Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Synopsis: Presentation Zen (Designing for simplicity)

I'm going back to my summary of Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. Presentation Zen (PZ) is about designing presentations that effectively communicate with the audience. Previously I have summarised Reynolds' ideas on creating the story of your presentation; now it's time to look at his ideas on visually designing the presentation.

He begins with the idea of simplicity - which he defines as a clarity that gets to the heart of the matter.

Achieving simplicity takes time, but it also makes the time that the audience spends paying attention to you far more worthwhile, as they will learn more from your presentation. Comparing the idea of 'simplicity' with ' giving the audience every bit of information', Reynolds makes the point that if you overload people with information, what (if anything) will they remember? He advises focusing only on information that illustrates your core point.

Similarly, if you overload a slide with information, pictures, charts, sidebars and borders, you force the audience to search for relevant information.

Simplicity makes it easy for the audience to understand the heart of what you're saying.

How do you achieve simplicity?

Each presentation's design will have its own logic, layout and rules (*). PZ recommends you: (a) design from the start, and (b) use design to organise information in a way that makes things clearer.

* I believe this - based on my experiences with writing scripts, songs and short stories, everything I've created has had its own internal logic. Once I've figured out what that logic is, it's made writing and redrafting far more effective. In fact, I do consider something to be finished until I figured out its logic and helped it live up to that as much as I can.

Clarity in design is achieved by elimination and omission. In other words, good designs have plenty of empty space.
  • Aim to get the maximum effect with a minimum of graphic elements
  • Use negative space
  • Suggest rather than state
  • Subtract rather than add

Reynolds then lays out his essential principles of design:
  • Signal vs Noise Ratio
  • Picture Superiority Effect
  • Empty Space
  • Contrast
  • Repetition
  • Alignment
  • Proximity

I'll go into more detail about each of these in the next couple of posts.

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