Split infinitives?

Split infinitives?

Back in the 1990s, as an “alien” Dutch person working in London, I got constantly corrected for my habit of splitting infinitives. Doing some more research now, I found that it basically does not matter what you do. They should have told me earlier…

There is one thing to think about though. There are still many people around who have not read this blog post and/or done the research. If you need to write something to someone you need to impress and don’t know very well (a job application for example), maybe splitting infinitives deliberately is not the best idea.

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

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Learning from UI designers

Learning from UI designers

After diving into JavaScript, Electron, and Node.js to refresh my coding skills, it is now time to get into front end design. I never followed developments in this area very much and now discover the similarities between slide design and interface design. This article by Steve Schoger has recommendations that apply to presentation design as well:

  • Lots of grey shades

  • Only one real primary color, but use it with restraint

  • Super contrasting accent colours to highlight things

  • No lines around boxes

  • Make sure your color saturation palette looks good, and use it consistently

Photo by Harpal Singh on Unsplash

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The dark background effect

The dark background effect

Dark or light background, it is a choice, and both can lead to overcrowded, ugly slides full of bullet points. For some reason, people do a better job when working on a dark slide background. Possible reasons?

  • The dark slide is a clear break from the colour format of most project working documents., there is less temptation to just copy/paste that spreadsheet and call it a slide?

  • The minimalist dark Apple product launch presentation is just etched in our brain and serves as an example?

  • Dense bullet points are actually harder to read on a dark background than a light one?

Who knows, but if it works, it works…

Photo by Good Free Photos on Unsplash

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"We just need a quick fix up"

"We just need a quick fix up"

I get these type of requests to improve a presentation a lot, first when there are budget issues, and now more recently when I say that coding my app consumes 100% of my time. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes in good freelance design work:

  • Doing quick fixes will turn you into well, a quick fixer, you join anonymous army of freelance designers that do patch work and compete on price. If not you, we will find 1,000 alternatives exactly like you. The race to the bottom as Seth Godin would call it.

  • Fixing slides is the last step in the process, first comes understanding someone’s story. That is a big fixed cost investment that you need to put into every project, even if the draft slides look decent.

  • Presentation design work can only be really effective when you have the creative freedom (and budget) to tear up the entire draft design and pick your own consistent approach.

  • Quick fixes always need to be completed quickly, doing a lot of these projects means you always will be extinguishing emergency fires and never get around to doing your real work. It is more productive to be able to plan your work over a longer period of time. Quick fixes actually impacts the quality of your overall work.

  • Substandard work creates a self reinforcing loop: you will attract similar types of clients, and you are no longer proud of the work you show when someone asks you for recent design work that you did.

For bigger design firms there is a business model for quick fixes. If you can work offshore in countries with lower wage costs and a 12 hour time difference so you can work overnight. You need a large, flexible pool of people that can respond to sudden work loads. To make this work you probably have to work with larger clients that can guarantee a steady work flow (consulting firms etc.), and have some sort of subscription / retainer pricing model. This is an entirely different business from that of a 1-person freelance design agency that is trying to build a global quality micro brand.

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Investor pitching: more and more like movie/dance auditioning

Investor pitching: more and more like movie/dance auditioning

I recently watched the documentary “This is it!” about Michael Jackson again and remember the scene in the middle where the director is picking the handful of lead dancers for the MJ show from a line up of hundreds and hundreds of highly talented people that made it through the first selection filters and made the journey to the stage.

The parallels with pitching for an investment to experienced investor are striking:

  • He does not need to see an entire performance start to finish, he has seen it before

  • He compares every dancer to every other dancer who is on stage, but also subconsciously against all the other candidate-dancers he has seen and picked before.

  • His mind and eyes wanders all over the place without a clear structure or script

  • He uses a heavy dose of gut feel

  • He is looking for someone who has that bit of “something special”, both in terms of objective capability, but also drive and ambition

  • He know he probably makes mistakes (picking the wrong dancer and not picking the right dancer who standing in the back row)

  • He probably forgives a newbie who makes a rookie mistake in auditioning and actually enjoys discovering a new talent (or the opposite discounts the talent of the “auditioning pros”)

This does not mean to throw all the rules about presentation design out of the window: the context is just different when you for example pitch a crypto startup to a crypto fund who has been funding crypto companies for the past 2 years.

