Information Design Watch
May 20, 2011, 5:07 pm
By Henry Woodbury
Louisiana Economic Development has a YouTube channel. Among its interviews and news clips is an animated presentation we created to explain their Digital Media and Software Development Incentive. Based on an executive PowerPoint deck we created for LED representatives to present in person, the movie is a self-running alternative suitable for trade show or web presentation. Enjoy!
December 20, 2010, 3:04 pm
By Henry Woodbury
Presentation software does flip book animations. There’s nothing complicated about it. It’s just the way presentations work, if you let them. From 2010, here’s a Google Docs example:
This is beautifully done and encourages the typical trash-talking of Microsoft PowerPoint. And I have to believe that Google Docs’ layout and drawing tools are easier to use than PowerPoint’s truly awful toolkit. But the kernel of this presentation is not in the drawing, but in its 450 slides. With enough slides you can animate anything.
In contrast to the Google Docs example, we did our drawing in Adobe Illustrator and imported each frame into PowerPoint from the external application. But as I said before, drawing isn’t the issue. What we really lack is a soundtrack.
November 9, 2010, 4:38 pm
By Tim Roy
While working with clients on presenting some of the visual explanations we create, our ongoing mantra is to “not read to the audience!” No matter if it is a PowerPoint deck, a Flash animation, or a simple print diagram, reading the text aloud is an almost guaranteed way to make the audience squirm in their seats.
Why is this? The fact is that people can read silently faster than someone can read aloud. The result: cognitive dissonance as the brain is processing one set of words while hearing the exact same text being spoken with a multi-second delay. It leaves us feeling confused, uncomfortable, and most importantly, unable to process the information being presented.
I came across this wonderful example of how the same words can be both spoken and appear on a screen simultaneously on the Open Culture web site. Matthew Rogers, a freelance graphic artist, animated a 2008 piece from the British author Stephen Fry. The results are well-executed, amusing and insightful. More importantly though, it deftly illustrates the clear connection between what we hear and what we read. Do not underestimate its importance the next time you are preparing for a presentation.
November 5, 2010, 9:18 am
By Henry Woodbury
I haven’t linked to Presentation Zen in a while. Having recommended the site to my sister who is teaching business communications, I took a look and came across this gem:
Who remembers that the destruction of the Death Star (in Star Wars IV) turned on a successful visual presentation? Well no matter. The presentation got results.
Garr Reynolds summarizes:
If you have a large screen, use it to show visuals, not lines of text that remind you what to say. You do not have to use a screen, but if you do, use it to display visual information that illustrates or amplifies your message in the clearest way possible. Stand with your visuals, becoming a clear part of the visual experience from your audience’s point of view.
June 15, 2010, 4:53 pm
By Kirsten Robinson
Here are summaries of two more presentations from the Boston UPA conference that I really enjoyed.
Racing with the Clock: VERY Rapid Design and Testing
Presenter: Will Schroeder of The MathWorks
Summary: Will’s premise is that in design, as in psychotherapy, the most important part of any hour is the last five minutes. So he sought to eliminate the first 45 minutes (an hour of therapy is only 50 minutes, as you may recall from the old Bob Newhart show). Will described a 2-hour design process that allowed a team of 12 people to create three parallel design concepts, review and iterate on them, and usability test them, with a successful outcome. My favorite quote from Will’s talk was, “Brainstorming is so much fun, I’m surprised it’s still legal.” Another key point was the need for show and tell: “You don’t understand [a design] until you explain it.”
The Power of Focus Groups in Design Research
Presenter: Kay Corry Aubrey of Usability Resources
Summary: Focus groups (essentially, group interviews) can be an effective way to gather qualitative data on perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes. Examples of how focus groups can inform the design process include:
- Learning about your users’ decision making process, needs, and pain points
- Determining questions for a survey or content for a card sorting exercise
- Gathering content and feature requirements
Important elements for a successful focus group include careful planning and recruiting the right participants. A skilled focus group moderator must be able to establish trust, ask good questions, listen actively, remain neutral, and manage group dynamics.
This was an excellent overview or refresher, especially for recruiting and moderating.
More info: Kay’s slides are posted on Slideshare.
Will and Kay both deserve kudos for making their slides readable. You’d think that would be expected for a bunch of usability professionals, but at least half of the presenters had slides that were illegible both in the room and in the conference proceedings.
May 25, 2010, 2:58 pm
By Lisa Agustin
Seemingly simple stories often have complex beginnings. Consider the well-known web film (and now book) The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. A longtime activist with an interest in waste and its impact on the environment, Leonard was attending a leadership training program when she was asked to give a presentation. She was shocked to find that no one knew what she was talking about. Attendees pointed out that her vocabulary needed simplification and that she was “starting the conversation 20 years down the road.” What to do? Simplify the story:
Humbled, Leonard tried new angles. They all failed. Finally, in frustration, she hung a huge sheet of paper on the wall and crudely drew a mountain, a truck, a factory, a store, and a dump. And then she told the story of stuff. “You ought to make a movie of that,” 30 different people said. [Post-institute, Leonard] traveled the country with her sketch. The rest is Internet history.
Instead of creating “a paradigm shift in relation to materials,” Leonard started asking “Where does all the stuff we buy come from, and where does it go when we throw it out?” By combining this straightforward approach with a simplified visual style (animated stick-figures), Leonard’s film engages and enlightens in a way that makes viewers easily see what the problem is and how they can make a difference.
