6 Presentation Design Dos and Don'ts

April 7, 2014

Great presentation design can be difficult to master because it requires the coordination of many elements, including colors, fonts, images, icons and background. While there are a lot of pieces to the presentation design puzzle, don’t be overwhelmed. Let the design principle of “less is more” guide your presentation design choices to keep your slides uncluttered.

Not sure where to begin? Follow these design dos and don'ts to make sure your presentation is minimal, harmonious and clear.

1. Background Images

Avoid: A bold, multi-colored, and patterned background with text on top. This will make your text hard to read, and consequently you will lose the audience’s attention.

Instead Do This: Patterns can be a great addition to your presentation when used correctly. Use a light, subtle pattern in the background so that your text is readable. If you want a bolder background, be sure to place a solid shape over it to separate your text from the background design.

2. Text Alignment

Avoid: Center-aligning all of your text and images. This is particularly true when large chunks of text are center-aligned, which can be chaotic and difficult to read.

Instead Do This: Only align some of your text in the center.  Move the supporting text to the left side for a more balanced look.

3. Font Size

Avoid: Making all of the text on a slide the same size. Some points of your presentation are more important than others. Your presentation should be designed in a way that emphasizes the most important parts of your message. If you make all the text on your slides 12-point, the audience will not know where to focus their attention.

Instead Do This: If you must have a lot of text on a slide, make the most important words larger than the other words on the slide. This simple technique ensures that the audience connects to the most valuable information first before moving on to the supporting content.

4. Shadowing

Avoid: Drop shadows on all of your text. Some people use drop shadows on their text to make it stand out. However, when you use thin, dark type on a white background, the text looks blurry and dirty.

Instead Do This: If you are going to use drop shadow on text, only use it on the header and never in the body. Also consider using a dark background with white bold text, which will help your text “pop.”

5. Photos & Images

Avoid: Low resolution images. Simply put, they make it look like you don’t care. Low-resolution images may look decent in the outline version of your presentation, but we promise it will be blurry when projected or viewed in full screen mode. Also, low-resolution images are often taken from the Internet without purchasing rights to use them. Stealing images is illegal and can also damage your credibility as a presenter.

Instead Do This: Only use images that are in the size range of 1000 pixels. If you have an image between 300 to 500 pixels, keep it small on the slide so that it stays the right size. The same rule applies to icons and illustrations. High-resolution images, icons, and illustrations can be purchased from a variety of reputable sites on the internet, including ThinkStock and Can Stock Photo.

6. Typeface

Avoid: Crazy typeface. If you choose Curls or Comic Sans for your presentation, not only will you not be taken as seriously, but it will be hard to read your text. Pick something simpler. You can still have a fun presentation without using a “fun” font.

Instead Do This: When choosing a typeface, pick something that has multiple weights. For example, select a font that includes bold, regular, light, and medium variations. This way you can have multiple effects with the same face and still be consistent. Also, a simpler face will reduce the likelihood it will clash with your backgrounds and images.

Great slide design should aim for three goals: readability, simplicity and enjoyability. Be sure to review your presentation to ensure it isn’t committing any of these design sins.

READ MORE: Design Tactics to Take Your Deck From Good to Great

About the Author

Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki.

If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University. Find Scott on Google+.