Article Category: Visual Aids

PowerPoint Design Wish List: 8 Modest Proposals


Cherry CakeAn open letter to the PowerPoint programming team with public speaking inspired ideas for future PowerPoint features…

Dear PowerPoint Programmers:

Thank you for creating such a wonderful presentation aid. PowerPoint is like a Swiss Army knife in a presenter’s visual aid toolbox. It is a tool with tremendous power.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people cannot control this power. Hour after hour, dreaded presentation after dreaded presentation, I continue to be amazed at the horrible presentations that speakers are able to create with PowerPoint at the core.

I teach a course titled Powerful PowerPoint Presentations. You’ll be happy to know that this course is always oversubscribed. Everyone is eager to tap into the power of PowerPoint.

I wish these people were motivated to become great PowerPoint artisans because their peers were giving fantastic PowerPoint presentations. Unfortunately, they are quite happy to become “adequate” users, because they know that any skill at all will put them in the top echelon.

Are PowerPoint users all morons? No, I don’t think so.

Is the tool itself crappy? Certainly not!

Perhaps the power of PowerPoint is just too great for the majority of users to handle by themselves. Like a jackhammer in the hands of a child, perhaps.

So, please consider the following suggestions to help tame the power of future PowerPoint versions.

1. Eliminate Slide Transitions

The verdict is in… users cannot handle the responsibility. If I had a dime for every random gratuitous slide transition that I’ve seen, I would have been grossly underpaid for suffering through these presentations.

Speaking of dimes, if you cannot eliminate the slide transition feature, consider making a user pay 10 cents for every slide transition used beyond 2 (a clear sign they are being overused). Donate the money to kiva.org. Here’s your ad slogan:

Microtaxing for Microlending… by Microsoft

2. Rewrite Your Documentation

From PowerPoint 2007, I searched for help to change the font. To my horror, I was presented with instructions to change the font in Access, InfoPath, OneNote, Outlook, Project, Publisher, and (hurray!) PowerPoint.

Why am I bombarded with all these non-relevant details? If this were a speech critique, I would be pointing out how reams of irrelevant details makes it more difficult for your message to reach your audience. But, I digress…

Instead of just spewing mechanical details, (e.g. “On the Home tab, in the Font box group, type or click a font in the Font group“), why not provide them with a virtual speech coach with useful advice like:

  • Using fonts consistently makes your slides look more professional.
  • When using different fonts on a slide, do so with purpose (e.g. one font for titles, one for labels), not to make things “look interesting”.

3. Partner with the Best

If you cannot rewrite your documentation, consider a marketing deal with Nancy Duarte to bundle a copy of Slide:ology with every license of PowerPoint. Seriously.

4. Prevent Suicide by PowerPoint

Atrocities are committed hourly with bullets, font choices, and colors, but you can’t exactly eliminate bullets, fonts, and colors from PowerPoint.

However, you can perform up-to-the-second analysis of the slide deck, and put up warnings when the user is making bad design decisions.

Some of these are trivial to implement:

  • Count the number of words on a slide, and display it in the status bar. As the count rises, put up progressively stern warnings. (“Red alert: 100 words is a great start to a novel, but a lousy visual aid”)
  • If the slide deck consists entirely of text, suggest that the user create a report in Word instead. (Better yet, just automatically launch Word after the 13th text-only slide.)
  • Count the number of font variants in use in a slide deck. Caution users that their colleagues will laugh at them if every slide is something new. Better yet, give us an automatic way to apply a consistent font face throughout an entire slide deck. This would be especially helpful when cobbling together a presentation from multiple sources using cut-and-paste.
  • Compute contrast ratios for all adjacent colors, and warn the user when something is hard to read. (“Pink text on yellow background may be hard for your audience to read.“)

5. Provide Better Support for Outlines

Presentations need to have a clear speech outline.

PowerPoint’s outlining support is awful. Both Outline Mode and Slide Sorter Mode give presenters only a one-dimensional stream view of their slides. The resulting slide deck is too often a sequence of individually designed slides that have no flow or macro-organization.

Make it possible to arrange groups of slides into units (e.g. these four slides are “background”, these eight are the “technical summary”).

