As presentation designers, we operate as outsiders in the graphic design industry. However, we’re living examples of how PowerPoint can be used to design beautiful graphics and illustrations easily. Let’s explore some graphic design fundamentals and how they can be applied in PowerPoint design.
We’ve met a lot of backlash and misguided hate about PowerPoint as a design tool, but it’s not just an incredible resource for design, but for animating, presenting, and organising.
Graphic Design Simplicity
There is a design principle that could easily apply to most things in life: K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid). The acronym was proposed by Kelly Johnson, lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works, and I’ve since seen the principle adopted by salespeople as ‘Keep It Short and Simple’.
Regardless of whether you use this idea for a design, a proposal, a presentation, or your everyday philosophy – the idea rings true, especially in this era of growing choices and complexity. Simplicity should be a guiding principle since simple things are better understood and enjoyed because they’re often more memorable and reliable.
This idea ties into Ockham’s Razor, which says the simpler design should always be preferred and designers must cut away any unnecessary elements. Both the K.I.S.S. principle and Ockham’s Razor tell us that complexity is often the enemy of design – the simplest idea is usually the most effective.
The same goes for graphic design. Finer details made add a certain level of depth and complexity, but this won’t necessarily make the design memorable or effective. There should be no shame in minimalism, even if someone brands your idea as ‘basic’ – it’s more important getting the basics right than excelling in the extra details.
Avoid cluttering your design with unnecessary frills and features – scale it back to the basics so you don’t overwhelm your audience. Remember, audiences tend to lose concentration the longer they’re made to listen, so start it off with a K.I.S.S. and stick to the basics before you go trying anything fancy.
Every time we write about any creative expression – whether it be graphics design, animation, video design, presentation, or writing – remember the words of Leonard da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.
Graphic Design Frames
In its simplest terms, a frame encloses a visual image. They’re used to separate, organise, contain, combine, and distinguish visual element – often by heightening visibility and immediacy of those elements. Frames appear in numerous forms and can serve as many functions, so let’s explore frames as a fundamental feature of visual communication.
In terms of composition, frames can be simple and understated, or decorative and conspicuous. They generally contain certain design elements, either by subtly integrating visual content, or setting content apart within a composition.
Margins generally block in active elements such as the typographic text photographic images, while being used to display passive elements such as page numbers, captions, headers, and footers. Margins that are narrow make images or text appear larger while pronounced margins visually emphasise elements by using a frame to create immediacy.
Aside from margins and borders that demarcate where images end and surrounding background begin; frames can also be used to divide, crop, fragment, or distort design elements. Furthermore, the visual representation of frames is not limited to compositional elements such as line, shape, colour, texture, or tone; it can also be realised with type and letterform.
A Framework for Organisation
Cropping is done by framing elements within a composition, altering the size, shape, and proportions of an image while potentially impacting on that image’s content and meaning. We see this particularly with social media avatars such as Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, which crops profile images into circles. Cropping in on certain elements on details can alter the focus of the image, giving it new identity and visual presence.
In the online world, frames are a ubiquitous element of websites and interfaces, taking on a variety of appearances and functions. Frames are the literal and physical border surrounding a screen or interface and often contains a hierarchy of information including controls, icons, and other forms of navigational tools.
Frames can be functional and strengthen the viewer’s understanding of information, or frames can simply be decorative elements of a composition. Either way, the use of frames helps viewers distinguish figure from background by providing points of focus and context for the final design.
Frames within art often act as a hard border, separating viewers from the work and adding a sense of importance to whatever is being framed. However, the relationship between art and frames has become more fluid over time as the two separate elements being blurring into one another and the significance of each fluxes with context.
Graphic Design Grids and Proportion
Grids are critical as they help designers better understand the proportions of a composition, offering guidelines to assist with structure, order, and visual unity. They can assist with a message’s rhythm and pacing, or help designers organise the narrative and visual content of a composition, ensuring all elements are arranged in a way that is rational, accessibly, and aesthetically pleasing to audiences.
The humble grid has been a guiding organisational principle since time immemorial. Renaissance artists and architects used grids for scaling sketches and images to align the proportions of their work. Cartographers use them to plot and draw map coordinates while typographers use them to create consistency when designing letterforms.
Prior to Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type in printing, simple grids based on various proportional relationships were used to arrange handwritten text on pages. As the grid evolved and developed, it primarily remained the same in its structure and usage, particularly its relationship with the golden ratio.
The basis of all visual communication is how certain design elements are organised and arranged – grids help designer ensure their message is clear, consistent, and immediate. Placing a grid on a page provides the compositional framework to design since its lines offer a guide for establishing consistent proportions. It’s also really simple to create grids on PowerPoint to align design elements.
The construction of grids can be orthogonal, angular, irregular, or circular. Grids can be an invisible and functional feature of a compositional layout or an obvious and active visual element. Either way, grids are essential for organising and presenting complex, multifaceted information in a more coherent and systematic way.
