23 September 2014

What The London Underground Map Can Teach Us About Design

I have recently come upon a great real world example of good design that you can refer to if you want to improve your presentations. Do you know the difference between the way London and New York designed their underground maps? Here it is.
Notice anything? The main difference I see is that while New York designed a map that’s geographically more accurate, London opted for an abstract design. Which one do you prefer? I’m quite confident most people would prefer an abstract map instead of a version which attempts to reproduce an illusion of reality. The reason being, abstract maps are uncluttered. They show only what’s relevant. Think about it, do you need to see all the lakes and parks of a city when looking at a subway map? You won’t be examined in geography before you get off. The only thing you need to know is where the stations are and how they are linked to each other. 
Before designing anything, we have to put ourselves in the end user’s shoes. We should be asking ourselves “what do we want people to understand?”. In our example, we want people to know which subway line they should take and where they should get off. That’s it. And that’s why a cleaner, uncluttered design works best. London uses a visual language of form, colour and line to create a composition which may exist in the world. Of course out there things are different, but for the purpose of a map it’s absolutely okay to go abstract.

Design lesson for presenters 

When you make a presentation, your slides can be thought of as subway maps. You don’t need to include all the information you have in your mind (all the lakes and parks). Remember, it’s scientifically proven that people are not able to read and listen at the same time. Therefore, including loads of information on a single slide simply doesn’t work. It’s a waste of your time and—most importantly—of your audience’s. What you should do instead is ask yourself what you want your listeners to understand. Once you know this, use only that single takeaway in your design. One main idea per slide is one of the secrets to designing great presentations. 
I know most people don’t feel comfortable with this approach because they think that by including lots of information in their visuals they are proving they've done their homework. However, this strategy never leads to the desired outcome—it only leads to boring and incomprehensible presentations. In fact, the only point they are proving is that they were too lazy to spend time working on their material in order to understand what was relevant to their audience and what was not. 
Knowing one’s material should be a given. I expect every presenter to know his material. There is no need to prove it by cluttering your slides. It might be that you'll have to spread your content out over more slides, and that’s okay. You can still prove you've done your homework even if you use simple visuals. In fact, the simpler your slides the more your audience will think you know your material. Let your design breath by only including what’s relevant to your audience and leave the rest out. 

Instead of showing something like this...

Why don’t you design something like that?
As you can see, I've used two slides with one main idea each. The first slide introduces the main topic; the second shows the three key points I want my audience to remember. 
You might be thinking, “yes, the second version is nicer, but I’m missing a lot of important information”. 
Truth is, you are not missing anything. Slides are there to amplify your message, not to replace it. They help to get your message across only if they are simple and easy to understand quickly. But you are the presentation, not your slides. Certainly, you can and should expand from your design. And that’s something you can do without a visual display behind you. By designing simple visuals you'll make sure your audience will look at them, quickly understand the meaning behind them, and then get back to you to listen to your message. 
If there are any concepts that are absolutely necessary for you audience to know and you can’t include them in your slides otherwise you'd clutter them, you can always prepare a handout where you can include as many details as you like. This is something your audience can refer to for additional information either during or after your presentation. But the visuals themselves should only complement and amplify your speech. They should never substitute for it. Remember, you are the presentation, not your slides. 

With its abstract design choice, London triumphed over New York in the Subway Map Challenge. When I say go abstract in this context what I mean is that for a presentation to be successful you should opt for a simple, uncluttered and minimalistic design. Let you slides breath by only including what’s relevant and get rid of the rest. Your audience will appreciate it.    

I'd love to know your ideas. Let me know in the comments below.

Light Rail by A bloke called Jerm via Flickr
London Underground Map via Diagrams.org
NYC Subway Map via Urban Omnibus
Message in a bottle via Human Rights Commission
Icons from The Noun Project

17 September 2014

The Real Purpose of Any Presentation

Sometimes you think you know something, but you don’t. You think you know it until an event happens—an event as simple as buying a book. You still think you know it until you actually read the book. And finally, you find out you didn’t really know it. This article is for presentation lovers. 

