Nice arrows

Nice arrows

See below how you can shape arrows in PowerPoint. Most people don't really pay attention to the way their arrows look, but it can make a huge difference to the professional look of a chart. This is even more important when you need multiple arrows on a chart, make sure their proportions are all the same.

You can change the shape of an arrow in PowerPoint by dragging the little yellow dots that I have circled in the image.

Pitch one liners

Pitch one liners

TechCrunch posted a list of contestants at the latest  Y Combinator demo day, and you can learn from the one-liners that describe the company. A few words capture the essence of a pitch and instantly makes it clear what the company does, and even more importantly, teases you to find out more about a potentially interesting idea. 

No buzzwords, filler words, no hype. See how the headlines use concepts that we already know, often brands of established companies. This is a quick memory short cut for a story that would have taken 30 minutes to explain to someone in 1995 who never heard of Palantir.

Voodoo Manufacturing – A robotic 3D printing factory
Volt Health – An electrical stimulation medical device
Terark – Making databases faster
Wright Electric – Boeing for electric airplanes
Speak – AI english tutor
NanoNets – A machine learning API
Scribe – Automating sales development representatives
Breaker – Making podcasts a real business
Bitrise – Automated build/test/deploy for mobile apps
Fibo – Mobile work tracking for construction teams
Paragon One – Career coaching from real professionals
Tress – A social community for black women’s hairstyles
Bicycle AI – Automated AI customer support
Vize Software – Self-Serve Palantir
Simple Habit – Netflix for meditation
Snappr – On-demand pro photographers
IQBoxy – Software that replaces human bookkeepers
Beek – Book review site for Latin America
Bulk MRO – Industrial supplies for India
Soomgo – Thumbtack for South Korea
Cartcam – Shopping app for the Snapchat generation
Peer5 – P2P Serverless CDN
Pit.ai – Automatically mining trading strategies
SmartAlto – Software suite for commercial real estate
XIX.ai – Predictive assistant that anticipates your needs
Zestful – Employee activities as a subscription service
Arthena – Art investing for everyone
Mednet – Stack Overflow for oncologists
Penny – A mobile personal finance coach
Moneytis – The cheapest way to send money abroad
Hogaru – Cleaning for SMBs in Latin America
Bulletin – WeWork for retail space
Sycamore – Onboarding drivers for on-demand jobs
Aella Credit – Consumer and low-income lending platform
Tolemi – Software to help cities find distressed properties
Niles – Conversational wiki for business
Upcall – Outbound calls as a service
KidPass – One pass for “amazing activities for kids”
Lively – Modern healthcare savings account (HSA)
Indigo Fair – Amazon for local retailers
Collectly – Stripe for medical debt collection
Tetra – Automatic notes for business meetings
FloydHub – Heroku for deep learning
ACLU – A non-profit you might know


Image via WikiPedia

"Do something basic, it does not have to be great"

"Do something basic, it does not have to be great"

"I know you are busy, but this is really urgent, I we are on a very tight budget: do something really quick, it does not have to be great, pretty, beautiful"

A warning to all freelance designers don't fall into this trap.:

  • Your client says it does not want quality, but will for sure be disappointed when she receives the work. Secretly she hoped that you would not stick to the bargain and put in the extra hours to come up with a decent product
  • Your basic, not so good, quick work, will still go out there, it will be passed on, other people will see it, and the poor quality will boomerang back to you.
  • You have crossed the "I am a quick fixer for hire" mental threshold. The mindset of the freelancer should always be, how can I be more valuable, and as a result charge more for my work, rather than less. It should be a one-way door, never go back.
  • If you accept this short term work,  you might have to drop a potentially interesting client a few days later because of it. Opportunity cost of time.
  • Clients who are willing to compromise quality are probably not the best clients to work for.

Another often used argument is "we will do the design, you just focus on the story". Things go quiet when you actually send over a deck full of boxes and placeholders that is ready to go into the design process.