Applications of Grids
Grids are a vital feature for composing and organising content, especially in print media since grids help ensure continuity across multiple pages. It’s the reason newspapers still set out text in columns, since it assists readers in reading the correct story whenever content spills onto another page. It also helps individualise the stories and show the reader the length of each article.
Publications, websites, sign systems, advertising campaigns, and corporate communications are all made up of multiple pages – each requiring a slightly different composition due to their varied content. If a grid is well planned and conceived, it provides an efficient way to create multiple layouts while maintaining visual consistency, continuity, and cohesion.
Web designers have adopted grids to standardise online content and layouts. The most commonly used grid is the 960px system as it can be divided into by many whole numbers, which provides a lot of flexibility in terms of column width and consistency across the internet – especially since there are many different screen sizes and devices for audiences to view online content.
Grids help eliminate clutter and create balance because they show how much space you’ve got to work with on your PowerPoint slide. No more jamming in too many elements since the grid demonstrates dimensions and ideal focus points.
Graphic Design Proportions
At its simplest, proportion is the relationship of two elements within a design often defined by contrasting size, quantity, or degree. It can also be used for individual elements in relation to the whole composition.
Usually, the primary purpose of proportional systems is to create a sense of harmony or cohesion between different elements. Throughout the history of art and architecture, proportion has been critical to aesthetic value and functionality.
The grandfather of geometrics, ancient Greek mathematician, Euclid is the first to put the theory of proportion into words and images. He’s also responsible for ‘the section’ whereby a line is divided into two parts so the ratio of the larger to the smaller segment is equal to the ratio of the original line to the larger segment.
This division would later be renamed the ‘golden ratio’ during the Renaissance and become a closely linked to another mathematical formula – the Fibonacci sequence. Within this sequence, each number is the sum of the two numbers preceding it and the ratio between each number is very close to the golden ratio.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man was named after ancient Roman architect and engineer, Vitruvian, who described the human form as the principal source of proportion. Much like Vitruvius’ studies and observations, da Vinci’s drawing codifies proportion based on studies of human figures. Both of them demonstrated the essential symmetry of the human body and reflects the proportional relationship of all living species.
The Golden Ratio
As explained above, the golden ratio is found by dividing a line into two parts so the longer part (a) divided by the smaller part (b) is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part. In equation form it looks like a/b = (a+b)/a = 1.618033988…
What makes this proportion so significant isn’t just its extensive use throughout Renaissance art and architecture, but that it often occurs in natural forms. You can see the Fibonacci sequence in flower petals, seed heads, pinecones, tree branches, shells, spiral galaxies, hurricanes, human fingers, and DNA molecules.
Drawing a rectangle and using the golden ratio for proportions creates the golden rectangle, which was used in a majority of ancient Greek architecture as a pleasing dimensional relationship between a building’s height, width, portico sizes, and column positions. You can see this in examples like the Parthenon, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Taj Mahal, and Stonehenge.
Renaissance artists and architects found the proportional relationship creates overall harmony and balance in painting, drawing, and construction. Beyond seeing it in Mona Lisa’s smile or the LCW chair, the golden ratio is often used (retrospectively) to explain why certain designs are so visually appealing.
There are pages that demonstrate how the Apple logo and iPod were both designed with the golden ratio in mind, but I think these are cases of fitting the evidence to the narrative rather than the other way around. Designers should remain conscious of how proportion plays a vital role in what we find visually harmonious and try to incorporate the golden ratio to get the design-ratio conspiracists excited about another example of maths explaining art.
Graphic Design Contrast
Contrast is when dissimilar elements or features – such as colour, tone, or shape – are juxtaposed against one another. By providing the eye noticeable differences, comparative relationships capture attention by highlighting juxtaposition.
Contrast often exaggerates visual differences between compositional elements and thus enhances the message, making it more immediate and understandable to audiences.
The primary challenge here is creating a composition from disparate elements that come together as an orchestrated whole. When you juxtapose size, direction, colour, texture, or shape, you can create emphasis as elements contrast and complement one another.
This is evident in our logo, where the serpentine curve of the ‘S’ is contrasted by the sharp angular line intersecting it. By using contrasting shapes, the elements complement each other to create a sense of balance.
Defined by Difference
Contrast stresses visual differences through juxtaposition, such as bright colours against dark colours, or tiny elements juxtaposed with massive elements. This creates visual interest and directs attention to focal points, thereby organising the hierarchical order of a visual message. Compositions lacking in contrast may create visual monotony, neutrality, and potential organisational confusion.
Opposing design elements used in a single design intensifies the visual effect of contrast and creates heightened engagement. To make my high school visual arts teacher proud, I’m going to offer you an example.
Chiaroscuro – Italian for ‘light-dark’ – is a classic technique characterised by strong tonal contrasts between light and dark. It is seen in the works of Caravaggio and Goya where figures are often draped in mysterious light coming from outside the frame, which creates sharp contrast between light and shadows, giving the figures a sense of three-dimensional volume.
