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A Designer’s Worst Nightmare

It flies, it slides, it animates, it sucks! Few things seem to annoy designers as much as PowerPoint does. The following is a requested topic, and submitted text by Paul Kimball, a happy Speak Up reader.

PowerPoint: CEO’s love it, Edward Tufte loves to lampoon it, and you loathe it. Right? Most designers I know hate working in PowerPoint (and by extension often hate the program itself.)

As a graphic designer, you are probably expected to be the one who knows how to best get type to fly around onscreen, use lots of fancy transitions, sound effects and all the other crap that has, for better or worse, become part of the visual landscape of corporate boardrooms and conference halls everywhere. To make matters worse, the marketing manager hiring you has “already taken a stab at it” and has just handed you a file to “put some finishing touches on”. Is it a limitation of the program that makes so many of these things so godawful, or is it something else?

Griping is cheap. What I want to know is, has anyone done or seen any truly effective/successful PowerPoint work? (And satire, though welcome, doesn’t count.)

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ARCHIVE ID 1335 FILED UNDER Hardware/Software
PUBLISHED ON Jan.13.2003 BY Armin
Darrel’s comment is:

Effective/succesful in what way? If you mean a compelling user experience for the end-user (the customer) I hazard a guess at there being no such thing. ;o)

That said, I've seen a handful of portfolio's that looked decent enough in PPT. The better PPT presentations I've seen are just simply slide shows. I think there's a noticeable correlation between the quality of the presentation going down as the amount of effects and transitions used go up.

People that use Powerpoint have nothing to say, most of the time.

If you hate PPT (as we all do) check out Apple's new Keynote...looks to be the long-awaited PPT killer.

At least for Mac users.

Oh...one final tip: If you work at a design firm, NEVER say you know anything about PPT, else you will be forever delegated as the 'PPT person' for evermore.

On Jan.13.2003 at 09:18 AM
Jon’s comment is:

>People that use Powerpoint have nothing to say, most of the time.

Well said. What the majority of PowerPoint users have forgotten is that THEY make the presentation, not the program. I can't tell you the number of times I've seen paragraph after paragraph come up on screen, only to have the 'presenter' read verbatim what was on the screen! Perhaps companies ought to offer a "Least Effective Presentations" training class and beat these people with a stick until they understand how PowerPoint can help or hurt their cause.

And speaking of bells and whistles: I read a great quote years ago about typography and all the (at that time) new type-modification programs like Typestyler. It said, roughly, "Just because one can make type into the shape of a fish does not mean one should make type into the shape of a fish." I think this applies equally to the realm of PowerPoint transitions and sound effects.

On Jan.13.2003 at 10:19 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>If you work at a design firm, NEVER say you know anything about PPT

That is so true. At m1 when we didn't have any work to do, one the non-creative directors asked all designers to learn PPT, because she thought it would be a valuable tool to learn. Fortunately she was fired a couple days after that. I have never listed PPT in my software skills to avoid doing it.

On the technical side, it's a pain to use it, but if you really get the hang of it you could (not that anybody would want to) do some interesting stuff. It's just like a linear web site, if you optimize the images correctly and avoid the retarded transitions it can look OK.

Every time I hear PPT at work I cringe really bad, and hope that it's not my turn to take care of it. We try to divide it, so nobody quits.

If there is a Designer Hell, the only software availabe on your computer would be PPT. And you'd be asked to design logos, brochures, annual reports and even packaging with it.

On Jan.13.2003 at 11:37 AM
d’s comment is:

I've found a solution - that works almost everytime. Acrobat.

In most cases I can convince a PC, Powerpoint Jockey to adapt to presenting with Acrobat as it will go full screen and though it misses out on stupid transitions with sound effects, I try to politely explain that people shouldn't be distracted from the presenter's voice and message.

I get to design in illustrator or InDesign - and output as a PDF.

I know that in the old days, when just having acquired Studio Archetype, we would present stuff in Flash within a web browser. Odd - but true. Sometimes I think as a Director Projector too.

One of the difficulties is with Acrobat - is that it cannot be updated by anyone but the designer (heh.) and if done incorrectly, you'll have vector based illustrations and type that look stupid blown up.

But Apple's Keynote on a new 17" PowerBook should be an effective tool(s) for getting your message across.

Now we just need to work on the content.

