Years ago I felt a certain sense of pride because I didn’t know how to use PowerPoint. Those days are long gone. Now, PowerPoint slides are often the currency exchanged between subject matter experts and instructional designers and developers. I’ve accepted this convention and probably, you have too.
The catch to this arrangement is the nearly guaranteed problems of poor slide design. You will often be handed unsightly slides filled with text and low resolution graphics that are squeezed or stretched.
We need a consistent process to transform messy slides into ones that will be instructionally effective. Here are some guidelines—with before and after examples—that you can use for PowerPoint makeovers.
Step One: Settle on style and colors
Style. The style impacts the entire look and feel of a course. It includes the theme, color palette, typeface and type of graphics. Before starting the redesign, get a good sense of the content, audience and flavor of the organization. Then create a corresponding style.
Colors. Color is often a big issue because a particular palette might be required. If not, then base your color choices on the course content and audience characteristics. In general, use neutral (gray, tan, white) or lighter colors for eLearning backgrounds. Usability research states that a light background with dark text is easier for online reading.
Then select one or two contrasting accent colors for highlights, arrows and other indicators. For related articles, see 8 Ways To Choose A Color Palette For eLearning. You may want to document your styles in a visual style guide.
Step Two: Create theme backgrounds
Blank Canvas. Once you’ve settled on the style, you’re ready to create the template. If you think of a slide as a blank canvas, there’s more room to add your creativity. This strategy helps you avoid the trap of always placing a title at the top and text below.
Design for Different Learning Events. As you go through an analysis, you’ll begin to think of learning events and strategies that are appropriate for your course. Create a unique background that will work for these events and strategies.
For example, you might require a section title slide, several interaction slides and different types of presentation slides. When possible, it’s efficient to create most of the backgrounds at one time. If you aren’t well-versed in graphic design, keep things simple. You can find appealing examples online for inspiration. See the before and after slides below.
BEFORE: The design of the template below uses the standard look of a
generic slide. The vertical bar on the left takes up valuable screen real estate.
AFTER: Instead, create templates that will work for the interactions,
presentations and learning experiences you’re planning. See below.
Or use backgrounds to carry an entire metaphor
or story, as with the office bulletin board background below.
Step Three: Rework text-heavy screens
Now you’re ready to tackle those slides filled with bullet points. First, streamline the content by removing redundant and extraneous information.
Next, create alternatives to all those bullet lists. For example, you can transform bullet lists into an interaction, where the content is presented as feedback. Even a simple approach, like the before and after example shown below, is more engaging than plain text. Also, see Alternatives to Bullet Lists for more ideas.
BEFORE: The slide below shows a typical bullet list (perhaps shorter than most!)
AFTER: Below, the bullet list is transformed into an interaction.
Medical background courtesy of eLearning Art.
When the learner responds, content is presented in the feedback.
Step Five: Add meaningful visuals and interactions
More of our brain’s resources are devoted to processing visual information than any other sense. Using visuals to suggest, explain or illustrate can facilitate learning. Visuals add meaning, they are motivational and they provides aesthetic appeal.
In addition to photographs and illustrations, remember you can create diagrams and simple objects from PowerPoint shapes. Also, use arrows, highlights and other indicators for focus and emphasis.
BEFORE: In the example below, several safety guidelines
are listed in text and the graphic is misaligned.
AFTER: The text is replaced with audio that plays when each
physician is selected. Not using audio? Display a speech bubble with text.
Step Five: Improve the Layout
There are some basic principles of visual design that contribute to ease of visual processing, which enhances learning. Some quick tips for improving the layout are:
- Use a grid or guidelines to provide visual structure (See my article: Designing With A PowerPoint Grid)
- Align visual elements with each other
- Ensure there is enough white space around graphics and text
BEFORE: Below, important information is lost
because of a crowded screen and a non-optimal layout.
AFTER: Place important content on a quiet screen with no distractions,
as shown below. Align the visual elements in a simple structure for easy reading.
I hope these guidelines help you manage your PowerPoint makeover process. If you make high-level design decisions first, you’ll be more productive and efficient than if you work slide by slide.
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