While many artists, photographers, and cinematographers that use chiaroscuro often work in black and white (or neutral colour tones), the use of colour as a contrasting element can convey or emphasise difference. Contrasting shapes can also produce a similar effect as conventional shapes seem more conventional when non-conventional shapes are present in the same design.
Contrast can be use in obvious and subtle ways within a composition to clarify or strengthen the visual message of a design. It can also draw your audience’s attention to certain areas and affect the figure-ground relationship by maximising or minimising its visual dominance.
One great example of contrast used effectively is in the artwork of television series, Mad Men. The sharp use of minimalism design and high contrasting colours reflects the overall aesthetic of this homage of 1960s advertising. Set at a time when television was shifting from black-and-white to colour, the use of contrast demonstrates the excitement of this era and the commercialisation of design.
Visually striking differences capture attention easily and contrast is a useful resource in creating organisational hierarchy. Be more aware of how your colour choices, shape use, and other design elements look in comparison to one another; note how contrasting elements can create something bold and engaging for your next presentation design. Contrast has the dual purpose of highlighting difference while creating a sense of harmony and balance through that juxtaposition.
Graphic Design Light
In the fifth century, the Greeks recognised a direct link between the human eye and how we see objects. Earlier thinking was that there was a visual ‘fire’ or glow emanating from the human eye that allowed us to see. In the fourth century BCE, Aristotle rejected this premise by concluding ‘if vision were produced by means of a fire emitted by the eye, like the light emitted by a lantern, why then are we not able to see in the dark?’
In the history of fine arts, the visual representation of light has inspired generations of artists and designers. One only needs to consider the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Claude Monet, and George Seurat to understand how these visionaries captured and used light subtly, effectively, and meaningfully. In photography, the work of Ansel Adams and Robert Mapplethorpe provides the same insights.
Properties and characteristics
You can determine how light ultimately influences and affects two-dimensional design elements in any composition. For example, light can be illusory by overlapping a shape or form with colour, shade, tone, and texture, creating a sense of transparency or opacity. This graphic effect creates the appearance that light is coming through each of these elements, or it can be completely impermeable and prevent light from appearing through another shape or form.
Light can also create the illusion of a third dimension on a two-dimensional surface through the use of shadow. This is achieved by carefully determining where a light source is located above, below, behind, or beside compositional elements.
Light also assists with another design principle – contrast – allowing us to perceive a broad range of colours and tones from light to dark. In addition to creating the illusion of three-dimensionality, light is critical for creating the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional plane. It is an essential element in any three-dimensional space where there is a need to emphasise objects and forms, such as in a retail display or museum exhibition.
Light is also a critical and essential element, property, and dimension of colour, defined as a reflection and how we perceive the brightness of any colour within the spectrum. The amount of light in a colour has a direct connection to its amplitude, strength, and visual impact. Other visual effects, such as shadow and contrast, are visually perceived as varied light levels on a scale from light to dark.
The element of light is directly connected to other visual characteristics such as brilliance, chiaroscuro, fluorescence, gradient, luminosity, pearlescence, reflection, refraction, value, shade, tint, and tone.
Light provides you with the essential means to understand other visual elements, principles, and techniques such as colour, shape, form, movement, texture, perspective, shading, motion, visual acuity, and depth perception. It is a critical element of visual communications for obvious reasons. Without it, the phenomena of visual perception and understanding would not exist
Graphic Design Data Visualisation and Infographics
Infographics visualise data, condensing information and imagery into something more digestible
In the minds of people and computers – data is clutter. We amass countless amounts of it daily, Facebook steals and sells it without our consent, and entire enterprises and programs are dedicated to making sense (and profits) of it. As a result of its vast applications and complexity, conveying the meaning and significance of data to people can be challenging.
By giving a graphical representation of data through elements such as charts, maps, and graphs, information thus becomes more accessible, making it easier to understand trends, patterns, and outliers. The ability to comprehend mass amounts of data easily is becoming more important in this era of Big Data, machine learning, and automation.
While computers are taking a great deal of the hard work out of data analysis, industries still need ways of using data to demonstrate important business information – particularly in presentations to decision makers and investors.
In data visualisation, there are numerous diagram types used to convey information. The first type are flow diagrams which can be linear, closed loops, merge/divide, or parallel but not intersecting.
The next type is joining diagrams of either interlocking or overlapping shapes. After this are segment diagrams, which are generally named after pastries, such as donut and pie charts. Network diagrams are divided into ring (of connecting exterior shapes) and hub-and-spoke. The final type is stack diagrams (either vertical or horizontal).
Information as imagery
Infographics are one of the most accessible forms of data visualisation as they simplify and arrange data into an easily digested format that often highlights an overarching narrative. Infographics mean going from a data set to a visually striking (sometimes interactive) interpretation of data that makes the information easier to understand. There’s a wide of variety of infographic types to demonstrate different data sets:
Informational infographics are generally more text heavy, enhanced by the use of icons, shapes, colours and other visual elements to emphasise the words.