The only real reason I find it hard to say "no" is not cash, it is admitting that I cannot help everyone with raising money or getting that crucial client. But I learned from the few times when I said "yes" and should not have.


Image via WikiPedia

Presentation half life

Presentation half life

Presentations go stale over time. Watch your slides. You might not see it, the audience will. 

  • PowerPoint 2010 fonts, colors
  • Out of date logos (of your company, but also customers, competitors, partners)
  • Inconsistent formatting between pages
  • Analogies to over-used, old, example companies ($1 dollar shave club, MySpace, etc. etc.)
  • Growing slides: company history, company events, customer logo overviews, every year another column gets added and the others get squeezed

But what I most often see is that the founder still pitches her deck the same way she got her seed funding (with success). A few years on, the company has moved on, and the investor concerns have moved on. Yes, the technology is still great, but you don't need to convince anyone that that is the case. But what about that traction with customers?

Designer state of mind

Designer state of mind

Creative jobs are different from managerial jobs. I started noticing the difference when transitioning from being a management consultant to a presentation designer. It especially obvious with being sick. As a consultant, I could usually function pretty much normal with the help of some coffee until drastic body feedback such as fever or a splitting headache prevented you from going any further.

With design work it is different. You notice that something is "not right" in your head 1-2 days before the onset of other symptoms. You can't come up with any good ideas, or you can't focus on your creative work and decide to do the monthly accounting. So, sometimes after these 1-2 days, I do actually develop symptoms, or things disappear while others in close proximity do get sick. 


Image from WikiPedia

A quick call with SlideMagic feedback?

A quick call with SlideMagic feedback?

I am crunching the stats in the SlideMagic user database and singling out individuals with whom I would like to have a short call to talk about their experience with SlideMagic. At this stage, qualitative input is what I value most, quantitative surveys are being ignored and hide what is really going on. I have many options and ideas to take the app further, but I realize that dazzling technology is probably not what it takes to change the presentation culture in corporates. Input welcome!

If I did not approach you and have a clear opinion, feel free to reach out via contact at slidemagic dot com.

Design in Tech Report 2017

Design in Tech Report 2017

I participated in the survey for the 2017 Design in Tech Report by John Maeda. It is full of interesting facts and figures about the state of design.

One insight that resonated with my is the design education gap. Aspiring designers get zero education in business or engineering when studying for their degree. My presentation design business is the direct result of this.

 

As I blogged, earlier, the design itself of the document is also interesting. It is a consulting-style deck with lots of information and facts, meant more for reading than a stand up presentation. This is a document format that is probably the most common in business today.

  • Some elements are similar to the ones you can use in my presentation app SlideMagic. Grey colors with only one strong accent color. The use of 16:9 to extend slides with a full-text "explanation box"
  • Good use of typography: titles, subtitles, text, quotes (the latter surrounded with lots of white space)
  • The font is nice and elegant, but will make the document not very readable on old VGA projects and/or monitors. You see in the SlideShare rendering that things start to go wrong. This is the reason I went for a heavier font in SlideMagic.

Anyway, this document is a good reminder to look at when you look at your own PowerPoint doc. Why does yours look bad, and John's look good?

Common SlideMagic mistakes

Common SlideMagic mistakes

My presentation app SlideMagic will make life easier for every amateur designer. Still a few common mistakes sneak in that are hard to prevent with software. Most of them are related to the balance of typography on a page. Making sure that boxes contain roughly the same amount of text, and that signs are nicely balanced. See the examples below.

OK, some more thoughts on the BBC interview video

OK, some more thoughts on the BBC interview video

You have probably seen the video of the interrupted BBC expert interview. More and more meetings, interviews, and even regular calls now involve video. It can be a planned webinar, or a Skype call whether the other side all of a sudden, hey, let's switch on the video.

First of all the handling of the situation. If your toddler marches in there is basically no point in keeping a straight face, trying to push the distraction away like it is an annoying insect. Apologize, pick the child up, and close the door. But it is best to prevent getting into these situations beforehand...

