Vacation picture evening!

Vacation picture evening!

You remember those evenings in the 1980s, where a family would invite you to come and see their vacation snaps that they put on the 35mm slide carrousel in a dark living room. Sixty minutes of “then we did this, then this happened, then that projected on the wall with the art replica temporarily removed.

The host family had great fun and finally could use the equipment they had bought 6 months ago. The guests, less so. For them, the images were not linked to actual experiences and memories, a picture of a car with a flat tire, is well, a picture of a flat tire.

It is always good to take a step back and asking yourself whether you are inviting your colleagues to this type of event when you update them about the status of your project.

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

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2 years in 2 minutes

2 years in 2 minutes

In case you have not seen the 2-minute speech of the New Zealand prime minister:

Obviously, the objective of this speech is not to get you to remember all the stats, it is 2 minutes of one message: “I did a lot’. It is very effective though, and she must have gone through several practice runs to get the take right.

Now; if you take the same information load, allocate 45 minutes of time, improvise the delivery, and replace the flashing words by full-length bullet points, you get a more common update presentation. Which one do you prefer?

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Printing presentations in 2019

Printing presentations in 2019

I don’t think many people are still printing presentations in 2019. The one exception: bankers pitching to institutional investors. The latter still like to flip along (or ahead) with the presentation and make notes in the margin.

Still, I want SlideMagic 2.0 to be fully rounded app, so I start the work on its print function. Printing is often ignored by many application development frameworks. The feature is not that important, it is tricky to develop and get right, but it has to be done.

A positive side effect is that I am coming up with a better way to convert presentations to PDF without the need to rely on open source libraries, and I can soon support conversions as a parallel process that no longer will block the main application process (something that can be annoying especially if you used large images).

(Beta testers can get around the current lack of the print feature by converting to PowerPoint or PDF and then print in those apps).

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

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Bar versus column charts

Bar versus column charts

Sparked by this tweet:

My guideline:

  • Columns to show trends over time. The shape mimics that of a line chart, you don’t need much space for the column labels (usually years, or months)

  • Columns for breakdowns. More horizontal space for complicated labels, and a stacked column is a more natural format than stacked bars.

  • Bars to rank things. The shape mimics a “top 10” top to bottom list, and you can make more space for labels that usually describe things

In this case: bars are better than columns.

Photo by Sophie on Unsplash

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Back to Helvetica

Back to Helvetica

SlideMagic slides always looked a bit different because of the Roboto Condensed font. A recognisable style, plus a narrow font that can hold a lot of text on one line. In the latest update for beta testers, I am putting Helvetica/Arial back as the default, making Roboto a second choice.

Screenshot 2019-11-04 10.09.38.png

I see many users using SlideMagic as a starting point for a conversion to PowerPoint, as most of their colleagues have (yet) no idea with SlideMagic is. SlideMagic files with Roboto in them will gave unpredictable results for users who do not know how to install custom fonts on their machine.

Usability is #1. Hence, the switch, but with an option to fall back on Roboto that can get saved as your default font in the settings tab of the app.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

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Starting a brand overhaul (once again)

Starting a brand overhaul (once again)

Slowly, slowly, I am starting up overhaul my website and branding once more. The custom presentation design business site has been taken down, marketing for SlideMagic 1.0 has been hidden in a menu, and I started to display a landing page for SlideMagic 2.0.

Sunsetting 2 businesses on which you have worked for years (even more than a decade) feels a bit strange, I remember worrying about SEO and other things, while I am now switching off the whole thing in one click.

All to make space for 2.0.

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Auto-update is working again

Auto-update is working again

The update server is back up, now with improved security. Beta testers will have version 2.1.17 installed automatically, with bug fixes and improved stability.

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Auto-update temporarily closed

Auto-update temporarily closed

I am beefing up the security and code protection of SlideMagic 2.0, and have temporarily taken down the automatic update server. Beta testers who want to get their hands on the latest version should log in with their account at cloud.slidemagic.com/beta and download the latest version manually. I am working hard to get everything back up soon.

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...And more app updates

...And more app updates

Screenshot 2019-10-30 16.18.11.png

I am focusing on increasing the template database and in the process encounter more ways to make working with SlideMagic faster, and slides prettier. After the past days:

  • Various bug fixes, and code cleanups. I can now laugh at some of the code I wrote at the very beginning of this project, what was I thinking…

  • A proper way to deal with text overflow in boxes, things look professional now when font sizes are getting to big

  • The grid bars now light up when you select shapes

  • A allowed bolding of text with CTRL-CMD B, unlike bullet points, I think this actually does add something to the slide (not yet reflected in PowerPoint and PDF conversions, I might have to write a text block parser to make this happen).