Timeline infographics depict a series of events or actions in chronological order. For example, a product’s development, historical trends, or a concept’s evolution over time. They use icons, images, and graphic elements to convey meaning. Timeline format can be vertical, horizontal, or winding. Vertical and winding are easier to read; while horizontal is better for posters, presentations, and environments without space constraints.
Charts infographics have a chart as the centrepiece of its data visualisation. Colours, shapes, and icons are used for emphasis and/or explanation. These are best for basic comparisons, such as populations of various cities.
Pie-Chart infographics’ focus object is a pie chart. This means they’re especially useful in showing the different components’ values of a complete item.
How-To infographics are used to show step-by-step procedures. They’re similar to timelines since each step is generally a logical consequence of the previous step.
Process infographics are similar to ‘how-to’ except they depict decision-making processes. They’re also referred to as decision trees or flow charts.
Comparison infographics highlights similarities and differences between two or more items, ideas, locations, events, actions, or individuals. By creating contrast, comparison infographics help identify pros and cons of one item in the context of an alternative.
Numerical infographics place emphasis on numbers (duh!?). Since numerical information is usually harder to digest, these infographics are useful for highlighting and interpreting raw data.
Resume infographics make a resume more visually appealing and help an applicant distinguish themselves from the pack. They’re a visual profile that depicts work experience, qualifications, and other credentials in a shorter and more visual format compared to standard (text-heavy) resumes.
Design and Colour Psychology
In many cases, colour is stronger than language. It is a subliminal way of speaking. This is because we associate strong meanings with colour. By taking advantage of those meanings, you can communicate your message more easily.
The parameters of colour psychology in PowerPoint
PowerPoint supports the RGB colour model. That is Red, Green, and Blue. Though they are built around only three colours, they can combine to create almost any colour.
RGB is the colour scheme used by most computer monitors and screens. Conversely, CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) is the colour scheme used for printing. Unfortunately, CMYK is not supported in PowerPoint.
Cultural colour association
Before we begin talking about colour psychology, it’s important to note that not every culture feels the same way about colours. We talked about this more in our article on how your PowerPoint presentation can overcome cultural borders, as it’s important to consider. For instance, white is associated with health and hospitals in Western cultures. However, white is the colour of death in Chinese cultures.
With this in mind, we must acknowledge that not everyone within a culture will share those associations. This leads to the most important point about colour psychology: it is largely individual. Those stories you see about blue boosting productivity aren’t backed by any hard science. All the same, there are a few fundamental rules for using colour in your presentations.
Harmony is something you should strive for in every element of your presentation design. Without harmonious colours, your presentation can either be chaotic or boring. To create colour harmony in your presentations, keep the following formulas in mind:
Analogous colour schemes
An analogous colour scheme uses three to five colours that sit side by side on a standard 12-wedged colour wheel:
Complementary colour schemes
These are colour schemes based on colours that sit directly opposite each other on a standard colour wheel.
There is an odd phenomenon wherein different colours have different “temperatures”. Specifically, all colours fall into two temperature categories:
These are the colours from purple to green in a standard colour wheel. These colours are considered “cool” because they tend to remind us of calming things like cool grass and clear skies.
These are the colours from red to yellow-green in your standard colour wheel. They are considered “warm” because they tend to remind us of things like fire and sunlight. Things that imply energy and activity.
Context is one of the most useful tools for making impressive presentations. It is also one of the most fundamental reasons for why we feel certain things from certain colours. For instance, nothing could be more calming than a blue sky. At the same time, nothing could be more repulsive than a blue hamburger.
Placing colours in context with other colours can create all kinds of interesting effects. For instance, placing a bright red against a cool colour can make that red feel less threatening. On top of that, you can draw attention to an important element by making it a different colour to the elements around it.
Colour Psychology in Branding, and Culture
When it comes to design, the easiest way to create a distinct and uniform visual theme for your brand is through colour scheme.
Certain colours or colour schemes almost become synonymous with brands based on the effect it has on audiences’ appreciation and memory.
The subliminal power of colour can often be stronger than language in conveying a message.
Depending on personal experiences and cultural significance, people have their own associations between colours and meaning. Some countries and cultures have differing associations for different colours.
To help you understand these general associations between colours and meaning, here’s a cheeky crash course in colour psychology…
Blue (Samsung, HP, Dell, Facebook, Volkswagen, Twitter, Oreo)
Blue is safest colour choice as it has many positive associations; in Europe and North America it represents trust, security, and authority, which is why police and various uniformed officials wear blue, often navy blue. It is also considered to be a calming and peaceful colour. However, it can also represent depression, loneliness, and sadness – thus the music genre, Rhythm & Blues.
Blue is also a historic omen for warding off evil that originated from the Ottoman Empire. Blue eye-shaped amulets called Nazars are used to protect from ‘the evil eye’ in Turkey, Greece, Iran, Afghanistan, Albania, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and other countries around the Mediterranean and northern Africa.
Green (BP, Greenpeace, Monster, Spotify, Android, John Deere)
We’ve discussed the colour green before; in the West, green represents luck, nature, freshness, spring, environmental consciousness, wealth, inexperience, and jealousy.
