25 October 2013

3 Design Lessons from iOS 7

I have recently came across an article by Carrie Cousins in which she shares some tips on how to design an app for the new Apple iOS. You can find the complete article here. While reading it, I thought that many of her tips can also be applied to the design of slides.
In this post I will go through three of Carrie’s tips on designing for iOS to show you how you can improve your next presentation.  

(1) Think Flatter

Carrie says “Apple’s iOS 7 is designed with flat in mind [...] Gone are all of the once-trademark skeuomorphic style icons and effects. In are single-colour boxes, lots of coloured type and lots of space [...] The design guidelines from Apple for iOS 7 encourage simplicity in design and usability.”
Apple’s design encourages simplicity, so should yours. Some time ago I shared with you three tips on how to make your presentation more effective (3 Tips on How to Prepare a Presentation). One of those tips was Keep it Simple. In order to keep a presentation simple you need to carefully think about what to include and what to leave out. Ask yourself what the essence of the message you want to convey is.

Apple do not only make their products simple, they also apply simplicity when crafting their presentations. Here are two slides Apple used during their recent introduction of the iPad Air. Look at how simple and easy to understand they are.    

Here Phil Schiller - senior vice president of marketing at Apple - explains that the bezel around the display is 43% thinner. Instead of cluttering the slide, he only shows the previous iPad, the new one and the number 43%.
Then he says that the iPad Air weighs only 1 pound. Again, there is no need to clutter the slide with anything else.

(2) Focus on Type

Carrie’s article reads “Type is the key to the iOS 7 design [...] Hierarchy in text is vital. Take advantage of colour and different weights to make the flow of type and user interface elements clear and easy to follow.”
The typeface you use in your presentation and how you use it is as important as it is for the iOS 7 design. I will share more details on that in a later post, so stay tuned. For now bear in mind a few concepts:
  • Type has both an aesthetic quality and a function
  • The choice and usage of type is one of the elements which differentiates professional presentations from average ones
  • Shape, size and colour of type all affect the meaning of the words you write and the feelings of the audience  
The presentation below is a perfect example of typeface used wisely. First of all, the font itself is professional. Second, colour is sometimes used to highlight the core point. For example, in the first slide the core point is the verb "engage", that is why it is of a different colour. Finally, the same typeface and the same colours are used throughout the entire presentation, giving a sense of unity. The aim is to make the whole greater than the sum of the individual slides.

Slides by Empowered Presentations

(3) Go Borderless

“[In iOS 7] much of the design interface is borderless [...] Look at the calendarno gridlines in the dates [...] Look at the clock or built-in weather appgridlines are also gone [...] What has replaced those gridlines is space.” As I have already written in a previous post (Less is More: The Power of White Space), “white” or “negative” space is a fundamental principle of good design. It improves visual clarity which, in turn, helps the audience focus on what is important. It is the negative space which lets the positive elements of a design stand out.

Here is a slide I used in a presentation last year. The Leaf Meter is a product made by an Italian company: Loccioni Group. It visualises in real time the data relative to the energy performance and the environmental impact of buildings. I could have cluttered the slide with text, numbers and statistics. However, to make sure the audience would follow me, I only showed a real photo of the product with its name leaving plenty of negative space. Then it was up to me to talk about it in detail.

If in your next presentation you will think flatter, focus on type and go borderless, you will go one step forward with your presentation skills.  


12 October 2013

How to Display the Data

How many times have you heard your professor or your boss saying “where are the numbers supporting your statement?”. I bet it has happened many times. Probably your professor or your boss was right. You often need to support your case by showing some data.
However, most presenters show the data without asking themselves whether or not their audience will actually be able to see it and understand it. They do it just to prove they have done some homework without having the audience in mind. The result? Incomprehensible data displays. But if the data you show is incomprehensible, you are incomprehensible too and this is something we all want to avoid. The purpose of this article is to make you aware of how to display the data during a presentation in a way that is meaningful for your audience.

First of all, you need to understand what the purpose of data displays is in a presentation setting. The purpose of a graph is to show quantitative relations, not precise values. If your goal is to show precise values, a table might be more appropriate. Therefore, different data requires different formats:
  • Tables should be used when the aim is to show specific numbers
  • Graphs, such as bar graphs, can be useful to make comparisons
  • Line graphs are best for displaying trends
  • Pie charts are also good for making comparisons, but only if you have to compare few values
There are two essential principles you should be aware of when presenting data: reduce and emphasise.


Graphs themselves can be hard for the audience to understand, so if you add decorative elements such as company logos or other extras you are doing nothing but making it even more complicated for your audience to understand. Your job is instead to help your audience understand the data you are showing. To do that you should avoid creating noise, that is, you need to include as much as necessary, but not more. The effectiveness of your quantitative display mainly depends on your decision about what to include and what to exclude. Graphs, charts and tables can become much more effective and easier to understand if you only reduce the nonessential. Here I am not talking about removing important elements, but only the nonessential. The problem is that what most people think is important showing in a presentation is actually not. So the next time you design a graph for you presentation, ask yourself two questions:
  • What is the essence of the point your graph is intended to make?
  • Are there any nonessential elements that can be reduced (better yet, removed)? 

In this slide there is too much clutter. The image of the map does not add anything to the core message. Nor do the date and the page number at the bottom. Also, numbers are too small to be seen and colours have not been chosen purposely.


This is a remake of the previous slide. Only the essential information is displayed, figures are visible and can easily be associated to the respective country.


To emphasise means to make it clear for the audience what the most important point is. There are basically two ways to achieve that:
  • You can use contrastsuch as colourto highlight the most important bit of your data display
  • You can also write a statement rather than a title
This presentation is about The Bahamas, that is why I have highlighted The Bahamas in red. Also, instead of using a general title, I used a direct statement to make it clear what I was talking about.


Pie charts
I don’t fancy using pie charts because we are not very good at accurately grasping the differences in size among the slices, especially when those are very thin due to the fact that the values you want to compare are too many. In this case it is better to use a bar graph. But if you really want to use a pie chart, keep this in mind:
  • Do not use 3-D effects. This is actually a general rule which applies to the design of any kind of graph. Never use 3-D effects to show two-dimensional data. It is not only aesthetically unpleasing, it does not make sense from a “mathematical” perspective either.
  • Do not use a legend. Rather, put labels inside the slices.


Bar graphs
Bar graphs are best for making comparisons among values. You can use vertical or horizontal bar graphs almost indifferently. Only be careful with the number of values to be compared. When they are quite a few, I would recommend to use a horizontal bar graph in order to avoid setting the labels on the x-axis at an angle. Examples are shown above.

Line graphs

Line graphs are good at showing trends over time.

Now the question is, why do most presenters not follow those basic guidelines? According to me there are two main reasons. The first one is that they are not aware of them, the secondand most important oneis that they are afraid of simplicity. People confuse simple with simplistic. Making data displays simple is not about excluding important information. Rather, it is about showing the essential information without clutter or extra decoration in a way that is clear and meaningful for the audience.

Finally, let me tell you something. Do not confuse slides with documents. If you have detailed and complex data that is absolutely necessary for your audience to see, then create documents and hand them out. It is okay not use slides, you don’t have to use slides all the time. You might mix your presentation with slides when appropriate and handouts when you need to show detailed information. But when you do use slides, I suggest you to practise reduction, emphasis and to choose the correct chart.


Where do you want to be?

The ideas in this article have mainly been collected from the book Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds (chapter Simplifying the Data)