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  • Writer's pictureBenoit Cristou

As little (slide?) design as possible

In this article, I’ll teach you how to apply Dieter Rams’ famous “10 Principles of Good Design” into presentation slide design.


First, a tiny bit of how I got to this idea of Presentations and Dieter Rams.


I often find myself reflecting on Steve Jobs. Specifically the era between 1997 and 2019 when lead designer Jony Ive unwavering dedication to good design allowed Apple to create iconic products.




And, did you know Jony Ive was deeply influenced by Dieter Rams?


Braun and Apple are two rare examples of truly design-driven companies. Both of their design teams are deeply trusted by their management and have a major influence on the company’s output.


Dieter Rams, an architect by trade, headed the Braun design team from 1961 to 1995. He created groundbreaking products that would define industrial design for years to come.

Rams, often concerned by the state of the world around him, is classically known for asking himself the question: Is my design good design?


To answer his question, from 1975 onwards, Rams created and refined the “10 Principles of Good Design”’.


Let’s examine how these 10 Principles apply to presentation design.


(I recently revisited Sophie Lovelle’s book: Dieter Rams: As Little Design As Possible and the Gary Hustwit’s documentary Rams and highly recommend both for inspiration.)





10 Principles of Good Design

+Explained by Dieter Rams followed by my take on presentation design.


1 - Good design is innovative.


+The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.



After years of proposing small incremental enhancements, presentation software has evolved immensely in the last two years:


  • Powerpoint is using AI to help the user create templates.

  • Both Keynote and PowerPoint will let you insert video avatars into your presentation. Meaning, you can add a live stream of yourself inside your slides. (FYI: This is a very engaging way to display information.)

  • Both PowerPoint and Keynote let us play with 3-D models of objects. This opens up new ways to tell stories that were only previously possible using motion graphics.



2- Good design makes a product useful.


+A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria for function, psychological and aesthetic. A good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.


This principle probably comes from Dieter Rams' ethos of designing “from the inside out”. He and his team spent a lot of time simplifying the inner workings of objects, to make them more useful. Their shape would then follow this deeper work.


Effective slide design makes the presentation useful. In a call to action, the audience is asked to change (a point of view, a behavior). Change is very difficult but also often useful. Good slide decks are great tools of change.



3 - Good design is aesthetic.


+The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.


This holds VERY true for slide decks.

Most people consume and use a lot of slides everyday. Poorly designed slides are an annoyance to consume. When we say a presentation is beautiful, what we are saying is that the presentation is clear, straightforward, and motivating. We are judging them in the context of efficiency and they can only be efficient if well-executed.



4 - Good design makes a product understandable.


+A good design clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it becomes self-explanatory.


We can directly apply this principle into slide design.

In her book Slideology, Nancy Duarte compares slides to billboards. They must be scannable and understandable in less than a second.

This is especially true for graphs. The key is a clear focus on the data.

Does it mean that, if self-explanatory, the speaker is redundant?

Yes, if the speaker is just repeating what’s on the slide, with some verbiage.

Yet, here’s trick: a good speaker does two things for every slide:

- She gives context (explaining objectives, strategies, competition, etc.)

- She links the slides together, telling a whole story

When this role is actively fulfilled, real context data-driven storytelling is offered to the audience.



5 - Good design is unobtrusive.


+Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.


Designed objects have a clear job: a chair allows you to sit, a camera takes a picture, a radio - listen to the radio and so on.


The job of the slides: truthfully telling a story.

  • All design choices (fonts, colors, visuals, animation, sound, etc.) need to enhance the storytelling.

  • Consider your audience as the ‘user’ of slide design.

  • The audience should be making good use of the story presented to them. The design needs to be a transparent facilitator leading to a clear call-to-action or actionable.


6 - Good design is honest.


+It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept. The product delivers what it says it will deliver.


Dishonesty can take many forms in presentation design: visuals, words and especially numbers can be very misleading.

It’s a fine line between presenting facts in a positive light and misleading an audience.

Every company has to decide where they stand.

  • Some tools, like 3D graphs, are always misleading. They make it very difficult to honestly compare data, understand results, etc.


The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics: The Dos and Don'ts of Presenting Data, Facts, and Figures is an excellent reference for best practices around numbers and graphs.



7 - Good design is long-lasting.


+It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.


Dieter Rams’ designs at Braun (and Vitsoe) created what we would call today ‘corporate identity’. The choices made in these objects would come to define the brand in the use of fonts, color, space.

Slide design usually comes at a later stage of corporate identity. When designing slides, we either have to use existing templates or create new ones, often derived from print and web identity. Slides must respect the style at hand, no matter how (un)fashionable said style might appear.

However, we should always use sound design principles (contrast, good continuation, Gutenberg Diagram, etc.) to share effective messages with data. The audience remembers well designed slides better.



8 - Good design is thorough down to the last detail.


+Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.


This principle might be drawn from Dieter Rams working on industrial design, with an education background in architecture. In both fields, modifications later are way more costly than planification.

One way to ensure consistency is to leverage the grid options. Grids and templates ensure that every element stays in place when:

  • We create new slides

  • We change data in the slide


This creates a pleasing experience for the user, as the eyes have less effort to make when they arrive upon a new slide.



9 - Good design is environmentally-friendly.


+Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.


While the constant increase in bandwidth, projects of metaverse and AR are certainly not going in the direction of less energy consumption, visual pollution is something we could all be deeply reflecting on.

Poorly designed slides are akin to visual noise. They don’t express a clear message and lead to many divergent interpretations.

Good slides create a visually friendly environment where ideas flow clearly from the speaker to the audience.



10 - Good design is as little design as possible.


+Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.


To keep things pure and simple in slide design, we can ask ourselves two questions:


- Are we designing slides?

  • Sometimes what we are creating are slidedocs. They sit between full reports and streamlined slides. They are written docs, created in Powerpoint, that can be shared across organizations. In that case, it’s totally fine to have richer slides. As long as they use grid design for consistency and readability.

- If designing slides, can we separate complex information into different slides?

  • Yes, and quite easily in some instances. We need to still be mindful of the overall flow.

  • Sometime no, more data needs to be presented at once for comparison. Then apply the principle of less, but better: keeping only what’s essential for the audience’s understanding.



Comparison: iPod to Rams’ Radio


Have you ever noticed some external similarities between objects from Rams and Ive?





The iPod is often compared to Rams’ famous radio receiver:



To see this as a rip-off is a deep misunderstanding.

Jony Ive applied Rams’ design ethos: deep re-engineering, designing objects from the inside out.

In that sense, the external appearance becomes « inevitable » and seems the most natural to the user. The use of a wheel on the iPod is not copying the frequency selector on Braun’s radio; it stems from a re-imagining of how users should navigate long digital playlists. The acceleration and easy navigation it permits differentiates the iPod from every MP3 player that was out there at the time.


It makes it an instant design classic.


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Do you need help on fully leveraging your power as a presenter?


Book a call to discuss the best integration of Story, Slides & Delivery for your next presentation.


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SOURCES:


Books:


Sophie Lovell

2011


Dieter Rams

2014


Gary Hustwit

2015



Movies:


Gary Hustwit

2009


Gary Hustwit

2018



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