Green has traditionally been forbidden in parts of Indonesia as it is said to attract the water goddess Nyai Roro Kidul, who engulfs people wearing green into crashing waves.
In Mexico, green is a national colour – just check their national fútbol team – and it stands for independence. In the Middle East green represents fertility, luck, wealth, and it’s considered the traditional colour of Islam.
In Eastern cultures, green symbolises youth, fertility, and new life, but it can also mean infidelity. In China, green hats are traditionally worn by adulterous men and/or women depending on which folklore or dynasty you believe.
Red (Netflix, Coca Cola, Nintendo, Target, McDonalds, Virgin, Toyota)
In the West, red signifies danger, energy, excitement, action, passion, and love. It also has historical ties to communism and revolution. In Asian cultures, red symbolises luck, prosperity, joy, celebration, happiness, and longevity. Due to its auspiciousness, brides in Japan and India often wear red on their wedding day. In China, red envelopes containing money are given out during holidays and special occasions.
Red is also commonly known to enhance appetite, which is why it’s the main colour choice for food brands such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, Oporto, Nando’s, Nabisco, Heinz, and Kellogg’s.
Yellow (Subway, IMDB, National Geographic, Ferrari, Ikea, JB Hi-Fi, Schweppes)
In the West, yellow is associated with joy, cheer, happiness, hope, and warmth since it symbolises the colour of sunlight. Yellow has also been symbolic of caution (due to its high visibility), which is why many street signs are coloured yellow to capture attention. Historically yellow has also been used to denote cowardice (as in ‘yellow-bellied’). In Germany, yellow represents envy, while in Egypt, it conveys good fortune.
Orange (Nickelodeon, Fanta, Harley Davidson, Gatorade, Amazon, Penguin Books)
Orange symbolises autumn and warmth in Western cultures. In Hinduism, saffron (a soft orange colour) is considered sacred and auspicious, which is why Buddhist monks’ robes are often saffron coloured. In the Netherlands, orange is the colour of the Dutch royal family. In Colombia, orange represents sexuality and fertility. In Eastern cultures, orange symbolises love, good health and happiness.
Orange was Frank Sinatra’s favourite colour – he owned a private jet and Palm Springs compound, both of which were filled with orange accents and features inside and out. Most of the flooring and furnishings of his home were orange as was a large proportion of his clothing and cars. “Orange is the happiest colour,” said Old Blue Eyes.
Purple (Cadbury, Hallmark, Game, Ben Q, Instagram, Yahoo, Twitch, FedEx)
Purple is often associated with royalty, wealth, spirituality, and nobility around the world – which is why it was legendary musician Prince’s favourite colour. Catholics see purple as a colour of faith and penitence. In Japan, only the highest ranked Buddhist monks wear purple robes. In Brazil and Thailand purple is the colour of mourning and sorrow. The US military see purple as a colour of honour — the Purple Heart is given to soldiers injured in battle.
Black and White (Nike, Adidas, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Apple, Uber)
In Western cultures, white symbolises elegance, peace, and purity. Traditionally, brides wear white to reflect fidelity. However, in Asian countries such as China and Korea, white represents death and mourning, so it’s traditionally worn at funerals in these cultures.
In many cultures black represents sophistication and formality, but it can also symbolise death, evil, mourning, magic, bad luck, and mystery. In the Middle East black can represent both rebirth and mourning. In Africa it symbolises age, maturity, and masculinity.
Together, black and white can reflect old age (as in film and TV). Black and white also represents balance, sophistication, simplicity, and authority – thus many fashion and luxury use black and white.
The colours black and white also pair beautifully with metallic colours such as gold and silver. The simplicity of black and white matches nicely with metallic accents. Again, many luxury and fashion brands use gold or silver with black and white because of how striking metallic colours look on black or white backgrounds.
Fonts and Typography
A font is a graphical representation of text that may include a different typeface, point size, weight, colour, or design. It’s a critical element of graphic design, particularly in PowerPoint design where text is commonly used to reinforce points made.
Here are five must-follow font rules for PowerPoint.
1. Understand Availability
Before you even sit down to create a PowerPoint design, find out what type of equipment you’ll be using to make your presentation. Why? Not all computers and presentation devices have the same fonts loaded. If you use a font for your PP presentation that isn’t available on the machine you’re using, you’ll be forced to convert to a different font on the fly. That almost always spells disaster.
Thankfully, there are a few ways to avoid this. If you use fonts that you know are on the machine you’re presenting with, you’ll be good to go. You can also use web-safe fonts that are available on all computers. If you’re not sure what fonts will be available, you can embed your fonts in your presentation. This saves the font to your presentation so that it will display no matter the machine you use. Just remember that not all fonts can be embedded, so it’s important to test this early in your presentation design process.
A final option is to outline fonts in PP. When you outline fonts, they become shapes and can be displayed on any machine. Beware that outlining fonts means that you can’t edit text anymore, so only do so once your presentation is finished, proofread and otherwise ready to go.