In Resonate, Nancy Duarte reveals the answer to the mother of all questions: what’s the purpose of a presentation? That’s the most important concept to know if you want to transform the way you make presentations. Because everything else, every design and communication tip, every piece of advice you might have been given, anything that’s written in this blog comes from an understanding of what the purpose of a presentation is. 

There is always one goal and one only, regardless of which kind of presentation we are talking about. First of all, let me tell you that the purpose of a presentation is never to inform. Even the most informative presentation—the one you might make next week to update your colleagues on a project you are working on—is not meant to inform. The purpose of any presentation is to change your audience. Yes, change.

By that I don’t mean you necessarily have to get emotional. You can include touchy feeling moments if you think it’s appropriate, but that’s not the point. Your goal as a presenter is to change your audience from a state in which they don’t know about your idea (or your project, your business, etc.) to a state in which they do—from a state in which they don’t believe in your idea to a state in which they do. Even with your presentation to your colleagues, your purpose is not to inform them. You want to change them from a state in which they don’t know about the information you are sharing with them to a state in which they do. This is the big difference between an amateur and a pro and something you can accomplish only by learning about presentation design and delivery. 

Informing vs. Changing  

If you just want to inform someone, why would you make a presentation? Wouldn’t it be enough to create a document (or a slidedoc if you prefer) and email it? Or, if your material requires your presence, can’t you print it out and go through it together with your colleagues (or your boss, your customer, etc.)? Doesn’t that make more sense?

But if you do choose to make a presentation—a 21-century presentation—it’s because your purpose is no longer to inform. Therefore, following the usual bullet point style will no longer be effective. You can certainly inform people with bullet points, but you won’t change anything and anybody with them. That’s why presentation design experts like Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte tell us that less is more. That’s why communication coach Carmine Gallo tells us that “the rule of three is one of the most important concepts in communication theory”. That’s why Apple’s keynotes include photos, images and words, but no bullet points. That’s why in this blog you find specific advice on how to prepare, design and deliver effective presentations. Tips like how to work with colour, how to open and close a presentation, how to combine images and text and why it matters. It all comes from an understanding that the purpose of any presentation is to change your listeners from a state in which they don’t know about your message to a state in which they do. And you can only do this if you follow certain design and communication principles.  

If you inform your audience about your fantastic idea, most likely nothing special will happen as a consequence of your presentation. After all, you’ve just informed them. But if you aim to change them through your presentation, you are one step closer towards making them believe in what you believe. Understanding the purpose of a presentation is the most important concept to be familiar with. Everything that follows wouldn’t make sense without it. This blog wouldn’t make sense without it.

Love these ideas? Let everyone know by sharing this post.

IMAGE: YouTube

11 September 2014

3 Simple Presentation Tips From the Simplest Ad Ever Made

Consumers are tired of being bombarded with superfluous information. They are tired because superfluous information distracts them—it doesn’t help them make the decisions brands want them to make. And I’m not only talking about buying decisions. This also holds true when a billboard needs to be noticed, a blog needs to get subscribers and a presentation needs to be remembered. And I could go on forever. 
It’s proven that the best way to get people’s attention is not to give them detailed information, but rather to give them exactly what they need to know. The key to being remembered is simplicity. The reason being, bombarding people with more information is what everybody does, so the only way to stand out is to do things differently. How often did you find it difficult to understand what a website was all about because it included too much information? How often did you struggle getting the message behind a billboard because it was cluttered with unreadable text? The problem I see today is not lack of information, but rather too much of it. So the only way to stand out is to make your message as simple as possible. 
Look at this photo. Would you notice this man if he walked past you? 
Why? Well, because I guess you don’t run into a person with so many piercings every day, right? He stands out. And that’s exactly the point: we are naturally attracted by things that stand out. We notice them.
We are surrounded by solutions which stand out from the crowd because they are different.
  • Apple’s products are successful (also) because they are simple and intuitive 
  • McDonald’s billboards get noticed (also) because they include only one message
  • Google is the world’s number one browser (also) because it uses a lot of white space 
The best example of “less is more” I've recently stumbled upon is the Ivar’s half-second ad from the 2009 Super Bowl.  

