Contrast is one of the most fundamental elements of graphic design. It helps you focus the attention of your audience wherever you want them to look, and more importantly, retain their attention throughout your presentation. When we consider contrast, we tend to think of colour contrast first. After all, at some stage in our lives we’ve all had to sit through a bad PowerPoint where the font and background clashed or were too similar in tone, making the content unreadable. But making good use of contrast goes beyond the avoidance of headache-inducing hue selections.
Effective presentations also contrast size, shapes, and typography, creating a PowerPoint which is both visually interesting and aesthetically pleasing. So, if you want to design compelling presentations that your listeners won’t be able to look away from, join us as we contrast (see what we did there?) the four major types of contrast:
Selecting complementary colours for your presentation is essential to creating a good viewing experience. Your PowerPoint deck needs to be easily readable, whether it’s being presented on a laptop screen or a projector. Keep in mind that projectors can lighten or even alter the colours of slides, so it’s best to check that the font and background don’t blend into each other before the day of your presentation and modify your colour palette if necessary.
Using black font and graphic elements on a white background is one of the simplest and most successful uses of colour contrast, which is why it appears on PowerPoint’s basic templates. This combination has been theorised to result in better short and long-term memory retention, which is particularly useful for training or sales presentations where you need to communicate complex or vast amounts of information as efficiently as possible. You should also consider accessibility – colour blindness affects one in 12 men and one in 200 women, so it’s likely that a member of your audience may be affected by this condition.
Effective contrast relies on the focal point of an image or slide being noticeably different to the elements surrounding it. One way to achieve this is through size – for example, headings and sub-headings are generally made larger than the body text of a slide to help audiences structure and contextualise the information being given. Our eyes automatically seek out the largest object on a page, so any crucial piece of information needs to be large enough to stand out. We also recommend keeping the text on your slides to a minimum and supplementing with visual elements. The more text you include, the smaller the text needs to become to fit within the frame of the slide, and the harder it is to read when presented in different mediums.
When using PowerPoint, we tend to design using rectangular text boxes and square image borders within the rectangular frame of the slide itself. Although creating these shapes aids in ordering the frame, every slide inevitably starts to look the same after a while, and the attention of your audience will wander accordingly. However, when you introduce a new shape like a circle or triangle to your slide design, the eyes of your viewers will instantly gravitate towards it. Subconsciously, our minds are trained to notice differences faster than similarities, so placing a specific fact or statistic within a contrasting shape may just be the reason why your audience can recall it later on. Need some design inspiration? Check out our downloadable PowerPoint templates to see some creative examples of shape contrast!
Certain popular fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana, Helvetica, and Calibri are considered the easiest for readers, which is why you so often see them used in TED Talks and work presentations. In terms of contrast, it is best to use no more than two different typefaces within your deck or risk creating visual confusion for your audience. You can also highlight crucial points using colour, bold or italics, although this is best used sparingly to avoid cluttering the slide design. If you have to utilise a particular font in accordance with company guidelines that is more difficult to read, you can always save it for headings and contrast it with a more accessible font for the body text.
No matter how you choose to use contrast in your presentation, it needs to be balanced. Using too many competing and contrasting design elements can be just as problematic as not having enough contrast in your deck. Remember that contrast is about guiding your audience’s attention to important content, so every design choice should be geared towards achieving this result. To learn more about graphic design, download our free eBook The Ultimate Guide to Design Principles – from colour theory to typography, you’re sure to find everything you need to create visually stunning presentations!