2. Keep It Simple
As a rule of thumb, you should never use more than two or three fonts in one presentation. Using more than three fonts can be visually distracting and will undermine the cleanliness of your PowerPoint design. In addition to limiting the number of fonts you use, it’s also important to use fonts consistently. Choose set fonts for headings, general text and callouts. Stick to those fonts throughout the document.
3. Know Your Font Terminology
In order to choose the right fonts for a presentation design, you’ll need to know some basic font terminology. Understanding the basics of different font styles will guide you as you make typeface selections and will help you find fonts that work well together in a presentation too. There are four primary styles with which you should be familiar.
- Serif: Often considered traditional fonts, serif fonts have stylised ‘feet’ or decorative lines. Times New Roman is one of the most common serif fonts.
- Sans Serif: These fonts are so named because they don’t have the decorative lines associated with serif fonts. Sans-serif fonts are often considered cleaner and more modern than their serif counterpoints. Helvetica is one of the best-known sans-serif fonts in the world.
- Decorative/Display: These are the types of fonts you’d generally expect to see on a prominent sign or to draw attention to a headline in an advertorial. Common decorative fonts include Blackletter and Broadway. These fonts should be used sparingly in PowerPoint designs.
- Script: This font style mimics cursive or handwriting. Script fonts are generally used for headers and for decorative purposes. Brush Script is one example of this type of font.
4. Use Appropriate Fonts
It’s absolutely essential that the fonts you use are easy to read. In general, you should avoid italics unless they are used sparingly for emphasis. It’s also a good idea to avoid elaborate or cursive fonts that some audience members may be unable to make out. In terms of font colour, it’s generally best to stick with dark fonts on a light background. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule.
You should also be sure that the look of your fonts match your presentation and your audience. Every font has a personality, and you want to make sure that presentation fonts speak to your overall goals. For example, a pretty script might be appropriate for slide titles if you’re giving a presentation about an upscale restaurant concept. If you’re talking about something sleek and modern, though, you’ll be better served by a classic font such as Helvetica.
5. Master Font Marriage
Combining fonts successfully is an art. When it comes to PowerPoint design in particular, you need to make sure that the fonts throughout your presentation are complementary. You can read up on pairing fonts or borrow from existing designs that you love when it comes time to choose your own presentation fonts. Match the personalities of your fonts too.
Another great strategy for pairing typeface is to use fonts in the same typeface family. Font families share a name but have different attributes. For example, you’ve likely seen Arial, Arial Hebrew, Arial Rounded and Arial Light listed in your word processing program. These fonts have different characteristics but share the same basic structure, and they always play nicely together.
In general, you should also try to pair PowerPoint fonts in the same overarching styles. That means that you should avoid mixing serif and sans-serif fonts for body text. While it’s fine to use decorative or script choices for page titles, it’s best to avoid using them within your main text. These types of fonts can be difficult to read and simply don’t look good when placed side by side with standard sans-serif choices in body text.
You should also be sure that the look of your fonts match your presentation and your audience. Every font has a personality, and you want to make sure that presentation fonts speak to your overall goals. For example, a pretty script might be appropriate for slide titles if you’re giving a presentation about an upscale restaurant concept. If you’re talking about something sleek and modern, though, you’ll be better served by a classic font such as Helvetica.
Graphic Design and PowerPoint
Let’s take some of the principles from above and apply them to PowerPoint design, starting with infographics.
When designing infographics in PowerPoint it’s absolutely vital to have a plan first. Planning will help you understand the information you have and how to better display that knowledge to your audiences. Infographics are not just about sticking some words next to a picture – it’s about combining visuals and text together to enhance key messages.
What’s the purpose of creating the infographic?
Answering this question will help narrow down whether the infographic is supposed to compare and contrast, tell a story, show a trend, explain, educate or to entertain. Write down your purpose, aim, and take-home message to help you develop your infographic.
As another part of your planning stage, it would be valuable to look at some different resources to inspire the design and layout of the infographic. The planning process will determine the style, and the different ways you can design and display information.
Next you should collect assets. Infographics rely on visualisations to convey information and to engage audiences. The visuals that you choose need to complement one another and serve a functional purpose. Collect assets, such as icons, photos, and fonts, needed to develop your infographic. It’s not so important to think about design yet, but just to simply discover what you might need.
Now you’re read to design. This process will likely take up most of your time when creating your infographic. Depending on where you plan to display or distribute the infographic, choosing a layout design, colour scheme, and graphic style should be designed for your intended audience.
Before you begin sharing your infographic, it’s important to edit and have it reviewed by others. This is to ensure that the way you’ve designed and displayed information is clear and concise, and most importantly – that it makes sense.
Animate where necessary to help tell your story. Using PowerPoint, you can find simple inbuilt animations to help enhance the interactivity of your infographic.
Here are 7 tips to help you visualise data in PowerPoint.
