Sunday, June 21, 2009

Synopsis: Presentation Zen (Emptiness, Grids and CRAP)

A slide is composed of positive elements (such as text or logos) and empty (a.k.a. 'negative') space. The idea seems to be that you can use negative space to draw attention to the positive elements.

Having empty space in your slide seems like a simple concept, but it's hard to implement; it's very tempting to fill that empty space with lots of other stuff. From what I can tell, the principle to apply is this:

  • Start with nothing, and then add.

To begin with, look for the empty space in your slides. Once you can see it, use it. Reynolds demonstrates the difference between asymmetrical and symmetrical designs here. Asymmetrical designs activate the empty space and make your design more interesting. Symmetrical designs tend to crush the empty space out to the sides.(*)

* That's because symmetrical designs are centred along a strong vertical axis and are mirrored on both sides.
Guiding the Eye

"A well-designed slide has a clear starting point and guides the viewer through the design."

Presentation Zen provides a couple of tips here:
  • Make sure images (especially of people's eyes) guide the viewer's eyes towards the elements you want them to look at
  • Have a clear hierarchy that shows which elements on your slide are the most important, which are less important, and which are least important.
Reynolds also talks about using grids on your slides, and composing the information on them according to the rule of thirds.

The red dots at the intersections of these lines are called 'power points'. These are areas where you might consider placing the main subject of the slide.

Using grids to divide your page or slide into thirds will also help you align the various elements on them.


Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity.

This was another moment where I was reading Presentation Zen and realised that it was referring to a book I already own. In this case The Non Designers Design Book, the first book on layout and typography I ever bought. It's a great read, and it made reading about the principles in this section more like revision for me. To quote directly from PZ:

"Use the principle of contrast to create strong dynamic differences among elements that are different. If it is different, make it very different." Contrasts can create a focal point for your slide, clearly pointing out the one element that is dominant. This gives the viewer a starting point to process information.

"Use the principle of repetition to repeat selected elements throughout your slides. This can help give your slides unity and organisation."

"Use of the principle of alignment to connect elements visually (through invisible lines) on a slide. Grids are very useful for achieving good alignment. This will give your slide a clean and well organised look."

"Use the principle of proximity to ensure that related items are grouped together. People will tend to interpret items together or near each other as belonging to the same group." This reminds me of a basic rule of writing: help a reader understand a sentence by grouping related words and concepts together. As an example, compare the previous sentence to this one:
  • Related words and concepts can be used to help a reader if you group them together as this will make them understand a sentence more easily.
Grouping stuff together means an audience doesn't have to think about what you're trying to say. Instead, they can think about what you're saying.

That's it for Section 2 of PZ. Time to take another break -- but over the next week I'll link to a few of the presentations mentioned in chapter 7.
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