  • Building on bold text, I made the overall font thinner

  • And I added slide subtitles as a fixed feature to each slide template.

To be continued

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App update

App update

SlideMagic 2.0 beta users will have their app updated over the coming days with a few tweaks and improvements, mostly the result of me now using the app in earnest for the expansion of the template database.

  • I gave up on insisting that you cannot change the layout of the title page of the presentation. Page 1 still looks like it did before out of the box, but you can now change it, delete it, move it, like any other slide in the presentation. Whatever you do to it, the design will be 100% consistent with the other slides in the deck though. Page one is important to brand your presentation, and I was imposing too many restrictions on my users. The side effect of this is that removing the need to distinguish between page 1 and regular pages I could simplify the app code massively (= deleting many, many lines of code). Legacy SlideMagic 1.0 presentations will be converted automatically.

  • I removed the ability to edit slide titles in story mode. Initially I thought it would be a useful way to edit headlines of your slides all together. Now in use, I found that it actually confuses the story user interface.

  • I perfected drag and drop of slides, now also across multiple presentation windows (something that is hard to do in browser-based applications such as Google Slides). As result the clipboard in story view was no longer needed. You can now also drag, copy, delete, move slides in the small thumbnail strip at the side of the main edit screen. There is still work to do here (dragging multiple slides for example)

  • I implemented right-click context menus throughout the presentation, enabling me to declutter the user interface by removing icons that are no longer needed.

  • Popup menus enable you to work with very fine grids now, as I no longer need to render lots of icons.

  • Popups also solve user interface conflicts between drawing connector arrows and combining/splitting shapes

To be continued.

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I got the vanishing point wrong all the time...

I got the vanishing point wrong all the time...

They key concept in drawing in perspective is the vanishing point: every line in your slide should disappear in it (see an earlier blog post). It turns out I got the concept slightly wrong all the time. Because of the curve in the Earth’s surface, the real vanishing point for someone standing at sea level is actually below the horizon. A vanishing point that sits on the horizon, would require the radius of the Earth to be 64x as large. (For comparison, the Sun as a radius about 109x that of Earth.

Vanishing point at a planet with a radius 64x that of Earth

Vanishing point at a planet with a radius 64x that of Earth

The accurate vanishing point

The accurate vanishing point

With this new knowledge, will I change my approach to slide design? Not sure.

Based on an article in NRC Handelsblad. Simulation images by Siebren van der Werf.

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Where are the bullet points?

Where are the bullet points?

A question I got from a SlideMagic 2.0 beta tester.

The answer: there aren’t any. I am trying to create a presentation design tool that changes people’s design habits. SlideMagic does not have built-in bullet point formatting options. It is meant to be that buzzer that reminds you to find an alternative design solution the moment you are about to fall back to your old habits.

It is possible to create lists in SlideMagic though. Below a screen shot from a template search in the (still very small) slide library. If you need to make a list as a conscious design decision, you can, if you want to fill a box quickly with a number of bullet points, you can’t.

Maybe I am pushing things too far here, but I am not yet ready to give in.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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Board deck templates

Board deck templates

Tel Aviv VC TLV Partners has updated their funding playbook with a set of PowerPoint and Excel templates to prepare a Board presentation. Board meetings should be productive, and preparing for them should be as efficient as possible (there are other things that a startup needs to do). You can save time by investing less in graphical polishing, and set up smart links between Excel and PowerPoint to copy data across. Maybe you will find these templates useful.

I was not involved in the preparation of these documents.

Photo by Startaê Team on Unsplash

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Presenting a property with images

Presenting a property with images

I just returned from a wonderful trip to show my kids California (apologies for the silence here on the blog). To find places to stay I had to browse AirBnB and hotel web sites, basically online sales presentations for real estate. I was struck by the images most places used. They could have been better:

  • Real estate people like to show features: close up pictures of washing machines, wide angle shots of living rooms, bed rooms. But I think most short term tenants look more at the atmosphere of a place… Few features, more ambience.

  • Related to this: lighting. Super bright flood lighting, flash, makes all the objects in the property visible, but kill the ambience of the photo. Everything looks like a high school canteen. Add images that actually highlight the outisde view through the windows, not the inside. Take pictures in the early morning or around sunset for softer light.

