This post by Seth Godin about “STET” reminded me of my time at McKinsey, where in the early 1990s presentation design was pretty much a manual activity. You would draw all your charts by hand, then give them to the graphics department who would produce them for you.

Graphics designers make typos: suggested valuations of take over targets could be cut in half, or worse changed by +/- 10% which makes the error much harder to spot. Graphics designers had mostly no understanding of the context of the document, which could lead to pretty funny interpretations of hand writing.

As a junior analyst, you found yourself in a sandwich: every sentence and number had to be checked for typos, graphics designers tend to push back on poor chart design (please ask the senior partner to stop writing these dense bullet points will you), and the senior consultants would use the opportunity of this “slow” production process to try out endless variations of headlines and chart orders. Most instructions were scribbles on faxes and/or instructions in lengthy voice mails. All of this usually at hours where the rest of the world was no longer in the office.

Looking back at those days, I estimate that roughly 25-50% of the time (=fees) of these management consulting projects would go into document production. The solution was there, now we just need to put it on paper convincingly (and for the analyst: with the correct numbers).

Today, everyone probably has an understanding of PowerPoint that is good enough to produce most of these documents. This is a huge efficiency gain. But we also have lost something I think. That process where everyone is painstakingly focused on those 25 pages with a red pen really made sure people put their thoughts in slides, with everyone more or less in agreement. A more careful approach than quickly slapping/Frankensteining charts together.

Cover iamge by Mark Rabe on Unsplash

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