Go monochrome with a highlight
Let’s say you’re making a pie chart. Start by picking two complementary but distinct colours. Now, give your most important slice the highlight colour. Dress the rest in different shades of the same colour. You should end up with something like this:
Trim your elements
Let’s compare two graphs we prepared earlier:
Both share exactly the same information. The right is just so choked with legends, lines, and text that it’s almost impossible to tell. However you decide to visualise data, you must make it minimal.
Highlight statistics with illustrations
If you have a standout statistic, don’t lump it in with the others. Make it stand out on its own. Bring attention to it with an appropriate illustration. Here’s one we think your eyes (and tastebuds) will agree with:
Guide eyes with lines
When you visualise data, you need to lead your viewer’s eyes along an easy path. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is by the use of guiding lines. We’ve included an example of this below:
Of course, this is a more obvious example. Guiding lines are usually a lot more subtle, as with this one:
As you can see, the low to high order of the data creates an invisible guideline.
Fade out unimportant data
Before you begin to visualise data, you need to determine the data you want to highlight. An excellent way to isolate that data is to fade out less important data. You can see an example of this in our pie graph below:
Bold your data
Playing with colour can be an excellent way to highlight your data. Unfortunately, brand guidelines and other restrictions can keep you from taking advantage of this. Thankfully, bolding is an excellent way to bring attention to important information. We illustrated this in our column graph below:
Animate important segments
This won’t be a viable solution for printed graphs, but it’s an excellent solution for presentations and online media. On top of that, it’s incredibly easy to achieve in PowerPoint. Just create your graph, duplicate your slide, edit the segment you want to highlight, then apply a simply morph transition. Here’s an example of what we mean:
Frame Building in PowerPoint
While there isn’t a specific command or button to simply add a border to a slide, there are some easy ways you can frame a slide or an object. The simplest way to create a border is by using the outline of a shape. However, if you’re using a background image, simply reduce the size of the image so its slightly smaller than the slide, now you’ve got a simple white frame than can easily be changed by changing the slide’s colour.
To add a frame using shape outline, hit the ‘Insert’ tab followed by the ‘Shapes’ button. Pick any shape from the choice of rectangles and then create a rectangle that fills the whole slide. If you don’t get the positioning right, you can always grab the shape’s handles and drag to resize.
Now you’ll need to eliminate the background colour from your rectangle by hitting the ‘Format’ tab, then ‘Shape Fill’ and clicking ‘No Fill’ from the drop-down menu. By default, your rectangle will have a thin frame, so you can increase its thickness by clicking ‘Shape Outline’ in the ‘Format’ tab and hitting ‘Weight’ from the drop-down menu. From here you can adjust the frames thickness to your preference or choose from ‘More Lines’ for other border options.
Another way to easily incorporate frames into your PowerPoint slideshow is through the ‘Photo Album’ feature, which you can find under the ‘Insert’ tab. This feature allows you to build a ready-made photo album simply by uploading images.
After you’ve clicked ‘New Photo Album’ from the drop-down menu, you’ll get a pop-up box like the one below.
From here, you simply inset images by clicking ‘File/Disk…’ button and uploading the images you would like to display.
Photo Album then offers you features such as the album layout and what frame shape you would like for you images. Choices include ‘Rectangle’, ‘Rounded Rectangle’, ‘Simple Frame’, ‘Compound Frame’, and more. While this is a quicker may to frame and display images, you’re very limited in how much you can customise your frame colour and style.
Grids in PowerPoint
Within presentation design, the grid can also assist in creating balance and cohesion. Borrowing elements from newspapers (and later news websites) we can still see grids help to presenters organise text and images. Whether with visible lines and blank space, grids help the eyes distinguish and different visual elements by putting words and pictures in balance through contrast.
Grids value in aligning design elements cannot be overstated. We’ve even built grid and guideline templates so you don’t have to struggle aligning text and images or ensuring they’re are in the same place across multiple slides. Grids help guarantee consistency, so why waste time building them from scratch?
You can select all of the objects you want on a slide by clicking on one of them, holding ‘Shift’, and then selecting the rest. In the menu click Arrange > Align or Distribute > chose the type of alignment you want. You can also choose Align Left, Align Right or Centre. For horizontal alignments, you can also choose Align Top, Middle, or Bottom.
If your objects aren’t evenly spaced from each other, choose Draw > Align or Distribute > Distribute Vertically or Horizontally. To make sure you have a good overview of your content and how it’s organized, select the Grid/ Gridlines/ Guides option in the View menu.
The key to incorporating grids into PowerPoint is to right click your slide, then ‘Grids and Guidelines’. This will bring up faint guidelines that objects will snap to when added, thus aligning perfectly each. From there hold CTRL, click, and drag those guidelines to create new ones.
Placing those guidelines into exact thirds can be a little difficult, but here’s a cheeky cheat code. Draw a line on one edge of the slide, hold CTRL click and drag that line, repeat three times with the fourth line on the other edge of the slide. Select all four lines, click the home tab, click arrange, and then click distribute horizontally.