Think about it, what does the ad tell you about Ivar? The answer is nothing. It doesn’t tell you anything about the products they make, the price they charge, why they are better than the competition. You see the ad and don’t even know what they do (they are a chain of seafood restaurants). Yet, it received so much attention. Why is this? Because they did something different. Instead of overloading their audience with lots of details, they made a very simple ad—the simplest ever made. And it worked. Of course Ivar took this concept to the extreme. I’m not suggesting that any ads, products or websites should follow that level of simplicity. A good compromise comes from Albert Einstein: “make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

3 Takeaways for Presenters 

There are three lessons presenters can learn from the Ivar’s ad. When preparing your next presentation, ask yourself the following questions:
1. What’s the one message I want my audience to take away? Or the 3 main messages. If you want to stand out, don’t give people 12 reasons why they should support your idea. This concept is called Rule of Three. It simply means that in short-term (working) memory we are only able to process about three pieces of information. According to Carmine Gallo, the rule of three is one of the most powerful concepts in communication theory (more on that here).
2. What’s the minimum amount of information I can share with my audience? Notice that the key word here is “minimum”. Many presenters tend to share as much information as they can think of. If you want to stand out, think carefully about what your audience really need to know, give it to them and ignore the rest.
3. How can I present my idea in as simple a way as possible? It’s not enough to know what to include and what to get rid of. If you want to stand out, you need to present your idea so that even your daughter would understand it. 
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you should kill every detail. I’m sure you have lots of invaluable information to share with your audience. What I’m saying is that you should carefully think about what’s valuable to your audience and what’s not and plan your presentation accordingly. Make it as simple as possible, not simpler. 

I'd love to know your thoughts on this article. Meet me over on Google+ or Twitter to join the conversation right now!

Effectiveness and Simplicity via Bryan Dunlop 
Man with piercings via Random Paradise 

3 September 2014

Never Use That Colour Again: Design Lessons from Football

With huge sorrow for rugby fans around my country, the Italian football league has finally started. As always, with a bit of delay compared to the other major leagues, but here we are again ready for another exciting season. 

This year, an interesting fact happened during the pre-season. Never before the Juventus fans complained so much about their team’s shirts. What they found improper was the colours of names and numbers. I have to say they weren’t wrong at all. The Italian defending champions came up with a rather controversial colour choice this time: white background with yellow names and numbers. With these colours, recognising the players was as easy as climbing the Everest.
Even the UEFA asked Juventus to solve the problem. As a consequence—after a pre-seanson where the team continued to play with the orinal colour choice—just a few days before the league started they finally sorted this out by changing yellow with black. 

Design failure

Who’s fault was that? The colour choice was not made by Nike, Juventus main sponsor. It was made by Stilscreen. This is not the first example of a design failure, here is a funny list you can entertain yourself with. There are many others on the web. Had Stilscreen thought twice before making this decision, fans wouldn’t have complained that much. 

Likely—when it comes to colour—there are some simple concepts we can all refer to, no matter what we do in our lives. Whether you are a company designing football shirts, an employee making a presentation to your colleagues, an entrepreneur pitching investors, a developer designing a website, understanding the basic principles of Colour Theory is of great importance. Here and here you find everything you need to know in order to avoid a design failure like the one Juventus went through. Colour Theory helps us make the best decisions when it comes to combining colours.

In our example, it was obvious that because yellow and white are both light colours, it would have been hard to make numbers and names stand out. That doesn’t mean that a white background only goes with black names. However, if you want to make your design visible, it is always good practice to follow one of these two combinations:
  • Light background and dark elements

  • Dark background and light elements  

This is not something only related to football and shirt design. It has a lot to do with presentation design as well. How often have you found yourself unable to see a slide because of an improper colour choice? By reading the two resources I gave you above, you’ll acquire the knowledge you need to properly work with colours. You’ll learn about the colour wheel, some basic colour combinations and a great tool specifically created for non-designers.

I have to admit I was one of the furious Juventus fans, so I’m glad they corrected the gaffe and am now ready for another super season, hoping that it will go the same way as last year.      

If you’d like to chat more about how to effectively use colour, click over to Google+