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Pens!

Pens!

I love investing in good writing instruments. Here is the current line up (with a new addition):

  • Apple pencil for notes I need to keep (meeting notes, important concepts for my app development, ideas for new blog posts)

  • Mechanical pencil for sketching disposable charts, diagrams, concepts that either need partial creative erasing and/or a ruler (read the review of my trusted Lamy 2000 mechanical pencil here)

  • And now: a nice roller pen for other “disposable” notes.

Since I started my career at McKinsey back in the 1990s I have been using pencils for everything. Back in the day, all charts and slides were sketched by hand before being produced by a graphics designer who understands PowerPoint (or Solo before that). But, pencils leads break easily when writing enthusiastically and have low contrast, hence the addition of the pen.

The Lamy 2000 roller pairs nicely with my pencil. The design is almost identical to the classic fountain pain, but with less staining (I am left handed), and the need to get that writing angle perfectly right. I think a roller is better for short notes than a proper fountain pen. The Lamy has a perfect balance (wit the cap placed on the back), and somehow the plastic that is used in the pen gives it a really nice brushed feel, and a perfect weight. Only drawback, those two tiny grips that were part of the original design and produce that satisfying click when the cap is closed.

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Matching text and image colours

Matching text and image colours

Full colour images can clash with the colour palette of your presentation colour scheme. Three options:

  • Pick a different image (search for “orange” in Unsplash for example)

  • Use grayscale images

  • Or.. adjust the text colour to the image (see example)

Screenshot 2019-01-13 08.41.03.png

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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Personal story

Personal story

While battling the rendering of images in PowerPoint via JavaScript I remembered that my ver first piece of software was actually a “presentation design tool”. Back in 1985, in the final years of high school, I submitted a program as an entry to a programming contest.

Screen drawing was in its infancy then, and I noted that all programs were “destructive”, you drew something on bitmap canvas and could store the end result, but there was no way to edit / undo your master piece at a later stage. My program stored individual actions which had 2 benefits: you could edit your drawing, and it took far less tape space to save the file (a line just takes 2 points to store).

The program was written in Basic on a TI-99/4A (which had a screen resolution of 256 pixels I think). Unfortunately, I did not win the contest. I think the winner was a shopwindow advertising application written by the son of the local butcher that enabled horizontal scrolling of the latest entrecote prices in big characters on the screen. (The butcher himself seemed to know more about the intricacies of the program than his son though). I think the jury thought this had more practical application than a presentation design program.

Image via WikiPedia

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Rewriting the headlines

Rewriting the headlines

A memory from my life as a consultant in the 1990s. Creating a document with dozens of people giving input and changing things is hard: analysts correcting mistakes in numbers, graphic designers insisting on following the house style, partners reshuffling the entire deck, fax machines breaking down, cleaners dropping the entire deck (without a staple and no page numbers) on the floor, copy machine operator shifts ending, etc, and all of this under intense time pressure.

I remember one introvert project manager who had his own survival strategy in this overflow of stimuli: towards the end, simply take all the charts, retreat in his office, and start reordering and rewriting every single headline completely. The headlines would be long sentences and in the right sequence would tell the whole story of the project’s conclusions. Sometimes the link between the headline and the chart beneath it was not 100% on every page, but as a whole the deck made sense.

That’s one approach, which would have worked even better if he had done this 24 hours before the deadline instead of 2.

Photo by Francisco Arnela on Unsplash

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Changing the use of images

Changing the use of images

I use images very differently now in presentations then 10 years ago:

  • Zero stock images that look like stock images (fake models, staged compositions, cliche compositions)

  • I no longer feel the urge to find an image for every slide I produce to avoid forced visual analogies, and get left with a set of images in a presentation that are completely unrelated and inconsistent

Instead:

  • Most of the time, my images reflect something real: the actual leadership team, the product, a factory, a city, a screen shot, the cover of a scientific publication, etc.

  • I am still using commercial stock images if I need isolated objects (a bucket, a hammer, etc.)

  • Sometimes I might go for a visual theme and try to find images that fit with the concept on virtually every slide (flowers, 50s, record covers, etc.)

  • Most of the images I use come from the free site Unsplash. As a result, I don’t even bother saving images to disk anymore, if I need another one, I will search for it again.

  • I often make all the images in a presentation black and white, to make the look and feel of slides more consistent, and let the accent colour of the slides (often just one) pop out more.

