This is a guest post by Mike Parkinson. Mike is an internationally recognized visual communication and presentation expert, trainer, and award-winning author. Over the last 22 years, he created thousands of presentations that results in improved success rates for his clients. He owns a creative services firm, 24 Hour Company, authored a successful visual communication book (Do-It-Yourself Billion Dollar Graphics), and launched Get My Graphic that helps consultants, organizations and agencies achieve their training, education and sales goals with visual communication and proven communication techniques. Contact Mike at [email protected].
Change is inevitable. Over the last decade, the presentations we produce, the tools and processes we use, and the industry have evolved. Specifically, presentation graphics and methods for making them are changing. As with all change, some will stay with us (the Internet) and others are merely a fad (pet rocks). The following are current presentation design trends:
- Flat Design
- Visual Metaphors
Let’s determine if they are here to stay.
The ubiquity of infographics has spilled into the presentation industry. It is important to note that the strictest definition of an infographic is any graphic that clarifies or explains. Recently, the term infographic has become synonymous with a specific style of graphic (and not a definition), rendered as an aesthetically simple and flat image using quantitative data to educate and persuade.
A successful infographic requires its content and messages to be clear and concise so the final graphic is simple and easy to follow. Unfortunately, many presentation infographics I have seen are cluttered and confusing. The message is unclear and text has been replaced with a smattering of ambiguous icons and symbols.
Use infographics sparingly in your presentations. Do them well or don’t do them at all. Start with a simple message. All content must support this message. Use icons your audience will recognize. Images should complement and highlight your content and not distract or muddle your idea. Infographics work best when quantitative evidence tells a clear, compelling story. The push to get to the point and provide (quantitative and qualitative) proof is here to stay. However, the current infographic style is a trend. As with all aesthetic trends, it will evolve over time.
2. Flat Design
Flat design is seen as the modern graphic style due to the popularity of small electronic devices. To improve content legibility on hand-held devices, artistic embellishments such as highlights, depth, and shadows were eliminated.
The opposite of flat design is realism (skeuomorphism).
Both styles have pros and cons. For example, flat graphics are associated with newer design; therefore, applying this style subconsciously conveys the message that your company and solution are modern and innovative. Because of its plainness, flat design is often less expensive and time-consuming to produce. On the other hand, flat design can oversimplify or under explain critical pieces of information. Flat graphics limit aesthetic choices, making it difficult to highlight important or subtle concepts. Skeuomorphism can communicate the authenticity of your solution. Because realistic visuals are often considered more labor intensive and superior than simple designs, using this style can improve the perceived quality of your company and solution as well as demonstrate your commitment to the project.
There is a time and a place for both flat and realistic graphics. With a skilled designer, you can mix both into one template to reap the benefits of each style. For example, you could use flat icons with realistic graphics within your slide deck. Be sure that your decision to choose flat and/or realistic graphics is driven by objective goals (e.g., legibility, customer perception/preference, messaging, or brand standards).
It is common to see a slide with a single photograph and minimal—if any—text. Using a single image to reinforce or replace content places more emphasis on emotional factors. Less textual content (e.g., bullets, sentences, paragraphs) also forces audiences to turn their attention to the presenter.
Dominant photographs are here to stay for three reasons:
- Focus is on the presenter to provide the narrative.
- Pictures tell stories. Stories are one of the most powerful presentation techniques because stories are felt not heard.
- It is a relatively inexpensive, easy approach to slide design.
The style of the photographs, placement and cropping will evolve with stylistic trends of the time. (Because this aesthetic approach does not work well for technical information, expect related slides to be text and graphic-based.)
4. Visual Metaphors
Using a visual metaphor, simile or analogy helps the audience understand complex information. For example, explaining a transition plan to an audience unfamiliar with the concept can be challenging. A visual metaphor, such as a bridge, improves understanding because it is a familiar concept that shares characteristics with a transition plan (see graphic below). Explaining a complex idea through a visual will improve retention and adoption rates.
Popular books like Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational help presenters apply behavioral psychology and learning theory to evolve best practices in our industry. We will see more sophisticated visual metaphors, similes and analogies as presentation design matures.
Because they are stylistic trends, expect the popularity of infographics and flat design to wane over time. However, these graphic styles will continue to influence future presentation trends.
Presenters will continue to use sophisticated photographs, images, icons, and graphics. Sites like Get My Graphic (http://www.getmygraphic.com), Fotolia (http://fotolia.com) and iStockPhoto (http://www.istockphoto.com) make it easier to add professional clear, compelling graphics and photographs to slides. The more these approaches are proven effective, the more presenters will employ them to create successful presentations.
What presentation design trends are you seeing these days? In your opinion, which will stay and which will pass?
What’s your definition of technical information?
Great article! Well written and explained. I just wanted to share the use of some of Mike’s amazing graphics (see flat design vs. realism (skeuomorphism)–in my company’s latest video (FYI, I tossed the cubes, Mike! ;).
Keep up the great work.
Rachel, for the purpose of this article, “technical” information is defined as SPECIFIC content (e.g., quantitative data, enterprise architecture) that cannot be misunderstood (without impeding the purpose of the slide). The opposite of “technical” information is “general” information. There are times when a photograph communicates specific information (e.g., maps) but, for the most part, a single photograph is not enough to clarify or explain specific information (e.g., a process). Is that helpful? 🙂
Thanks, Greg! 🙂
Hi Rachel. “Technical” information is specific (e.g., quantitative data, step-by-step digital process). Photographs are often used to communicate “general” information (e.g., an idea, characteristics). Photos can absolutely communicate technical information yet it is relatively rare that a single image can communicate specific information. A combination of text, graphics, and photographs are usually used when sharing technical information. Does that help? 🙂
Yes Mike, thanks.
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