So how good are my slides?

By January 6, 2011Powerpoint

A few months ago I was sent a link to AttentionWizard.com which is a brilliant tool for usability testing of websites. What it does is create heat-maps of your page designs to make sure the bits that should stand out are standing out. It also draws a path of how it thinks the average ‘eye’ would read the page. From this insight, you can very easily see if there are any glaring errors in your design. These are their words to describe the process they go through:

‘AttentionWizard uses advanced software algorithms to simulate visual perception and attention. It is a combination of “bottom-up” visual system building blocks and “top-down” higher cognitive processes such as object recognition. Bottom-up features considered include: color differences, contrast , density, brightness and intensity, edges and intersections, length and width, curves and line orientations. Top-down algorithms recognize larger letters and text, skin texture, and human faces.’

Around the same time I discovered AttentionWizard, I was also reading ‘Don’t Make me Think’ by Steve Krug. A lot of what Steve says in his book about making websites easy to navigate, using pre-established conventions and familiar visual language all hold true when creating your slides. What I didn’t do at the time was make the same link between what AttentionWizard does and presentation design.

It occurred to me yesterday that the things that AttentionWizard looks for are the exact same things we do as presentation designers to make our content stand out. Why not test slide designs on AttentionWizard to see i’m are making a difference. As I already have them to hand, I thought i’d test the slide I created yesterday for the previous post. Here are the results:

This is the first slide – pretty much straight out of the box as Powerpoint would create it using a standard chart template. I have no idea what the message of this slide is, but it’s something to do with product sales. I would say that 90% of the slides I receive from my clients look something like this:

As you’d expect, the eye has moved all over the image trying to decipher what’s important. What you can’t see from this small thumbnail are the numbers which show where the path of the eye starts and ends – it starts at ‘2003’, flows all over the screen and then ends up on ‘Product B’ in the key. What you can see is that the eye totally ignores the one line that is important to the message in this case, which is the purple line ‘Product D’.

Next i’ve tried the slide that has been designed with getting message across in mind. Here it’s all about focusing on Product D and the numbers that go with it.

I’m pretty happy with the results, all the main points have been focussed on whilst the detail has been ignored. Next up, the same general design, but using a slightly harder font to process for the important numbers.

An even better result this time with the 2 key numbers being the main focus. As I have no idea what the algorithm actually measures, it’s more likely that AttentionWizard is focussing on the numbers because they are in a bolder / stronger font than before rather than the fact it’s a more fancy font. Perhaps they could incorporate this new idea into future updates.

Finally I thought i’d test the last one which was an attempt to take it a step further by making the big numbers harder to read by changing the colour / outline.

Very similar results to slide 2 with the big numbers being ignored. With hindsight, using a pale blue grad was probably pushing it too far in terms of ‘making the brain work harder to decipher the important message’. I think it certainly warrants some more experimentation, trying different combinations of colour and font style.

As a designer we’re always working within one set of rules or another, most of the time it’s using a template that’s been designed by a brand agency who are experts at creating stunning brands, but don’t have a clue on how to prepare speaker support. They usually can’t use Powerpoint properly either, but i’ll save that for another rant! The real difficulty is going to be to convince your clients to ignore these expensive brand guidelines and templates they’ve had drawn up and to create their content with the sole idea of communicating clearly. I think the more proof we have as content designers, the stronger case we have when we face the inevitable objections from the ‘brand police’. The ultimate argument when faced with these objections is ‘If I could give you an edge over your competition when pitching your ideas, would you take it?’ Of course, the answer is always ‘yes’.  With tools like this we can prove ‘the edge’,  and there is always the risk that your competition are using the same tools and techniques and you’re not – who has the edge then?

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