Photo by Math on Unsplash

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Finding a flow for your presentation

Finding a flow for your presentation

Your text book story flow might not always be the one to use in tomorrow’s meeting.

  • A 60-minute/75-page final Board presentation of a 3-month consulting project

    • Sequencing is important to take resistant members of the audience from common ground, via cold logic and facts to the conclusion that option 1 is preferred over option 2 and 3 that equal to “fall of the cliff”

    • In some business cultures it is important to establish the credibility of your work (assumptions, models, importance of people in the organisation you spoke to), before getting into the actual crunch

    • Meeting timing, having the whole meeting explode with a debate on page 3, while that highly insightful analysis is on page 7 is not helpful

  • A 5-10 minute investment pitch:

    • The order in which questions pop up in the head of an investor might deviate from the business school investment pitch flow template. First, the investor needs to understand what it is you actually want to do, then it might make sense to take out “elephants in the room” before moving on to more important issues, but which are less controversial.

    • Experience differs vastly across investors, some might need the proper 101, others dive straight into the detail, derailing your carefully laid out story

No, I am not saying to throw that perfect storyline out of the window, and in 90% of the cases it is the right thing to do, but think whether your meeting might be part of the other 10%.

Photo by Julian Lozano on Unsplash

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Tried and trusted

Tried and trusted

Sometimes, the good old way is still the best.

One of the main “side effects” of my new giant iPad is that I start reading magazines again that cannot afford/did not invest in good iPad apps, the screen is big enough to flick through PDF-copies of the paper format. It is great to broaden my news sources again (French, German, Dutch) beyond Anglo publications focused on a small number of issues.

I must say, the simple user interface of just swiping between pages without zooming, multi-directional navigation, pinching, multi-finger swipes, actually works pretty well, and is exactly the mindset I am in when developing my presentation app: 99% of business presentations do not require a fully immersive interactive experience.

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

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Update on the development efforts

Update on the development efforts

The past few weeks have been very interesting for me in my new role as a developer! I have switched platforms 3x now: first starting to explore plugins for PowerPoint (Windows Forms), then moving on to coding an application straight onto windows (Windows WPF), but now I am back in the world of Javascript that in combination with the Electron platform can produce software that runs natively on Windows, Mac, and even Linux with just one code base to maintain. The first intermediate end product will be a local presentation “presenter view” tool that does not require internet connections to deliver/show SlideMagic presentations (it is all a bit clunky still in the web app), and a 100% accurate PowerPoint conversion tool for SlideMagic presentations that runs on both Mac/Windows, and is totally independent of PowerPoint itself, my software is generating the converted files directly without the help of the rendering engines of PowerPoint (plugins).

This whole process is absolutely fascinating. Now that I go through things myself I have come to realise how important it is to master (at least part of) the actual core technology yourself as a founder.

To be continued.

Photo by Pankaj Patel on Unsplash

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Two types of pitch deck issues

Two types of pitch deck issues

  1. The audience did not understand a point that you thought was clearly explained

  2. The audience perfectly understood what you said, but did not buy it

Different problems, different homework cut out for you

Photo by Chris Moore on Unsplash

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Not all feedback is born equal

Not all feedback is born equal

Not all feedback on an investor pitch is useful, for different reasons:

  • The audience might not know the substance

  • The investor who turns you down does not want to be (painfully) honest

  • The feedback giver did not actually spend any time reading your deck

  • Your mother loves you, whatever you say or do

Here are some deck suggestions that you should treat with suspicion:

  • Include the $5b [fill in Gartner IT market segment] to your market estimate…

  • …and make that billion number stand out in bold, italic, underline. Hit them with it!

  • Change the order of pages 5, 7, and 8

  • Keep the deck to 8 pages max

  • Combine slide 23 and 24

  • Have a look at that AirBnB pitch of 2010, and follow that structure, it worked very well

  • Add 2 years to the business plan projection

  • You need a vision page

  • Some fancy animation will put some “wow” into this page

  • Show how your technology can be used in crypto as well, that is hot

  • “I am so proud of you my son, I always knew you will do well”

This can come from highly experienced entrepreneurs or investors as well (who might be expert in another field, do not want to hurt you, had not time reading your deck).

Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

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Holiday greetings to everyone

Holiday greetings to everyone

Wishing everyone a fantastic 2019! As the entire world except Tel Aviv winds down for the holidays. I will use the lull in blog traffic to churn out some more lines of code, hopefully you will get to experience the result in the new year.

Photo by Brigitta Schneiter on Unsplash

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Mac OSX after all

Mac OSX after all

My development work initially focused on Windows computers, while Mac users are likely to be the ones that are early adopters of new technology (big corporates with big IT departments usually run Windows and are less flexible to try something new), the market eventually will be Windows users.

I stumbled on a new software development platform that probably allows me to write one code base and use it to deploy software on Windows, Mac, and yes even Linux at the press of a button. This will cause some delay to the development, but can still work at the stage where I am at. I need to see whether this solution grants me the deep access to the operating system I need.

To be continued.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

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Apple pencil, finally there

Apple pencil, finally there

I have been trying electronic pencils for years and years: different 3rd party iPad styli (is that the correct plural?), the previous Apple pencil itself and previous solutions by Wacom. None of these worked good enough for me to get rid of my note book.

I think has changed with the latest Apple pencil that works on a 2018 iPad Pro. The updated pencil solved a few annoyances when compared to the previous one:

  • It snaps to your device (but still falls of in your bag)

  • When snapped, it charges, no more need to stick it in the iPad connected

  • It no longer rolls

  • It has a matt finish and feels nicer to work with

The biggest issue though used to be work flow, with 2 poor options:

  • Log into your sleeping iPad all the time when you want to jot something though in a meeting

  • Keep your notes app running all the time and thereby letting the graphics intensive app drain your iPad battery.

That has been solved by a feature buried in the settings of the Apple Notes app: a simple double tap of the pencil on the screen wakes up the Notes app. The iPad is still locked as a security precaution, you can set the time it takes for the iPad to open a new note instead of displaying the last note you were writing to anyone who taps the screen.

Photo by Kim Gorga on Unsplash

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PowerPoint on iPad review (2018)

PowerPoint on iPad review (2018)

Microsoft is on a roll, and now that I am turning temporarily into a developer, I appreciate them even more with very powerful code editors, and repeated decisions to open source their software (the entire Windows platform engine is going open source), and make other sensible decisions (moving to the Chromium browser rendering engine inside Edge).

The office apps are no exception, and I took some time to play around with PowerPoint on my new iPad.

The app looks and feels fantastic (I have something to aspire to), and all the basic design features work flawlessly. I find it easier to find my way around coming in “cold” then the keynote app for iPad. The small screen encourages you to design simpler slides, and spend less time adding stuff that is not essential to your story.

In 2018, things are still not perfect though. But most shortcomings are to blame on the iPad form factor, not Microsoft:

  • Presentation design is a creative process that needs space, a big screen, accurate placing of objects (fingers are less good here than a mouse). An iPad is just not a focussed design interface.

  • File management is still cumbersome on an iPad. Finding that deck from last week, opening a spreadsheet side by side, copying an image from the web browser, things that take a second on a computer are not intuitive on an iPad.

  • Because of the form factor Microsoft has cut down the features for PowerPoint on iPad. In itself, this is great (I am also focusing the features in my app), but, once the genie is out of the bottle, it is very hard to have the same application on different platforms with different feature sets, especially if you are working with collaborators on different devices. “Please create this bar chart”, is emailed to the analyst working on an iPad in the taxi who then discovers that data charts are not really supported. It also hard to create custom themes and colour schemes.

So my verdict is basically the same as in previous review: a beautiful application that is an extension of the computer version: best used for delivering presentations to small audiences, and make emergency slide edits.

Now that iPads become very powerful the logical thing to do for Microsoft, to switch to a full blown 1-in-1 copy of the desktop application as soon as it recognises that the user has hooked up a bluetooth keyboard and (let’s see if this will ever happen), a bluetooth mouse to the device.

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Template requests?

Template requests?

Some users of the PowerPoint template store notice that the pace of new addition has slowed down as I am focusing on coding my own slide design application. If you have any specific requests feel free to forward them to me via jan at slidemagic dot com. It needs to be a very specific request (sorry, can’t do a bespoke design in this business model), or alternatively, send an existing chart with your content inside that I can use as inspiration for a template on the store (obviously I will remove the specifics).

Photo by Daniel Bradley on Unsplash

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