These common versions are not exceptions, so today we’ll be looking at common slides done right in terms of design. Focus on the techniques used in each particular case, but try to also understand the reasoning behind the changes.

Focus on the visuals

The first type of slide is the Label. We want to show a picture and describe it in a brief sentence. This slide is used when we want to name several pictures and associate them with additional data, like dates, descriptions, names, classifications, comments, quotes and so on.

Inexplicably, people tend to give emphasis to the text instead of the image. You’ll frequently see slides like this in conventions, conferences or lectures:


As you can see, in this slide there’s a lengthy description of the image to the right. It’s a ridiculous layout – if you’re describing an image, it should be the highlight of the slide, not tossed to the side of a paragraph no one will read. It’s much more clever of the slide designer to give emphasis to the picture and to limit text to a minimum. Like this:


Much better now. We can see the picture in more detail, there’s a bigger visual impact and the text is limited to a minimum. What about the rest of the paragraph? some might ask. Well, that information should be heard by the audience, coming from you, the speaker. What is the need to crowd your slides with text you can say during the presentation?

Less text, more pictures

The following slide type is called “Bullets”. We often need to include some bullets in a slide, either to map our speech or to signal the key information for that particular slide. Again, most people use way too much text and crowd the slide with too many bullets. Like this:


The picture was again given less priority in favor of including textual information that should be mostly omitted. In this case, we need to include more text than in the previous example. Since at least three bullets and a title must be featured in the slide, how would the clever slide designer proceed? Like this:


We were able to include a little bit more text without compromising the visual quality of the slide. We still proudly display this majestic piece of engineering in full size, while still including basic information that the speaker will address in his speech.

Choose relevant data

Students from scientific and technical fields will often resort to charts or other form of displaying data to prove their points or report findings. However, using complex charts with small font size in slide presentations is not good form. They are hard to read and unlikely to engage the audience.

In this example, some students wanted to show the percentage of marijuana smokers in Australia:


If they meant to show how much people smoked marijuana in one country, why crowd the slide with irrelevant information? This slide won’t get the message across as well as this one:


This kangaroo slide, on the other hand, has everything it needs to be successful: a clear message, humor and a precise figure that is understood by everyone in the audience. Exactly 10% of people smoke weed in Australia, that’s it.

Go visual with data

Similarly to the previous example, data should always be shown visually.

As an example, imagine you wanted to show data about the prevalence of diabetes around the world. Most people would show a graph similar to this one:


This is not the worse example, but it still has a low impact. Ok, between 3 and 10% of people from each of those countries suffers from diabetes. It’s still hard to see what it really means. What about this:


Much better. It’s much easier for an audience to realize that in any given room, 1 in 10 people have diabetes. You could even tell them: 1 in every 10 people in this audience is diabetic on average. It’s a relevant metric, you can picture how many diabetics there really are.

Explain processes with pictures, not words

In the scientific and technical settings, we also need to explain processes. How certain metabolic pathways work, how engineering processes take place or how different phenomena occur – all of these questions can be answered during your presentations.

Teachers would probably bring slides like this to their lectures:


Again, why use so much text to describe something we can show visually? Schematics, diagrams, pictures, these are all better alternatives to explain how complex processes work. We can clearly see how different elements relate to each other and how feedback loops control the whole system.

The boring slide above would be redesigned into this one:


In Conclusion

There is one common philosophy to all the changes made in the previous slides: always go visual. Giving emphasis to the visual elements of your slides is the number one strategy to transform them from boring text dumps to engaging visual messages.

Audiences are composed of humans and humans respond better to pictures than anything else. Especially pictures that elicit certain emotions, like joy, fear, excitement or worry. There’s no better way to communicate your ideas than using visual elements to your advantage.

Have fun designing cool slides!

John Ramos

Author John Ramos

A medical student, entrepreneur and Science enthusiast. When outside the gym, hospital or conference halls, John does his best to keep up and running.

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