You see how distracting backgrounds can be. The way you positioned your work desk is almost never the best position for a camera. The best background for video calls are completely blank ones (a white wall), or completely cluttered ones a full book shelf for example. As soon as there are individual items (loose books, a gadget, other objects, the mind of the audience starts to wander of.

Adjust your attire to the environment you are in. Being fully suited up in a home office at night does not look natural. No, pajamas or sweat pants does not work either, but something in between would work better. 

IMG_2664.jpg

 

In short, be prepared for everything. In my case, it is my canine office friend who always comes up with a surprise...

Paul Ryan's PowerPoint

Paul Ryan's PowerPoint

This is unusual, a politician doing a PowerPoint in front of the press. You can see his full presentation here.

Here are a few observations:

  • The slide design is actually OK: consistent, good use of color, balanced, not a spectacular TED talk, but still a lot better than your average corporate bullet point deck
  • The screen is too small
  • He is a pretty good and confident presenter
  • Het gets the start wrong. A super technical summary slide with what they are going to do, without having presented the logic of why they want to do it. I think most people switch of in the first minute (See some reactions here). 
  • Later on, things get better. But it is almost as if the slides are holding him back. First he presents a statistic or a quote, turning towards the slide, then he steps away from the screen and explains what it actually means. And it is here where he does a pretty good job.

I watched about 10 minutes of the presentation. The key change I would have made, is to change the framing of the presentation. Leaving my own political views aside, if I were trying to make the case for a script, it would: "Hey, from the outside Obamacare looks pretty good, because of 1, 2, 3. BUT, people are missing a few problems 1, 2, 3,. Our plan offers the best alternative. And here is all the technical, legal stuff we are going to do to make it happen. 

A new SlideMagic user interface

A new SlideMagic user interface

We just deployed a new, more minimalist user interface for presentation app SlideMagic. Have a look!. Some of the things that have changed over the past weeks:

  • Simpler menus: a very short set of tabs on the left side to help you switch between the application modes
  • A more intuitive approach to the slide clipboard where you can import single slides or entire decks
  • Smart insertion of rows and columns in the grid: new rows/columns will now copy color/layout settings from their neighbors

Let me know what you think.

The trouble with 16:9

The trouble with 16:9

This tweet by a highly competent designer flashed by:

It is work in progress on a presentation. You see what direction he is taking: the big headline on the left, rather than across the slide, and a paragraph of very small text.

I think this might be a format that many presentations will use:

  • More and more display devices are now wide screen (which is a great format for movies)
  • Headlines that stretch all across very wide screens are unreadable.
  • The best visual compositions / layouts are not very wide ones
  • Increasingly, we use presentations to send beforehand, without actual presenting/verbal explanation, hence the need for explanatory text

In my presentation app SlideMagic, I stuck to the 4:3 aspect ratio for slides, enabling you to put the headline across the slide, and added an optional slide out panel for plain text that turns the 4:3 composition into a 16:9 one.

What freelancers should watch out for in NDAs

What freelancers should watch out for in NDAs

I know this blog has a big audience of fellow freelance designers. Here is my attitude towards NDAs, non-disclosure agreements, that many clients want me to sign.

NDAs especially come up in conversations with long-distance clients. In the absence of face to face meetings, people are looking for reassurance that the other person is OK. As the project gets underway, trust starts to build and NDAs are usually not brought up anymore.

VCs typically do not sign NDAs, and they see a lot of competing companies, share documents freely internally among partners, and probably forget in coffee chats where they heard what exactly, and whether it is confidential or not. But, they have a position of power: meeting with NDA, or no meeting, you pick.

Sometimes there are actually valid reasons for having an NDA in place. If you file for a provisional patent and your "art" was out there without NDA protection, you cannot claim your status as inventor anymore. Startups might want to prove to their investors that their IP is really theirs, and some obscure subcontractor cannot claim it later. Big corporations might have very strict policies for sensitive financial information.

