Fun with PowerPoint: Conversation with Simon Newlyn

Created: Saturday, May 1, 2010, posted by at 6:05 am

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Simon NewlynSimon Newlyn is a PowerPoint artisan. Based in London, he works for advertising, design and public relations agencies as well as for direct clients through PRojects. His PowerPoint experience therefore brings him into contact with a wide range of styles and presentation needs and for fun… Simon has animated the London tube map! In this conversation, Simon talks about having fun using PowerPoint.

Geetesh: We constantly use PowerPoint to create business presentations – but every designer creates some slides for fun that they normally don’t share with the world – tell us about your PowerPoint fun projects.

Simon: Creating non commercial or work related projects is a great way to learn more about PowerPoint. Starting with a blank slide and experimenting, without time and budget constraints creates a great sense of freedom and more importantly leads to discovery of actions and ideas that you might apply to a formal project — knowing how to do it.

My first fun project came about when I was standing on a London tube station platform looking at a giant tube map, on the wall, on the other side of the tracks. As I waited for the train I wondered if I could somehow animate this famous map first designed in 1931 by Harry Beck who was paid around five pounds for his work! Beck’s original map design is reproduced below.

Beck's Original London Tube Map
Beck’s original London tube map (click on map to see a larger version)

At first I started to draw colored lines — to represent each track — and tried to animate a small image of a red tube train moving along just above the lines. This worked OK until you came to a bend when my train appeared to cut across each corner in a straight line!

After a while, and after I had started to put in some station names I realized that the line; the tube train image and station name was just too much information – it needed to be simplified. (This is, of course, the golden rule we should apply to charts and diagrams in PowerPoint!) My ‘Eureka’ moment came when I took the image of the tube out and used the actual colored line as a symbolic train with the station names appearing just as the line goes past. Again this was a great way to experiment with necessary animation and took a lot of ‘fiddling’ to get it to work by bringing in each line over the three map slides that it uses to play the whole animation.

Having got the animation to work, I thought that it needed a further dimension and so introduced sound. The file contains three sound files. The first is the rumble of a tube train and this plays as a background sound across the whole presentation. The second sound is the announcement: “This is Tottenham Court Road. Change here for the Northern line” and the final sound is a recording of the safety warning and the title of the project – Mind The Gap. As each of these last two sounds play, the train ( the symbolic line) stops and then moves on (like a real train) after the announcement has played.

This is the ironic bit: the background sound is not the London tube but a library recording of a train running across the New York subway. The other two sounds I went out with a dictaphone and just stood on the platform and inside a carriage and recorded them. (Today, with greater levels of security in operation in London I would probably be stopped – as I have been for just taking photographs!)

Finally the grey grid lines helped to provide a scale for the whole project but as you will note on the top left hand corner of the last slide (Stations: High Street Kensington to Kensington (Olympia)) I introduced a real bend in the line as a new element but this fades in over the grid line! I’ve left it in. Mistakes do happen when you’re having fun!

Top Of The Pops

My second project is, in a way, far more complex and perhaps political. While there is only one soundtrack, the animation tries to tell a story. In this case it’s about the end of a very famous TV program called Top Of The Pops which was being taken off air after 42 years (1964 – 2006) of continuous broadcasting.

While the program format had probably become dated, it was still very popular and emotionally people objected to the BBC’s decision to stop broadcasting the show. Also in 2006 Tony Blair had one more year to run as Prime Minister before stepping down in 2007. By this time many people were getting tired (as they do!) of the same old political agenda , clichés and ideas that just take us round in circles but always cost us more in tax.

Against this UK background, I decided to create a tribute to Top Of The Pops that, I think, reflected a mood amongst the population at large at that time.

To start this project I based a series of animated slides on the 1998 logo for the program.

The actual 1998 logo for the program

Having selected a dance track by SASH!: Encore Une Fois (this reached No 2 in the UK charts), I then tried to ‘dance’ or march the logo across the slides, stopping briefly to introduce two political comments (Blair and a famous shot of his deputy John Prescott) which I think demonstrates a certain attitude – we don’t really care anymore – or at least the attitude understood by people on the street.

Top Of The Pops -- PowerPoint Animation
Shows the animation used to dance the logo across the slide (click on map to see a larger version)

The actual animation was a matter of trial and error but the logo formed a natural grid that once I had moved one part I then needed to move all the other parts to form the whole logo. As for the speed of animation this was obviously set at fast and very fast to keep pace with the energetic music.

To observe copyright the music has been left out of this presentation but Simon suggests that you run it with SASH! Encore Une Fois playing (loudly) in the background

In the end the BBC took the program off but, as we go into the 2010 election in the UK, all politicians and organizations are acutely aware that pubic opinion matters with the public demanding greater transparency. I like to think that the twist on the BBC name, at the end of the presentation, is something the BBC now takes into account before chopping programs.

WOW did I really mean to get this heavy? Well PowerPoint gets a lot of knocks from Angela R. Garbers famous ‘Death by PowerPoint’ to ‘PowerPoint Hell’ so I’m only trying to add a little edge to a much misunderstood program by the communications glitterati!

Geetesh: I see that you sync sound a lot with your slide events – what makes you want to play with synced sound in PowerPoint, especially since this is such a challenging task?

Simon: Because it’s a challenge! Sound control in PowerPoint is what I would call basic. Insert sound, adjust volume, run over X number of slides. That’s it. If you want Flash type control then you have to, at the moment, opt for alternative software.

That said I have made several presentations with a number of different sounds running across specific slides. The key to getting this right is to plan what you want to do in advance. For example, you might want a short piece of commentary to run over a specific animation. Then record the commentary in paragraphs and be prepared to adjust the animation speed to match the length of the commentary always remembering that you do not want this to be either too fast or slow!

Remember that you can embed WAV files which help if you are going to pass the presentation around. But…. and there’s always a but… do test your presentation first. And as complex animations can run at slightly different speeds on different computers do try and test your work on the actual computer that is going to be used for the presentation.

And the final question is: Did I learn anything from these projects? And the answer is: Yes. It helped me to work on a series of promotional presentations for Canon which incorporated stop/start animations and individual sound files explaining various printer benefits. We not only had to do it in English but also in Russian…now …that was FUN. Is it worth playing around in PowerPoint? Yes. I bet that you will soon learn something new that you would not have discovered if you just work on formal projects.

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