On Jan.13.2003 at 11:44 AM
pnk ’s comment is:

When I was working at Scient we developed an entire Presentation System designed to be an alternative to using PPT. The slides were developed in Illustrator, Flash content was incorporated for informational animations, and the whole thing was compiled into Director for use by sales, for whom the presentations were designed.

The thing that was nice about this project (aside from the built-in visual consistency and the PPT end-run) was that the presentations themselves were continuously kept in mind: how would someone speak to this slide, what are you gaining by animation, how do the slides sequence to create a dynamic and dramatic presentation? There's no reason these questions couldn't be applied to something authored in PPT. It just requires planning and forethought, something which PowerPoint's ease of use tends to remove from the equation.

That probably sounds elitist, but I think there's some truth there. If something is hard and requires expense one tends to be a bit more careful. Easy and cheap can spill over into the planning of the project itself...

As for the project mentioned above, I and about 50% of the company got laid off before we ever had a chance to see it in action.

So it goes.

On Jan.13.2003 at 12:24 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Never had the pleasure of PowerPoint, but I have spent many infuriating hours trying to decipher the logic of Word's style sheets. The local changes affect global settings seems to be the opposite of Quark's, but only some of the time. Restaurant clients all want menus formatted in Word. Then they take them in-house and wreak havoc. Lovely.

On Jan.13.2003 at 01:42 PM
Kevin’s comment is:

I once had to do a powerpoint presentation based on the theme of 2001: A space Odyssey. 'nuff said.

On Jan.14.2003 at 12:35 AM
Michael’s comment is:

As the man said, "griping is cheap." PowerPoint is a pretty easy target for such sharp minds. Look closer -- there's a forest out there somewhere.

Aren't we supposed to champion visual communication? Why then do users of PowerPoint necessarily "have nothing to say?"

If creating effective communication isn't about being adept at using software, then why do so many skilled designers have such a problem with clunky old PowerPoint?

Perhaps what is good about PowerPoint is what we fear most -- that everyone has it and knows how to use it (or thinks they do). This is a battle we are destined to lose and it may have as much to do with our own collective phobias as with Microsoft's insidious influence.

On Jan.14.2003 at 11:20 AM
ale piana’s comment is:

I've worked to a project, about 2 yrs ago, for a european watch brand (can't name it for a non disclosure agreement policy) wich involved a PowerPoint presentation.

We needed a presentation easy enough to be used by a non technical person (the company president) but also with a bit of charme and style, and rich in multimedia content.

We choose PowerPoint. We had to choose it, actually.

Countless were the times we deserved our worst thoughts for the application's makers (read MS) and endless the nights spent reading manuals and tips (you know, the job was due for the day before the asked for it).

But at the end we make it big, embedding videos, Flash animations and music.

Everithing just worked fine, hitting the space bar/clicking the mouse button and the show was served.

That was my 1st (and only right now) xperience with PowerPoint, needless to say I don't want another mission like that one.

On Jan.14.2003 at 01:49 PM
Jon’s comment is:

As an identity designer, a typical request is for new PowerPoint templates the company can use for its presentations. The worst experience I had actually had to do with how the company used PowerPoint. In briefing us, they requested a rich, interesting background and some color options for variation. Once we delivered the template, they informed us that they rarely actually projected their presentations, but tended to print multiple copies out on their color inkjet printers. It turned out that nobody wanted the new template because the background was using up so much ink every time they printed a deck out. The final straw was when they rejected a new template because the white background was 'boring.'

Needless to say, I'm pretty careful about how I get briefed from now on, then I pass 'em on to a specializing freelancer!

On Jan.14.2003 at 04:11 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>Perhaps what is good about PowerPoint is what we fear most -- that everyone has it and knows how to use it (or thinks they do).

Which is one of the best proofs that the software never makes the design or the designer. Especially in the hands of a sales dude. When you put software in the hands of somebody who has no clue about design horrible things can happen. And yes, that is my worst fear.

On Jan.14.2003 at 04:16 PM
d’s comment is:

I once had to design a presentation for a client, which was SUN - when we, without thinking put together the presentation in Powerpoint - the client literally said - "Are you fucking kidding me? I am not going to show Scott McNealy a presentation in a Microsoft application...". We went back and made it web based.

Animated gifs instead of sounds and transitions.