I am not sure how many NDAs actually ended up in court. It is a big hassle, expensive, and usually there is not much to collect from an independent freelancer. The biggest cost to a freelancer is actually reputation. So maybe the threat in an NDA should not be confiscation of all your assets, but a 20 second television ad with your name being shamed on prime TV: that is pretty much the end of your freelance career.

So what to watch out for:

  • Sign NDAs only when there is an actual project. Ask your prospective client to enable you to write a project proposal without seeing confidential information. Most of the times you don't need it. Or use a video conference with screen sharing instead of having emailed documents that sit on your hard drive.
  • The most important advice: sign NDAs that are capped in time, usually for a couple of years. As a designer you sign a lot of these, and you don't want open ended legal exposure by the time you retire and you have all forgotten about past agreements. Yes, that means that you are legally free to publish all your confidential client work on the Internet after 3 years, but 1) the information will be outdated by then and of little value, and 2) your reputation as a designer is pretty much done when you do that. Watch out for sneaky clauses that say that things like that the obligations in this contract survive the termination date, or this contract last until you give formal notice. You will forget, so if you cannot get this paragraph out, give formal notice that you end the contract in 2 months the moment you sign it.
  • I don't sign non-competes. Confidentiality is protected by the NDA, so there is no need for another layer of protection. Definitions of what makes a competitor are vague, and it becomes impossible to trace and remember who you can work for or not. 
  • Most NDAs are written for a software developer full of clauses that are not relevant for a presentation designer, insist on taking the useless stuff out. "Hey, it is not relevant for you anyway, so what is the problem signing it?" Make that: "It is not relevant, so let's take it out".
  • Part of the above is IP, intellectual property. Yes, if you are a software developer for hire, you need to sign over the inventions you make to your client. But as a designer, you could interpret that a clause that prevents you from re-using the IP means that you cannot use the concept for a chart (not the content) for another client. Nobody will sue you, but still.
  • Make sure that there are no things you have to remember in the contract. For example a requirement to complete wipe your hard drive and burn any document you received might easily be forgotten, which puts you in breach of contract. Instead, add to the clause that you will do all of this, if the company asks you to do it. Nobody ever has in my case.
  • Check the jurisdiction. If both you and your client are in Tel Aviv, it is expensive and complicated to use NY state law.

So, here you. The most important advice, insist on the time cap. Even in case you signed something bad, it will all be gone after a few years.

What the template says about you

What the template says about you

These food packaging make overs illustrate what is wrong with many of today's presentation templates: they make you look like you are "that kind of company". But remember, the hipster customer segment is likely to be a lot smaller than the mass market. Think about your audience, and whom you want to look like. 

A bit of this, a bit of that

A bit of this, a bit of that

The company positioning can be ambiguous, especially for startups. Things are constantly moving. The environment is changing. The team is learning. Users give feedback. So, Board documents show options, subtle adjustments ("we are going to be a bit more B2B").

Investor presentations can contain some of that ambiguity. "Some" shows that you are not holding on to a sinking ship, open to change, constantly re-evaluating. Total indecision will of course show the opposite.

In customer presentations however, things should be crystal clear and sharp. A customer presentation can only have one positioning, one company story. The decision to get to a position can be hard, the execution into a sales presentation is straightforward: pick your story and pitch it without ambiguity. Changing your positioning, means overhauling your customer presentation completely, not adding a few charts.


Image via WikiPedia

Learn slide design from Teletext

Learn slide design from Teletext

In The Netherlands the old Teletext system is still up and running online. Now ported to the web and mobile apps, the 1970s clunky graphics are still there. Its designs fits 2017 actually very well:

  • Simple but consistently applied fonts and colors create a recognizable visual identity and make things clutter, distraction free and clear
  • Text space limits are really credible, so content writers need to make sure that everything fits in. The result: well-written headlines, and clear paragraphs.
  • A 3-digit menu system that is remarkably effective to get to what you want to know quickly.

