Jim Confalone, is a partner and creative director with ProPoint Graphics and is responsible for production operations. With a fine arts background, he got his start as a designer leading the graphics department at a boutique management consulting firm in Boston, Massachussetts. Prior to ProPoint, he also worked as a web, Flash, and graphic designer in the New York area. Mr. Confalone holds an MFA with Honors in Painting and Printmaking from the Rhode Island School of Design and a BA Summa Cum Laude in Fine Arts from Amherst College.
In this conversation, Jim talks about presentation design and his clients.
Geetesh: How does presentation design for platforms like PowerPoint differ from conventional design for the web or print?
Jim: Platforms like PowerPoint and Keynote provide a unique set of requirements for designers due to the inherent variability in presenting itself. Some basic questions that help drive design are:
- Is the presentation automated or attended?
- Will it be shown on an LCD or projection?
- How large is the venue?
- Will the lights be on or off?
Ideally, designers should be forewarned and prepared for these variables before starting work so they can adjust their tactics appropriately.
It’s also important to recognize that PowerPoint presentations are generally intended to complement and support a live speaker. In contrast, print and web collateral are user-driven experiences that have relatively controllable requirements (e.g. a website must display properly in certain browsers, a print file must be designed in CMYK at a resolution suitable for printing, etc).
Because most live PowerPoint presentations appear in conjunction with a speaker, the designer can weed out much of the text-based content that would be redundant to what the speaker is saying. The focus should be more about distilling the speaker’s most important information and presenting it in a way that is easy to understand, adhering to the presenter’s brand, and generally avoiding unnecessary bells and whistles. You’re not designing to show off your technical prowess. Your job is to reinforce the message and brand as strongly and clearly as you possibly can. Less is absolutely more. A great example is Steve Jobs. If you watch him present, you’ll see that there is absolutely nothing extraneous to his pitches. No bullets, excessive text, needless animations, or gratuitous effects. Everything that appears on screen is finely tuned to augment his spoken message.
On a practical level, the designer must create a presentation that is flexible enough to work in a number of scenarios. For instance, the text to background contrast must be high enough that the viewer can read the content in a lit room or on a suboptimal projector. Fonts should be legible from the back of the presentation venue. Again, clarity rules. If the audience can’t see the information, the presentation is working against you.
Geetesh: Can you share some info about the type of projects and clients you work with?
Jim: ProPoint Graphics works with an extraordinarily broad range of clients. From large Fortune 500 household names to small startups, our clients come to us from virtually all industries. One reason for this is that no matter what your company does, at some point you will need to present something to somebody. Whether for a non-profit looking for funding, a CEO speaking before his board, or a supplier introducing a new product, the presentation is ubiquitous.
As far as the type of work we do, ProPoint has really made its name with a strong emphasis on high end graphic design. While our staff is completely fluent in PowerPoint, they are first and foremost great designers. When putting together a presentation we use design applications such as Photoshop and Illustrator as much as PowerPoint. It’s fairly easy to find good design shops or PowerPoint production centers, but there aren’t many companies with our particular hybrid focus.
As a result, we get a large number of sales and marketing presentations. Our clients are looking to differentiate themselves from their competitors who might be presenting a more traditional PowerPoint deck. Whether pitching an idea, product, or even yourself, you need to stand out. Your audience must walk away with a memorable impression of your message and your brand. A presentation with a good, clean, well thought out design coupled with clear and concise content will go a long way toward that end.