On Jan.14.2003 at 05:56 PM
Ben’s comment is:

What makes power point such a horror for designers is that it is built for the "sales dude" who doesn't have a knowlege of type or design. The program then makes a lot of choices for you, so if you have a knowlege of type and design trying to get something good out of it is like "setting type in illustrator while wearing mittens". Good work can, and has been done, but it takes much more time then it should. Then there is the trama of what happens when you hand the template off to the client.

On Jan.15.2003 at 08:34 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

"Aren't we supposed to champion visual communication? Why then do users of PowerPoint necessarily "have nothing to say?"

Because PPT usually adds little-to-nothing to the actual message that the presenter is trying to get across to the audience. It's a crutch, and a bad one at that.

You can certainly use PPT in a beneficial manner, but few do.

"Perhaps what is good about PowerPoint is what we fear most -- that everyone has it and knows how to use it (or thinks they do)."

I fear having to go to any presentation where PPT is being used. It typically means I am in for an hour of mindless distraction.

And D, I can't BELIEVE you guys were about to give SUN a PPT presentation! (A good lesson on doing a bit of pre-project research regarding your client, eh? ;o)

On Jan.15.2003 at 08:38 AM
D’s comment is:

Darrel -

I know, I even hesitated to admit our (my) ignorance of the situation, here on Speak Up - but I thought it might be amusing.

However - I think we considered that Powerpoint would be the only medium a "corporate" would want - and figured that powerpoint wasn't the message, but the content was.

Interestingly enough - I began to prepare a powerpoint presentation, when I was at frog design, to give to the designers there. So you can imagine what stress I was putting myself into to make something that wouldn't draw attention to what it was being shown in. Because I always felt it was a poor excuse when some person, not being a designer, presenting to a room full of designers, would apologise about their presentation, explaining that they weren't a designer - sort of suggesting that its only problem is that it doesn't look pretty, and that a designer could have only made it prettier.

On Jan.15.2003 at 11:12 AM
d’s comment is:

i'm certain the conversation is over now - but I happened to remember this article on commarts about a very successful PowerPoint presentation for the Chinese bid to host the Olympics - with a quote from the founder of Square Two design, the company that designed the presentation:

“With PowerPoint,” he explains, “you don’t want people looking at the presentation, you want them paying attention to the speaker. So we didn’t try to make it too interesting that way.”

Its in the features of commarts.com @ design interact

On Jan.15.2003 at 08:41 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>Its in the features of commarts.com @ design interact

That's a great read. Thanks for the link. I think it positively answers the original question of this post: "has anyone done or seen any truly effective/successful PowerPoint work?"

On Jan.16.2003 at 08:54 AM
martinpribble’s comment is:

At my old, now defunct company, all the management types would give me powerpoint presentations to do when the web work was low.

It's not enough to say I hate powerpoint, I loathe the words. But this is not what I'm here to say.

The *only* advantage of powerpoint is how quickly I can format a glorified slideshow, and make changes to said document.

In the hands of really capable designers, powerpoint, like anything else, can deliver great looking stuff, but I never experienced that til I started work at my new company.

Before you flame me, Powerpoint is a complete dog, and I wouldn't p1ss on it if it were on fire.

Just my $0.02.

On Jan.21.2003 at 11:41 PM
JZ’s comment is:

I've seen and/or been required to produce slide upon slide of bulleted text in countless PPT presentations over the years. I thought that it was impossible to use PowerPoint effective until recently. I saw Lawrence Lessig present his Creative Commons keynote at SXSW 2003 a few weeks ago. The talk was well rehearsed and the PowerPoint supported his delivery expertly. Many slides were but a word or two in white on a black screen serving as punctuation and emphasis of a spoken word or phrase. Powerful and impressive.

Adam Greenfield did a much better job of describing it than I:

The thing about attending a talk by Lawrence Lessig is that it quickly becomes apparent that not merely are you in the presence of a supremely inspiring speaker - one that manages to mingle the cadences of the revival preacher and the gently Socratic educator - but that you are witnessing a preternatural master of the Powerpoint presentation.

I routinely spew sarcasm all over this dullard's crutch, this great mediocritator, but Lessig manages to wring a further increment of tension, humor, and pathos from his material with his expertly-timed, elegantly-designed slides. It's impressive, and it all only adds to the sense that you will take what you see and hear and let it fuel your efforts to make a difference in the world.

On Apr.01.2003 at 03:13 PM
jenny lam’s comment is:

Can we learn from David Byrne? He loves Power Point ;-)



On Aug.20.2003 at 09:40 PM