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4 Clicks towards Good Slide Design

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The bad news…you are not unique. There are millions of other people building slides out there just like you. And here are two pre-historic statistics (in tech terms) that back it up:

  • Statistic #1: As of 2010, Microsoft Office was installed on 1 billion devices around the globe (source here).
  • Statistic #2: As of 2009, PowerPoint was used by over 500 million people around the globe (source here).

The good news…most people are ahem-at PowerPoint. By that I mean they are the – “type text here” and use whatever formatting PowerPoint gives them – kind of people.

And I’m sure you can spot their slides from a mile away as they’re filled with lots of the fault formatting like this.

Default Formatting 1 - Examples of default shapes

This also happens to be why so many of their slides look the same too, regardless of which version of PowerPoint they are using.

Yes, the content might be different, but as their formatting is all the same, and your eyes basically just glaze over the content.

Or worse yet…

As they flip through their slides, you can’t help but pay more attention to 1) the default formatting (2) the default graphics or (3) the lazy one-click formatting solutions, than you do to their content.

And I’m guilty of this too, because default formatting requires ZERO effort, you just can’t help it. This  includes:

  • Default shapes
  • Default charts
  • Default bullets and spacing
  • Default tables
  • Default Quick Styles

Why is that good news? Because it means that, with a few simple tweaks, you can instantly stand out from the crowd.

So your design tip is simply this: Always go at least 4 clicks away from the defaults (this isn’t hard either).

Click #1: Choose your own font color
Click #2: Choose your own font style
Click #3: Choose your own outline color
Click #4: Choose your own outline weight

Slide design example #1: Default PowerPoint shapes

Default Formatting 2 - Default PowerPoint Shapes

Notice that the PowerPoint shapes on the left are all just the default, standard PowerPoint colors. The shapes on the right are just a few clicks away from the defaults. Nothing fancy, but they are not default.

Slide design example #2: Default PowerPoint tables

Default Formatting 3 - Default PowerPoint Tables

Yes…my grandmother could create the tables on the left. Why? Because it’s the default table style. It requires no effort. It requires no knowledge. The table on the right is just a few clicks away from those defaults.

There is still a lot you could do with the tables to make them even better, but at least it’s not the default formatting.

Slide design example #3: Default PowerPoint charts

Default Formatting 4 - Default PowerPoint Charts

500 million people in the world could easily create the chart on the left, simply because it’s the default formatting. The chart on the right (not radically different) requires a few clicks of effort. And it’s that effort that sets your slides apart.

Conclusion

There is a lot more you can do but…

This is one of the simplest things you can do to improve your slide design. Go at least 4-clicks away from the defaults.

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Updated on December 10, 2017

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  • Well said! The table example (in particular) made me flinch, because I see so many tables like that at work.

    I made similar comments about using defaults, in the tip about colours in this post in Ellen’s series. Would be fascinated to hear your thoughts.

    Nancy Duarte has a great quote on this, too: “We work in a first-draft culture. Type an e-mail. Send. Write a blog entry. Post. Whip up some slides. Speak. But it’s in crafting and recrafting – in iteration and rehearsal – that excellence emerges.”

    • Thanks, Craig! And yes, agree about color. And LOVE the Nancy Duarte quote. So very true. We need to be able to spend more time on things we create.

      You might like the book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport – we’re reading it right now. Fascinating.

      Cheers!

      • Thanks so much for the book tip, I’ll check it out! (By the way, the Duarte quote comes from her “HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations.” It’s such a fantastic line that I’ve cited it more than once on my blog!)

  • Let us know what you think of this What’s the Point tutorial here.

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