With your lines now dividing the slide into exact thirds, align your guidelines along each of those drawn lines. Be sure to put these guidelines on your masterslide so you don’t accidentally move them during your design process. And voila… you now have an exact 3×3 grid to help your designs implement the sacred rule of thirds.
First you need to source imagery or inspiration for the visual elements and there is a process to choosing the right images for your presentation. Finding a fitting image generally means scouring free stock imagery websites and libraries. Try to avoid literal interpretations of your messaging – seek out images that adds emotional or narrative value for your presentation. Here are some of our favourite stock image sites.
Then you need to think about think like whether the image should flood fill or only cover part of the slide; whether the image should clash with or complement your colour scheme; also think of the placement of your text in relation to your image choices.
Next, you may need to think about cropping your imagery – either with autoshape or freeform depending on the style and shape of your image. There are also various formatting options that can be used to highlight your image such as sizing, positioning, and brightness.
The use of borders can also help to highlight images, so think about whether a border will help make you images pop as well as potential border colour choices and the weight/thickness of that border. This ‘snapshot treatment’ is particularly useful when images cannot be enlarged enough, backgrounds can’t be removed, or you’re including several images on a single slide.
When it comes to image usage, one key thing to remember is that imagery that touches at least three sides of the slide tends to look better. Also, isolated imagery can be great for making slides look less busy and cluttered.
Imagery can used in three ways within slideshows – as a background behind text; as a supplement to text; or as the primary focus of a slide.
When using as a background, it’s useful to tweak the transparency on include a colour overlay to dull out the image a little and bring focus on the text. If using as a supplement to the text, the image should complement the text rather than distract.
If imagery is the focal point of the slide, ensure the resolution is right, the colours don’t wash out any overlayed text, and your image choice supports your overall presentation. Using imagery as the primary focus tends to create greater impact and viewer retention.
Images transform dull information into something more digestible and engaging. It’s the reason data visualisation is easier to read than Excel spreadsheets. But remember to use high quality and relevant images, otherwise it’s just pretty pictures serving zero purpose.
Hand-Drawn PowerPoint Effects
These simple effects had me messing around with different images for hours. Basically, any image you insert into your PowerPoint can have a host of different ‘Artistic effects’ added to them to create all kinds of different looks.
The pencil grayscale and pencil sketch create some really eye-catching effects, especially when converting different colour tones. Play around with these effects, particularly the scaling on pencil size and pressure, to find the hand-drawn effect that suits your presentation.
Image > Format > Effects > Artistic effect > pencil grayscale / sketch
When trying to mess around with auto-shapes, the above method works if you first save the shape as an image. However, if you just insert the shape and then edit its line, one of the pull-down menus is ‘sketched style’, which offers several options including ‘freehand’ and ‘scribble’. Both these effects give a hand-drawn quality to the shape’s outline and tweaking the weight of line changes the appearance from a pencil-like to heavy marker.
Shape > Format > Line > Solid line > sketched style > freehand / scribble
Please note, using a heavy outline helps to highlight the effect. Also, setting ‘Line Format / Join Type’ to ‘Bevel’ rounds out the corners of shapes to give a more naturally drawn look.
Surprisingly, ‘sketch’ effect isn’t available for line, so the easiest way around this is by using the ‘Freeform’ tool to draw a line, which you can then apply ‘sketch’ effect or event create an arrow with ‘open arrow’.
‘Sketch’ effect won’t work on shapes without an outline, but you can set the outline colour to match the fill in order to create the ‘sketch’ effect of a hand-drawn object without an outline. If you apply the ‘line format/sketch’ effect to a filled object, the fill shape may not match the outline. To ensure fill and outline align, add the fill after the ‘sketch’ effect.
You’ll notice that copying-and-pasting any shape with a ‘sketch’ effect for the outline, it will look exactly the same, which is a little counter-intuitive to creating a uniquely hand-drawn look – there needs to be mild variation. To create differing ‘sketch’ outlines, you need to apply the effect on each copy.
Free Hand-Drawn Fonts
There’s something about hand-written fonts that make them warmer and more human than other typefaces. Even if people can see its typed lettering, the illusion of hand written helps create some intimacy, some personal connection.
There are the classic fonts like Brisa and Ink Free, but some other favourite freebies I found floating around include Fair Prosper, Wild Youth, Tragic Marker (bonus points for the creative name), Rock Salt, Marck Script, and Kristi.
Hand-written and -drawn designs resonate with audiences because they tap into something primal. Their imperfections offer a human-like quality that can simulate the look of hand-crafted fonts, images, and designs. It’s also a cheat code for using less-than-perfect pictures – you can easily transform a low-resolution image into a ‘hand-drawn’ picture that still captures the essence of what’s being displayed without looking pixelated.
Hand-drawn effects can really warm up an informal setting or even be suitable if your brand is trying to seem casual and relatable. It wouldn’t seem entirely professional using these effects for a pitch deck or formal presentation, but it adds something fun and playful to any PowerPoint design.