  • Think of the sequence of the slide show: your best shots upfront, but don’t forget the last ones as well. Spread out the washing machines and ironing boards in between more atmospheric shots of the property.

Sales presentations are everywhere.

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SlideMagic slides, not by SlideMagic

SlideMagic slides, not by SlideMagic

Some designers have a distinct look & feel that you can recognise instantly. Recently, I started to see “SlideMagic-type” visuals on the Internet (boxy grid-based slides with one strong colour). Not by people I recognise immediately (Twitter followers, blog readers, SlideMagic users, etc.), and these were not direct copies of my designs: new charts in the spirit of SlideMagic

I consider this a great compliment. SlideMagic is a culture change in business presentation design. The style, the approach, everything is open source. As a side effect I hope to create a financially viable business by offering a tool that makes it even easier to spread the culture to everyone who needs it.

Photo by Moss on Unsplash

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"...and then I wrote the deck in 2 hours..."

"...and then I wrote the deck in 2 hours..."

This happens often, you work on a presentation for weeks, and then 1 day before the deadline, you throw everything away and start from scratch finishing the thing in just a few hours.

No, you did not do anything wrong those first weeks. In fact, it is because of the work you put in, that you can finally write your story down exactly as it should be. If you started the day before the presentation, you would never get there.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

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"Sloppy" IPO documents

"Sloppy" IPO documents

A piece in the WSJ states that WeWork investors were turned off by ‘sloppy’ IPO filings.

Consistency and accuracy are the #1 requirement for any investment document. As soon as a potential investor needs to stop looking at the content of the business and start worrying about whether the numbers are correct and add up, you probably lost the deal. Trust is paramount. Investment is a leap of faith, and it is impossible to check 100% of all the data before writing the check. If you find some things that look incorrect, there might be more.

The WSJ article does not mention that there were actual errors in the report, just things missing. Details of private jets are not the most important I think, it is the data that allows you to construct how the business actually works: new location, mature location, and that multiplied by the roll out. Every investor presentation boils down to a story that ultimately gets translated into a spreadsheet by someone. You need to spoon feed the right information, without explicitly providing a finished financial model. The latter would enable investors to start “salami slicing”, turning all assumptions down and explaining you why the valuation of your business is too high using your own Excel model.

In the case of WeWork, there was clearly an “elephant in the room” question, and investors needed an answer to it, which they did not get.

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App update - drag/drop, clipboard sunset

App update - drag/drop, clipboard sunset

Dragging and dropping across multiple application windows looks easy, but from a development point of view it is tricky to get right. I think I managed to get it to work for SlideMagic 2.0. In the same effort, I removed the clipboard in story view, that was a hack that I had to use in the web-based SlideMagic 1.0. A hack, because it was weird and confusing to use. No more need for it now.

Beta users should receive the update to their software automatically.

Photo by Joyce McCown on Unsplash

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App update - multiple windows

App update - multiple windows

Screenshot 2019-09-25 08.29.24.png

Over the past week I have been stress testing SlideMagic 2.0, and added 2 important features:

  • Support for multiple windows. Open presentations side-by-side and copy elements back and forth. This is a strong advance of desktop app over browser-based software. Copy-pasting is still fragile here and there, work in progress.

  • The ability to split a grid row or column in 2, which allows you to change the layout of a slide quickly without rebalancing the grid. Grid manipulations now work super-fast and intuitive.

  • I have installed in-app analytics to see where beta users get stuck. As a beta user, you automatically opt-in to usage data gathering, the commercial version will have the opt-out option.

Beta users can simply go the cloud.slidemagic.com, log in, and download a new version of the app.

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Project documents vs. presentations

Project documents vs. presentations

People use the same software to create them, but they are very different.

Project documents:

  • Full of detail, assumptions, footnotes (“Harry wants to make sure that everyone knows that the data does not include South America”), disclaimers

  • Many authors (captains, holders of the pen)

  • Team members have seen page 25 over and over again (“ Why does it still say $23m profit there?)

  • No problem editing them live on Google Docs with 5 people in 4 different locations

  • Aesthetics can be compromised in order to squeeze that extra row in

  • The has agreed on a way forward through discussion, now let’s write it down on the pages

Presentations:

  • Introduce an audience for the first time to a story

  • The audience still needs to be convinced of the way forward

  • Usually one person delivering a carefully crafted pitch

  • Poor aesthetics can definitely harm the effectiveness of the pitch

SlideMagic 2.0 will address document type number 2.

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

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