PowerPoint Slide Design: How Simple is Too Simple?

All of the books, all of the blogs, all of the top Slideshare presentations on slide design make this common plea: simplify.  But how simple is too simple?

I had this conversation with a non-training colleague of mine a while back.  “Yes, watching someone read off of their text-heavy, bullet-pointed PowerPoint slides is a waste of time,” he told me.  “But so are these artistic slides that replace all words with pictures and images.  I have a tough enough time interpreting poetry.  I don’t want to have to work that hard to interpret what you’re trying to represent on your slides.”

During a recent presentation I attempted to apply the simple-but-not-too-simple principle to my slide design on the key points from Malcolm Knowles’ adult learning theory.  Below is the content I wanted to turn into a slide (click here to download a Google doc of this information):

06142013 - ALPs

I know enough about slide design to know that just copying and pasting this document would certainly not be the way to go.  While this is a nice handout, it’s not appropriate to drop into a slide.  I also wanted to turn some of Knowles’ key points into questions that presenters should be able to answer.  So I simplified the information and designed these four slides:

06142013 - Slide Evolution A  06142013 - Slide Evolution B

06142013 - Slide Evolution C  06142013 - Slide Evolution D

When I practiced the presentation in front of several co-workers, one colleague noted that he liked the simple presentation of these questions.  But he was distracted by my attempt at simplicity.  As I advanced the slides and went on to the second and third and fourth questions, he stopped paying attention to the new questions because he was trying to remember what the first question was.  I modified the presentation to include all of the information on one slide through a series of animated text boxes.  The final product looked like this:

06142013 - Slide Evolution 1  06142013 - Slide Evolution 2

06142013 - Slide Evolution 3  06142013 - Slide Evolution 4

06142013 - Slide Evolution 5

Effective slide design is all about experimenting, reviewing, asking whether or not a particular visual aid will really aid the audience, then if necessary refining the design.  Effective slide design certainly takes time and effort and at times can be tedious, but the end result is an amazing experience for the learners.  And without an amazing learner experience, there’s not much reason to actually give a presentation in the first place.

Related Posts:

Using PowerPoint?  Take Some Ideas From These Spectacular Examples

Five Outstanding Presentations Skills PowerPoint Presentations

Three Simple PowerPoint Tips To Improve Your Slide Design

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11 thoughts on “PowerPoint Slide Design: How Simple is Too Simple?

  1. Great post and very timely for me–I’m actually about to give a presentation on making e-learning lectures and PowerPoint decks more effective. While stripping it down is a general rule of thumb you make a great point about going overboard with simplicity.

    • Thanks! Yes, it’s always a balancing act when you try to figure out how to bring concepts and theories (simplify simplify simplify) into real life practice. A more experienced and skilled graphic designer may have come up with a better solution, but I wanted to offer my own experience as an example of someone working through these concepts without deep graphic design background.

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