Fundamental Principles of Presentation Design: Arrangement (Part 1)

After talking about presentation design basics, let us now move on to the more technical aspects of design. In this post, we are going to talk about arrangement as part one of our advanced presentation design series.

Design has always been misunderstood as something that is done in the latter stages of preparing for a presentation. It is most commonly seen as a mere form of decoration with the goal of attempting to make slides more appealing and entertaining—the icing on the cake, so to speak. But good presentation design brings so much than decoration. When used to complement content or the presenter, good presentation design can increase the impact of presentations.

With this in mind, presentation design thus needs to be taken into consideration from the very beginning, enabling it to guide how the audience interprets the message. Design is in the heart of planning, in the organizing and sorting out phase of your storyboard. Although there are elements of art in design, it is not merely a tool to invoke random emotions. Presentation design is never without any functionality.

Visual arrangement is about achieving a sense of unity and balance throughout your presentation design. It is about utilizing the visual elements of your design to complement your message and your presenter. In order to integrate arrangement in your presentation design, there are two key concepts that you need to keep in mind:

Alignment

One of the basic tenets of photography composition is “the rule of thirds”. It involves breaking an image down into thirds both horizontally and vertically, leaving you a grid with 9 parts. The idea is that if you place the subject at a point of intersection, it balances out the photo and allows the viewer to interact with it in a more natural way, as studies have shown that people’s eyes tend to go to one of the points of intersection more naturally as opposed to the center of the shot.

Tic Tac Toe
The encircled corners of the center box are where your picture should be anchored. They are your “power points.”

Just imagine a tic-tac-toe board – avoid the center box, but use its corners as an anchor point for your subject. As a general guideline, use any kind of grid to help you align all of the elements of your slide (3-, 4-, or 5-column grid; i.e. the Fibonacci grid). This will you help guide your audience’s understanding of your presentation by directing their attention to specific points of interest on each slide.

Presentation design
Notice how each slide is structurally similar. The grids allow a framework to keep all of your elements aligned.

Source: Duarte, N. (2008). slide:ology:  The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations.

However, elements need not be symmetrical (balanced on both sides of a vertically centered axis) to be aligned. Although this allows more stability or balance, it creates less open spaces (or white space, which will be discussed in the second part of this discussion). If you want to open up your slide and make it more dynamic, then you might benefit from an asymmetrical design.

Proximity

The concept of proximity here isn’t limited to the physical proximity of visual elements in presentation design. It involves a deeper connection in meaning. If something is conceptually related to another thing, it should be visually related as well. Going back to the planning phase of presentation basics, you’ll see that this principle is rooted right in the beginning, in that presentation design affects the organization and presentation of ideas. If you’ve organized your thoughts meaningfully, you won’t have any trouble figuring out how to present your data effectively.

Similar items should be grouped together not only for a more organized look, but also to facilitate comprehension. More often than not, if elements are not positioned near one another, they are assumed to be unrelated from one another. Organization of information increases retention rate as it allows the audience to filter our the irrelevant information and focus on what matters — that is, if the presentation design enables them to.

Proximity before        VS

Proximity after

Pro tip: Do you use bullet points to group your thoughts? No matter what rule you use, whether it is the 4×4, 6×6, or 7×7 (lines x words/line), keep in mind that what’s good on paper isn’t necessarily effective on the big screen. So, use bullet points only after you’ve considered all possible options.

This concludes the first part of the Advanced Presentation Design series. The second part of this mini-series will be on the principle of repetition and how you can effectively use your branding strategy.

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