10 November 2013

5 Simple Ways to Design Slides Like Billboards

Have you ever thought about how your slides would look like if they were designed to be billboards? If you think about it, good billboard design is like good slide design. If you pay attention to the design of billboards, you will realise that many of themat least the ones that are well designedshare common elements:
  • They are highly visual
  • The type is big
  • They have a lot of empty space
Why do you think billboards share those characteristics? The answer is straight-forward: billboards have to get noticed, be understood quickly and be remembered. Billboard designers know that people should be able to understand the message they want to convey within a few seconds, especially if they are driving.
In her book Slide:ology, Nancy Duarte says that "Presentations are [...] more closely related to billboards than other media... Ask yourself whether your message can be processed effectively within three seconds. The audience should be able to quickly ascertain the meaning before turning their attention back to the presenter."
Obviously the audience does not have the same time limitation of a driver, yet adhering to this guideline will limit yourself from cluttering your slides with unnecessary elements. Your job as a presenter is to make it easy for your audience to understand what you are talking about.
Since I live in London I am surrounded by billboards. I am not saying that all of them are well designed, but many of them are. I like to pay attention to the design of billboards because they are a source of great inspiration to me and I suggest you to do the same.
Among the many billboards I am surrounded by, McDonald’s stand out. I think McDonald’s is one of the brands which get it right. Below are some examples (some of them are snaps I myself took recently).

Notice how visual the design is. There is a lot of empty space and text can be easily read from a distance.

5 Lessons we can apply to Presentation Design

(1) Make it visual
Look at how McDonald’s use visuals to convey a message. A burger is used instead of the number 0, a fry with some ketchup gives the idea of “loading”. Remember the Picture Superiority Effect: concepts are much more likely to be remembered if they are presented as pictures rather than as words. 

(2) Make type big
Text in too many slides is impossible to read. Do like McDonald's, make type big! Guy Kawasaki has a funny take on this. He says that to choose the right dimension for your typeface, you should take the eldest person in the audience and divide his age by two. But don't follow his rule if you are presenting to a secondary school class. I don't fancy following strict rules, but in general I would suggest you to use at least 30 points. 

(3) Rule of Thirds
McDonald’s don't follow the Rule of Thirds strictly. However, if you start looking at how they design their billboards, you feel they pay attention to it. So should you with your slides. Don’t necessarily follow the Rule of Thirds rigidly, but be aware of it and use it when it makes sense.

(4) Empty space
This is my favourite design concept. Look at the billboard with the fry. One element, one word, that’s it. Empty space is a fundamental principle of good design. It is the empty space that makes the positive elements of your design stand out.

(5) Have a visual theme
When you think of McDonald’s, I am sure the colours that come up in your mind are red and white. Isn’t that true? This is because McDonald’s have a consistent visual theme. When you make a presentation, you need to make sure that the final result is greater than the sum of the individual slides. You need to convey a sense of unity. Unity can be achieved in many ways. You can use the same background colour, the same typeface, a certain colour appearing throughout the presentation, a particular element which repeats itself throughout the slides. However, you don't need to use a pre-defined template found in the software. McDonald’s is able to convey a visual theme without having a pre-defined template.

Design lessons are everywhere. You can improve your presentation design skills even on the street, as long as you pay attention to what surrounds you.  

IMAGE: Jennifer Snyder via Flickr