Today's presentations and web sites can learn a lot from that old UI.

What does the client logo list say?

What does the client logo list say?

It takes some time for a startup to get traction with major clients. Putting a logo grid slide in your pitch deck can say a number of things, and a smart investor will figure it out in 2 minutes:

  • These major global brands have put our solution on their mission-critical systems
  • These are companies you have never heard of, but believe they have all paid $500k for our product and are processing 500m transactions through it
  • These 15 major clients are using our product, but nobody is paying for it
  • We have done 3 really successful pilots with these local companies and they can testify that our technology is flawless
  • My uncle knows someone at this global brand and he has started a dialogue with them about using the product.
  • "That small logo with the Hebrew letters down there in the corner? Good question. That is the Israeli military that has deployed our firewall software on all their servers"
  • Apple, Google, Facebook, Porsche? Yes, we spotted these domains in incoming traffic to our landing page for our SAAS product.

A logo list on its own is not enough to tell your story.

Now that we are on the subject of logos. It can be tricky to create a nice logo grid where all the images line up correctly. My presentation design app SlideMagic makes doing that very easy. It is not possible, not to line up the logos correctly...

Ethics and the freelancer

Ethics and the freelancer

Many of my clients are concerned about confidentiality when we start working for the first time together. Especially after I ask them for the company financials, cap table, and product development timeline, all essential ingredients for an investor presentation.

Some clients require signing an NDA. Unlike VCs, I sign them if they are capped in time, and do not contain non-competes. But many clients, actually don't bother. Here is why your secrets might be safer with a 1-person freelance organization than a larger company:

  • The cost of a data breach is much higher. Even the slightest hint of an ethical issue will put me out of business. For big companies, it is a legal issue that can be dealt with in dollars. But, this is hardly ever going to be an existential issue.
  • One person firms are better at controlling information flow than large companies with lots of different departments, with lots of different subcontractors in lots of different locations.
  • Good freelancers probably have a 100% full work pipeline, and select work based on the interest or creative challenge rather than a need to fill the empty capacity of a bank of designers waiting for work downstairs. As soon as a prospective client really gets interested (wink, wink) in knowing more about the specifics of the work you did for a competitor, it is a good sign to walk out of the room.
  • A free lancer works directly with the client, so the eye-to-eye handshake is a personal contract signed with your consciousness. You are not wondering whether you violate a contract, but whether you are breaking someone's trust.

Image by We are Neo on Flickr

Not every competitor analysis is a 2x2

Not every competitor analysis is a 2x2

Most competitive analyses I see are plots of logos on some sort of 2x2 with the company in question sitting firmly and lonely in the top right corner. You have to think about whether this is the right framework to use though for your specific situation though.

The 2x2 is the sister of the Venn diagram. All other competitors have 1 of 2 things, and you have both, the best of both worlds.

But, maybe in your industry there are 3, or 4 things that matter, not 2. In that case use a simple feature table. Or, maybe it boils down to just 1 thing: a bar chart with cost per hour can do the trick.

If you are struggling to find the right graph, you can try the following. Write down the list of competitors, and jot down in very short words, why they are inferior. Take a new piece of paper and group competitors that are similar together. Try to find common descriptors (not real time, not location-specific etc. etc.). Draw a first table. Re-draw the table with competitor rows (groups) and descriptor columns so that the "Y" and "N" marks form cohesive blocks. Group descriptors together if they are the same. Repeat this process a number of times. Then make the descriptors positive and invert the "Y" and "N"s if you have to.

You can do this on whiteboards, with yellow stickers, but I somehow prefer to blast through a lot of paper while doing this.

The standard slide insertion templates of my presentation app SlideMagic contain a lot of frameworks for competitive analysis: yes, a 2x2 or a 3x3, but also tables and even a Venn-like diagram (a slightly boxy one).


Image via WikiPedia (GIF alert)