  • Let us apply formatting to entire units (e.g. a different background color to each section of the presentation as a visual cue to the audience).
  • Let us create hierarchies among groups.
  • Provide support for doing more presentation-level design.

6. Remember the Room

Some PowerPoint slides are designed entirely to be viewed at a computer where 10 point font is acceptable, even if not recommended. However, presenters are often oblivious to how their slides will look in a larger room. This isn’t your fault, but…

When a new slide deck is created, ask the user to specify the presentation setting, in general terms (e.g. small meeting room, lecture hall, etc.) or approximate dimensions. Use this to provide guidance on readable font sizes, diagram detail, etc. For example, I recently took an audience survey in a room with only six rows of chairs. Users at the back could not comfortably read fonts below 28 point font.

7. Enable Users to Insert Good Visuals

Please, end the clip art insanity.

Instead, allow us to search through stock photography website catalogues from within PowerPoint. (You can even take a cut of any purchased photos!) Once images are selected, make it easy for us to crop, resize, and optimize these photos (within PowerPoint) for embedding into slides. Why do I need yet another application open to do this?

8. Help Users Manage Slide Libraries

Don’t make us use third-party tools to organize, catalog, and search through slide libraries built up over time (particularly in corporate contexts). Provide this functionality in PowerPoint itself.

  • Let me easily find all slides I’ve created with the words “Web 2.0” in them, and then choose among them to insert into a new presentation.
  • Create a Super Slide Sorter that provides a slide desktop where I can sift through slides from dozens of presentations at a time, selecting what I need, and then easily combining them into a new presentation.

Sincerely,

Andrew Dlugan
Six Minutes Public Speaking and Presentation Skills

p.s. Contact me if you’d like to discuss more ideas.


Your Wish List?

What features do you want the PowerPoint team to add/delete/change in future versions? Let me know in the comments.

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Comments icon23 Comments

  1. Alessandra says:

    allow animation of individual objects inside smart art graphics. right now it’s all or nothing.

  2. This is an excellent list, Andrew, and I agree with all your suggestions wholeheartedly. Except for #7. I agree the “clip art” situation in PowerPoint is pretty grim – the library offered is mostly archaic and dismal and I end up using a couple of their collections for everything (not good). That said, vector-based artwork offers a long list of advantages over raster-based (i.e. photos) for presentations. What I’d like to see is a more robust vector-based image library, or the direct integration of stock vector-based image services – just as you’ve recommended for stock photos.

    But I do not hesitate to express my distaste for the ubiquitous “Screen Beans for EVERYTHING” approach to PowerPoint.

    http://www.equixotic.com/2008/01/26/screen-beans-you-had-me-at-goodbye/

  3. iteach says:

    I use PowerPoint slides in my EFL classes to illustrate the grammatical mistakes made by my students. Microsoft Word
    has a ‘strikethrough’ feature
    which draws a line through a word. PowerPoint does not.
    Please add it to future PowerPoint programs

  4. I’d encourage the PowerPoint team to remove most of the PowerPoint design templates; notably those that mix tiny bullet point lists with equally small bar charts — simply impossible to read at the back of the room.
    Peter

  5. I think the smallest font available should be 30 points and the max number of slides should be 10.

  6. Matt says:

    Seriously, just getting rid of the ribbon in Office 2007.

    Job: Done.

  7. Andrew Mackenzie says:

    OK – some of the things you suggested are stylistic fixes, not underlying things MS should fix.

    Firstly: I want my toolbars back, I liked having buttons that I could use to save time. The Ribbon is TERRIBLE – designed for the lowest common denom.

    Secondly: importable/exportable color palettes would be huge.

    thirdly: if you paste a copied object from one page into another page, it should default to the same position.

    Sure, there are more, just not thinking of them right now.

  8. Jim Ley says:

    I am trying to locate the Power Point presentation of these suggestions.

