Recently, I worked with a client who was presenting to millennials. He wanted the design to look modern. His designer told him that he should use thin fonts, meaning that the font stroke is thin. He asked me to consult with him on the overall impression of the slides.
I thought I’d share with you 10 guidelines for making your presentation look modern that came out of this process. You don’t need to be presenting to millennials to want your slides to look modern — no one wants to look out of date.
Even if you aren’t a designer, you can create better looking slides with a little attention. Nothing here is hard to do.
On the other hand, “modern” is only one style. Always consider your audience and the type of impression you want to make. Maybe you’re an investment bank and want to look traditional. Maybe you teach quilting and want to look retro.
Most importantly, your design should match your message. A presentation on how to be calm and get enough rest should look different from a presentation about how to hustle to get more business.
So, here are 10 tips for modern design for your presentations.
1. Use a thin, sans-serif font
Thin fonts are popular now. You’ve probably seen the change on websites and on your phone. There’s a reason that you’re seeing thinner fonts on your phone. With the increased use of mobile phones, which have small screens, all aspects of design need to take up as little space as possible. Unfortunately, this sometimes comes at the cost of legibility. For a presentation, test your font at the back of the room and consider the needs of people who are older.
Here you see a few of the fonts that come with Windows 10. You can see how some are thinner than others. Remember that the weight of the line (stroke) and the width of the letters are two different attributes. You can counteract a thin line by choosing a font with wider letters. Century Gothic is a good example.
2. Use thin borders and lines
The “thin” principle applies to borders and lines, too. If you have a border around an image, make it thin. If you use a rectangle, make its outline thin. This will appear more elegant–and modern.
You don’t need to make EVERY line thin. You can use exceptions for contrast and to attract attention.
3. Use a flat design
Flat design is in. It wasn’t always so! In 2011, I wrote a couple of posts about how to create the Web 2.0 look in PowerPoint here and here. Then, reflections and highlights were all the rage. You still see them in presentations, but they don’t look as modern anymore.
Flat design means no reflections, highlights, or shadows, which give a 3D look. Shadows are still used quite a bit — I use them fairly often. But they aren’t part of flat design.
Popularized partly by the Microsoft Windows desktop, which features a grid of icon, the grid look is an example of flat design. I wrote a blog post about how to create one variation here.
4. Use richer, mid-range colors
I’m certainly not an expert on color, but faded colors are less likely to look modern. They look great in some cases, but you’ll see more of the richer, saturated, complex colors plus grays and taupes. You’ll see lots of exceptions and I don’t suggest that you go out and rebrand because of this, but if you’re starting out from scratch, ask a good designer what colors will look more up to date.
5. Use lots of white space
White space means unused space. Of course, if your slide background is black, the unused space won’t be white, but you get the point.
Filling up your slides with lots of stuff won’t look modern. Less is more. Think minimalist. Remember that the more you put on your slides, the less people pay attention to you.
One exception is a full-slide image, which leads me to the next point.
6. Use large images
Small images tend to look old-fashioned and larger images are more bold and powerful. Images should be relevant to your point and not just for decoration. Their point is to help the audience understand and remember what you’ve said– and sometimes to be persuasive.
Not sure which images to use? I explain my BARE system for choosing the right images here.
7. Place some images against the edges of the slides
Putting images against the edges of the slides makes them look more modern. I think it’s because when you put an image in the middle of a slide, that creates 4 edges but when you put an image against the edges of a slide, you don’t see those image edges as an extra element.
I call this the 3-side rule and I explain it here.
I once worked with an attorney who was defending a doctor. He wanted to show that the doctor had modern equipment and offices. I showed him how putting the photos of the office against the edges of the slides made them look more modern. That’s a good example of how you can use design to match your message.
8. Use clean icons
Remember the ugly clip art of the 1980s? Not modern! But a new trend is icons, but they’re clearer and cleaner. By clean, I mean they don’t have a lot of extraneous lines in them.
Compare the 2 columns of icons shown here. The ones on the left have lots of extra lines while the ones on the right have a minimum number of lines. Do you see how the ones on the right look more modern?
I got these from Stockunlimited, which also offers photos.
9. Minimize text
When you have a lot of text on your slides, people read the slides. While they’re reading, they can’t easily listen to you. In fact, your voice is annoying because it’s interfering with them reading. People hate this. It’s not hard to divide up one text-heavy slide into multiple slides.
But it isn’t only text. You don’t want your slides to be full of charts either. Put one chart on a slide (unless you need to compare data) and simplify charts as much as possible so that the point leaps out at the audience.
Use the Tell ‘n’ ShowSM method. Tell the point in your slide title and show it with an image, chart, or diagram. It’s just like the boy’s picture book–one side tells the story and the other shows it with a BIG picture. The slide itself follows the Tell ‘n’ ShowSM method, too, with a title that tells the point and an image that shows it.
10. Just say no to bullet points
I know that you sometimes need some text on a slide, but after removing as much as possible (remember that you don’t need to put everything you say on the slide), try to find a way to remove bullet points. Bullets look boring and old-fashioned.
Sometimes, you can just select the text and click the Bullets button on the Home tab to get rid of them, but if that’s too confusing, use SmartArt. Click the Convert to SmartArt button and choose a layout that is simple and makes your text clear. It will look more modern!
Read more about modern design for 2017
I’ve asked some other presentation bloggers to blog about this topic to create a “blog roundup.” So please visit these posts and leave a comment there. Tell them that you found them at EllenFinkelstein.com. Each person has a totally different perspective; I know you’ll find these interesting–and you’ll learn a lot, too.
From Mike Parkinson, Contextualized Content in Presentations
From Ken Molay, Modern Design is Killing Differentiation
From Craig Hadden, 3 secrets that make your slides look modern for 2017
From Troy Chollar, Modern Design in 2017
From Anuj Malhotra of SlideTeam, 17 Presentation Design Trends To Look Out For In 2017
From George Torok, Modern Presentation Design?
From Taylor Croonquist, 4 Clicks Towards Good Slide Design
From Gabrielle Reed, Why Visuals Matter for Engaging Millennial Audiences
From Lia Barnakova, Paint 3D: Going 3D With Your Designs in 2017
From Thomas Reyes-Cairo, 10 Top Graphic Design Tips for Beginners
What do you think makes a slide look modern?
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