Paying attention to the design of a presentation is essential not only because it makes a presentation nicer, but also more functional. Effective design helps your audience better understand your message.
And again, simplicity plays a big role. Like in the preparation phase—where you need to be ruthless in eliminating anything that doesn't contribute to communicating your story—in the design phase, elimination of the unnecessary is also key.
Randy Nelson, director of the Teaching Faculty of Apple University (founded by Steve Jobs), teaches his class Communicating at Apple by often referring to an art work by Picasso: the Bull.
This work of art is a series of 11 lithographs of a bull that Picasso created in 1945. To start the series he drew a realistic bull, with a snout, a tail, hooves and so on. Then he went through a series of iterations where he kept subtracting details to a point where only the essential elements were visible. The last image “reduces the bull to a simple outline which is so carefully considered through the progressive development of each image, that it captures the absolute essence of the creature in as concise an image as possible”. (Here a detailed analysis of The Bull).
It is no coincidence that the design of Apple products is minimal and this is the case because they always try to capture the essence of an idea in a product that is simple and intuitive. When Steve Jobs presented Apple’s new remote control in 2005, all the standard remote controls available on the market had more than forty buttons. Apple brought one with just six buttons: to go back and forth, to turn the volume up or down, to press play or pause and to select the menu. That's it.
This idea of simplicity is not only important in product design, but also in presentation design. Designing by subtraction is key. One of the mantras we should remind ourselves of is suggested by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince: “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
The before/after slides below are a vivid example of how an effective design can improve data display. The slide on the left is too complicated: there are several unnecessary elements that don't add any value to the message we’re communicating. What are the slide number, date and map near the graph for? The slide on the right shows the absolute essence of the message. Anything that doesn’t contribute to communicating the message behind the data has been removed.
If you want to learn more about how to make better presentations, download my report Top 7 Mistakes People Make When Creating Business Presentations.