Fundamental Principles of Presentation Design: Differentiation (Part 2)

Part one of our advanced presentation design series tackled arrangement; or how the layout of each slide helps increase the overall impact of the presentation. In case you missed it, part one tackled how the arrangement of the elements in presentation design (through alignment and proximity) influences how the audience understands and retains information.

Here in part two, we will learn the concept of differentiation and how it plays a part in providing the dramatic climax necessary to keep your audience attentive and engaged by highlighting certain aspects of your presentation.

Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR)

If a design element doesn’t contribute to the slide as a whole, don’t use it!

Signal-to-noise ratio or SNR is a term that refers to the ratio of relevant information to irrelevant information. In other words, it is a measure of how much useful information there is in a system in proportion to the entirety of its content. Applying the notion of SNR in presentation design simply means: de-clutter your design! You need to rid your presentation of unnecessary lines, symbols, shapes — and irrelevant design elements in general. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery famously said: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”


If it doesn’t contribute to your message, then take it out! There is absolutely no reason at all to add more elements to an already effective slide. Practice restraint and know when not to fill up your slide. This will help your audience focus on the information that you want them to focus on, help them differentiate between what is relevant and what isn’t.

However, not all “non-essential” elements decrease a slide’s efficiency. Although less is more, if your slide has a relevant background image that doesn’t interfere with your data (e.g. if is properly contrasted), then keeping it might be an option. It may sound contradictory, but, the main idea is to learn to find the balance between what works and what doesn’t. A good rule of thumb is to eliminate the need for “extra ink”: 3D visual elements require more ink, so simplify visual elements by using 2D ones, for example.



Whether you are aware of it or not, our mind is constantly in search for similarities and differences. As a presenter, you must take advantage of this by guiding your audience into thinking of your core message and not by giving them a vague slide with the possibility of multiple interpretations.

Every single design – color, line, texture, size, space, positioning, shape, and typeface – may be used to create contrast; thus, becoming a powerful tool that instantaneously highlights any idea. Remember, you can never stand out if you’re not brave enough to speak out. Let your visuals speak volumes.

The only problem that most have with this is unintentional contrasting, wherein designers mistakenly provide two distinct contrasts; misleading the audience into thinking which among the two, or three, is most important.


Your audience should automatically know where to begin and what to look at. This can easily be done by changing font sizes, adjusting positioning, or even marking the start point with a symbol (the most obvious being an arrow).

Of course, the bigger the font, the higher the importance of what is being written. The closer an object is to the center, the more attention it will receive. If an object is placed at the bottom, it will likewise be given less importance compared to an object situated on the top of a slide. Just remember to establish clear goals on what you want to focus on and you’ll never run into any problems with applying this principle. Don’t forget to apply the principles of arrangement in presentation design to clarify the hierarchy of information on a given slide.


So, what do you do about all of these principles? Keep these stuck to your whiteboard or wall, or wherever you work and remember each and every one of them before you plan and design your slides.

What’s important to remember is to stick to your core message and remove anything that isn’t relevant to it. It’s as simple as that. If you want to emphasize it, then add contrast.


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