6 July 2014

How to make them understand your slides in 3 seconds

Short while ago I read a document that was meant to explain a company’s design guidelines for its graphical user interfaces for products and product-connected apps. An example of these systems would be the display screens of our cars. It was fascinating to read about all the design principles they considered when building these interfaces, such us space, contrast, light source, etc. The document also referred to an article by Jakob Nielsen, which was an excerpt from Chapter 5 of his book Usability Engineering. Don’t worry, I won’t be writing about engineering here. Nielsen explains that “there are 3 main time limits—which are determined by human perceptual abilities—to keep in mind when optimizing web and application performance.” Without going into detail, he points out that there are specific time limits which shouldn’t be overcome if you want the user to feel that the application is working properly. In other words, when we click a button on the display screen of our car we want the application to react immediately. 
Following the belief that design lessons are everywhere, here’s a question for you. Do you ever ask yourself how long it will take for your audience to understand the idea behind your visuals? Is there a time limit when it comes to designing presentations?
The answer is yes. Why? Because if you want your audience to be engaged, you need to make sure they grasp the meaning behind your visuals as quickly as possible so that they can come back and listen to you. 

Nancy Duarte says your audience should be able to understand your visuals within about three seconds. She calls this concept Glance Test. Of course designing a presentation is not like developing the user interface for an application, so this limit is not as strict. However, I do suggest you to design visuals that can be understood as quickly as possible, say in a few seconds. And to do that you need to get rid of the unessential. 

“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” — Pablo Picasso  

2 simple ways to remove the unnecessary 
Here are two simple techniques you can use to make sure your audience will understand your slides in a few seconds. And you'll also transform your presentations into a work of art. 

1. Combine images and text. 
Vision trumps all other senses, so create slides that combine a full-bleed high-quality image and a small amount of text. I know this is not always possible, nor is the best approach in every situation, but when possible it definitely helps.
2. Opt for more slides. 
If you are used to fill your slides with loads of information, try to spread the content out over several slides. Look at the sample slide below and how I spread its content over three separate slides. Isn't the second version more engaging and easier to understand quickly?  
If you do think about how fast your listeners can understand your visuals, you are designing your presentation with your audience in mind. And you should do that even when you are presenting more complex infromation, such as data displays. In this article I introduced two simple ways to dispaly data for maximum impact. These techniques not only make your presentations superior, they also help your audience understand your message faster. 
A more visual approach to presentation design doesn't only delight our eyes, it also refresh our brains.

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IMAGE: Francesco Lodolo via Flickr