April 29, 2010, 8:08 pm
By Henry Woodbury
The New York Times runs a slam on PowerPoint in the guise of a critique of military effectiveness, featuring the diagram below as an example of PowerPoint gone wild:
Clearly something is lost in translation here. This is a high-resolution diagram that should be examined in print. First spotlighted in the media by NBC’s Richard Engel, the diagram actually has its fans as an attempt to visualize “how all things in war – from media bias to ethnic/tribal rivalries – are interconnected and must be taken into consideration.” It contains a lot of information and bears close inspection. Apparently it has made its way into PowerPoint but the real problem, according to Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, lies in the opposite direction:
In General McMaster’s view, PowerPoint’s worst offense is not a chart like the spaghetti graphic … but rigid lists of bullet points (in, say, a presentation on a conflict’s causes) that take no account of interconnected political, economic and ethnic forces. “If you divorce war from all of that, it becomes a targeting exercise,” General McMaster said.
And yet, the litany of complaints about too much PowerPoint parallels the demand, by leadership, for more information. The job of a staff officer is information. We aren’t talking about a PowerPoint problem. We’re talking about an information overload problem. The spaghetti diagram serves notice.
December 22, 2009, 12:20 pm
By Lisa Agustin
I stumbled on this odd post about the use of PowerPoint in the college classroom. The basic question is this: How do you help students who rely on your PowerPoint slides as a study aid, especially if they missed the class? Some academics are aware of PowerPoint best practices, but Julianne Dalcanton suggests the following as a way to help students without breaking the rules:
My trick for [giving students the key points without cluttering the slide] is using black text on a black background. The text doesn’t show on the screen, but it does show up when printed as a handout, since the black background defaults back to white. Thus, you get the following:
Dalcanton should rethink her approach. Hiding the bulleted text so it will appear when printed wrongly assumes everyone will want (or remember) to print it, and using a black background with red text results in poor legibility (not to mention encouraging a nice nap if the lecture takes place in a dark room). In short, she’s sacrificing a good presentation for the sake of printability. Other problems with this slide:
- The graph is key to the slide and should be bigger. Remove the box that surrounds the question, since this is visually distracting. If the question itself is a key point, hopefully a subsequent slide answers the question.
- The language in the bottom-right comment needs the speaker to provide context. What does “This” refer to–the graph? If it’s important to connect energy loss with calculating the age of the universe, spell this out explicitly.
- The bullet points are better placed in the Notes area, but Dalcanton isn’t a fan of this feature (see comments following her post). If the bulleted text must be kept in the slide, it shouldn’t be sized for presentation, since this is a waste of slide real estate. Instead, use a smaller font, and move the bullets to the bottom of the page. Then use a color other than black for the font and matching background color (we used white, and this prints fine).
Our quick redo shows the presentation version on the left, and the printed version on the right. The bulleted text is in ten-point font, and legible when printed.
March 7, 2007, 8:49 pm
By Henry Woodbury
PowerPoint despair makes it to the Guardian Unlimited, in this essay by Jonathan Wolff:
What is it about PowerPoint? Perhaps it is the only thrill left to the jaded academic: not knowing whether the technology you are using will actually allow you to give your talk.
While Wolff mocks the dog-and-pony-show marketing of PowerPoint, he focuses on a larger point:
For those who prefer to project the idea that a talk is a unique event, a voyage of discovery that could go in any one of a number of directions, and may well go in all of them, PowerPoint gives the game away. As someone once said: “The art is hiding the art.” With PowerPoint, everything is on display. Elegantly effortless performance is hard enough as it is. PowerPoint makes it impossible.
As another well-known detractor points out, PowerPoint is relentlessly sequential, undermines a presenter’s ability to present rich data in context, and sets up “a speaker’s dominance over the audience.”
I doubt Edward Tufte is going to change his mind, but if Wolff ever watches Steve Jobs at work he might acknowledge that elegantly effortless performance with presentation software is possible.
Okay, so Jobs uses Keynote. But it’s not the software that makes the difference. It’s the approach.
We do a lot of work in PowerPoint. We have two fundamental strategies for creating elegant presentations. First, we approach the entire presentation as a single narrative or composition. Each slide is a storyboard that advances the theme. This lets us leverage PowerPoint’s sequential format to our advantage. We can set up suspense in one slide and resolve it in another. We can establish a motif, then evoke it again and again. We can use pattern and variation.
Second, we treat every slide as a potential visual explanation. Sometimes all you need is text, but with images you can represent concepts, show connections, and evoke emotion. Images also make presenters inherently more interesting. Instead of repeating bullet points on a screen (which people can read for themselves), the presenter speaks to that which the audience sees.
But Tufte and Wolff cannot be ignored. Sometimes the multimedia presentation is simply a bad choice of format. Let us give Wolff the last word. Referring to the power of the image (say, the portrait of a famous philosopher) he writes:
These days, of course, digital pictures of Descartes are cheaper than ten-a-penny, but I’m still unsure of the benefits of showing his bony face to the audience. They have already got me to look at. And if they are looking at me, rather than a screen, I can look back at them. And I can judge whether they have understood what I have just said, and, if not, have another go at making the point.