  9. Ramesh says:

    ditto on transitions…

    disable animation audio

    content density analyzer… just prevent users from using more than 40 words per slide

  10. Rolando says:

    I love the ribbon and picture treatment in PP2007, but I’d wish a couple of things like:
    – add a “draft mode” module when you could build your presentation using a storyboard style. Just to jot ideas and basic graphics.
    – add some features about time control:
    – A clock alert that reminds the speaker about her/his time left.
    – A way to set up the available time for a presentation from the very start of the design, this way, PowerPoint could calculte the amount of time you are “consuming” with the slides you are adding.
    – enable pptflex (http://www.officelabs.com/projects/pptPlex) to full slide animations.
    – even more smoothness in some animations
    – pre-design a customed non-linear slide sequence (similar to pptflex, but his one would be previously stablished by user).
    – improve the translation service in this application (as powerful and useful such as MSO Word).
    I hope to remmember more, you can always find improvements recommendations when you are designing.

    Cheers,

  11. Tony Ramos says:

    Engage your audience by giving them a part of, or another, presentation screen. This display area would be dedicated to their tweets in real time. MSFT/developers: time for an add-in? (See more on Twitter; search #PP09)

  12. Malacandra says:

    I have a radical request: dependable font embedding. That works with more than just TrueType. That even works on the Mac.

    Adobe can do it with PDFs. Microsoft? Not so much…

  13. 365pwords says:

    As a Toastmaster (DTM) I am very impressed with your website and will be putting you on my blogroll shortly.

    I watched the Prof. Winston video and love his low tech, low energy speaking style works perfectly for him. Thanks for turning me on to him.

  14. Kevin Weaver says:

    Add an Equation Editor!!

  15. Tim H says:

    It’s about time someone jumped off the “Powerpoint sucks” bandwagon and put the focus on the users, who think nothing of spending hours learning yoga or guitar but think they don’t have to learn how to use Powerpoint. Hooray!

  16. Tim H says:

    Re clip art: Microsoft is making an effort, offering a lot of clip art and photos at http://office.microsoft.com/en-ca/clipart/FX101321031033.aspx?pid=CL100570201033

    Downloads appear in your Clip Art Organizer, which integrates decently with Powerpoint.

  17. Great list, Andrew. The thing is, I’d love more capabilities, but almost anything that’s added will be misused. I’d like to see better multimedia capabilities, output to SWF and DVD, a simple sound editor, 3D animation. I could live with the ribbon if it were customizable.

    Some bloggers have written about what they’d like to see in the way of PowerPoint design.

  18. Jason Peck says:

    Andrew,

    Thanks for the inclusion in your roundups recently.

    I like this post. I’ve been chewing this post over. Why don’t you contact Open Office?

    As its open source they might be more open to implement the changes you suggest to “Impress”
    http://www.openoffice.org/

    Cheers,
    Jason

  19. Simon says:

    Great list – and echos of my own idea of electrify-ing the keyboard by a few volts for every point under 30! 🙂

    WRT you wanting to change fonts in PPT… I’ve got two thoughts. The first is that PPT should be re-designed to make it intuitively obvious how to do that (that is, the fact that you needed the help facility at all was a problem, let alone the quality of that facility); secondly, why, oh, why, oh why is the default font something as inappropriate as Times New Roman?!?!

    Simon

  20. Hi Andrew, really cool post! I agree with most of your points! It’s not PowerPoint that’s evil, it’s how you use it. And most people just mis-use it.

    I also just recently wrote a post on “killing clip arts” on my blog.

    The question here is of course, who’s to blame for all the bad slides? Maybe it’s a software niche: “PowerPoint Suckiness Avoidance Plug-In” :-).

    Cheers,

    Oliver

  21. Andrew, thank you for sharing your PPT wishlist. I’m still in the process of building out my own PPT wishlist. A simple item on my list would be a basic eyedropper tool like what can be found in Photoshop. It’s also good to find someone who hates PowerPoint transitions as much as me. I consider them to be “empty calories”.
    http://www.powerpointninja.com/animations/powerpoint-slide-transitions-are-empty-calories/

  22. Allyncia says:

    I would love if PowerPoint had a button that could make it into one of those awesome mini flash players that I see on so many blogs.

  23. Wingdings > Arial says:

    Eliminate Arial.

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