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SlideMagic

App update

App update

Apologies for the quiet blog this week. I am extremely busy ironing out the SlideMagic 2.0 app. This week the focus is on tightening the integration with the Windows and Mac operating systems:

  • Designing app and file icons that look good and stand out next to other desktop icons (clutter)

  • Linking those icons with the ‘.magic’ file extension on a computer

  • Making sure double clicking icons, recent files, recent files in the dock, etc. works

  • Certifying the app both with Apple and with a certification agency for Windows so that double clicking an installer does not generate scary security warnings

  • Adding SSL security to file downloads

  • Accept-cookie banners, and other regulatory issues

To be continued. Beta testers can check in now and then to download a later version of the installer, I am putting a new one up almost every day now.

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(Careful) beta test for both Mac and Windows

(Careful) beta test for both Mac and Windows

I am ready to release a useable version of SlideMagic 2.0 to a very small group of users. There is an app for both Windows and Mac. If you are interested, you can sign up here: http://cloud.slidemagic.com/beta/apply, and I will let you know in the coming days (maybe week) if you made it to the very first beta test group.

In the not too distant future, there will be a broad/no application beta test program, but at the moment I am keeping things small to make sure I have the bandwidth to support early users.

Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

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App update

App update

It took me a few days after the holiday to get back into my own code again (scary how fast you forget things). But I am on a roll again. A major achievement for a 1990s computer scientist is that I got the SlideMagic server running: you can log in as a user to activate the pro features (probably spotless and instant PDF and PowerPoint conversion) and equally important, access to a much broader searchable layout database. The latter works now as well, the server responds with dynamically generated slide suggestions based on search keywords.

The next challenge will be to 1) expand the slide layout database, and make the search suggestions smarter, and 2) to make the user signup/login robust. For most developers, 2) is easy (this is coding 101) and 1) is hard (this requires 25 years of slide design experience). For me it is the other way around.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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App update

App update

I am posting a bit less frequent these days since all my posts originate directly from the work I do day to day, and presentation design work has pretty much dropped to zero at the moment…

So what is happening with SlideMagic 2.0? I pretty much completed the desktop app but still think it is not ready for public release as small bugs continue to pop up, and I keep on discovering tiny, but annoying usability issues for which I do not need the help of others to discover them. The feature set is frozen, but experience is super important for a presentation design app (the big issue with version 1.0).

Hunting tiny bugs is not the most inspiring things to do, so I split my day now between this, and the next challenge: creating a template “store” with a smart search engine that integrates tightly with the app (unlike the current Shopify site). Technically, this is a lot simpler than the complex desktop app that I created, but for me it is a bigger challenge as I need to dive into the world of server design, which did not really exist when I graduated in Computer Science in 1992.

The potential upside should be interesting though, as this is the final barrier for me to go all out in thinking about what technology can do to help make the creation of presentations easy. Again, I will start with the tinkering approach, slowly iterating towards a product that is useful (which involves backing out of a lot of dead end alleys.

To be continued.

Photo by Christian Kaindl on Unsplash

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Designing with phone cameras in mind

Designing with phone cameras in mind

A large portion of conference audiences now diligently snaps a photo of every slide that the keynote speaker presents. Some implications:

  • You can no longer hide secrets by quickly going to the next slide. A high resolution camera got all those quarterly sales numbers in that nano second the slide was one. If you don’t want things to end up in the public domain, don’t put it on a slide, not even small. Yes, that might mean investing an extra half hour recreating that graph from the budget document.

  • The opposite is also true. Slides have a second use, pondering over them after the big presentation. This means you could add more content than you normally would do for an in-person presentation. One way to do that is to use an “explanation box”, like this feature in the SlideMagic presentation app. The main slide and the explanation are clearly separated.

  • You could take it even further by designing slides explicitly for the photo: for example, a calculation how you got to a certain number. Show it, say what it is, invite a picture, and move on.

The SlideMagic presentation software has an explanation panel that you can slide in and out.

The SlideMagic presentation software has an explanation panel that you can slide in and out.

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A matter of speed

A matter of speed

A few years ago when I started thinking about about the SlideMagic project I though it was all about the design. Just find a way for people to make beautiful charts and it will be a big hit.

I am close to completing version 2.0 of the SlideMagic app, and am now in a position I have never been in before: I can design the actual user experience of someone creating slides click by click, being free fom common software design platforms, standards, and practices. And here is the real magic. I make dozens of user interface decisions a day, what colours get copied, what things get highlighted, how font sizes are set, what box is selected after you did an action. Hundreds of small decisions add up to a big experience. You cannot pinpoint why it works, but it does somehow. It is all a matter of incredible attention to detail.

The pitch of SlideMagic is changing. It will all be about the speed at which you can design a pretty decent looking slide.

(Don’t tell this secret to anyone).

Photo by toine Garnier on Unsplash

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Feature preview: matching slide and user interface colours

Feature preview: matching slide and user interface colours

In SlideMagic 2.0, I have pushed the use of colours in the application user interface further. The look and feel of the application will be the opposite of the slides you are working on:

  • If the slides have a dark background colour, the application will be light

  • The accent colour of the application will be the opposite colour on the colour wheel from the colour .you are using in your slides.

Here are some screen shots from the alpha version:

Brown/red in the slides, green in the app

Brown/red in the slides, green in the app

Switch the slide background to dark, the app turns light

Switch the slide background to dark, the app turns light

Slides on the clipboard are in the template bank are presented in the opposite colour so you can differentiate easily between the slides that are already in your presentation, and the ones you could add.

Slides on the clipboard are in the template bank are presented in the opposite colour so you can differentiate easily between the slides that are already in your presentation, and the ones you could add.

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Starting to use the store myself

Starting to use the store myself

Recently, I have started to use the template store myself for the few bespoke design projects I still do for long standing clients (SlideMagic gave me a really attractive rate :-)). My hard drive is filled with 1000s of slides and still it is difficult to find a nice clean layout to use as a basis for slide number 1001.

Up until a few weeks ago, I started every slide pretty much from scratch, I have gotten pretty fast in setting up yet another 4x5 table grid. But even I can't beat search the store for "table" and re-download that slide again and hit the ground running.

I am continue to monitor which slides people decide to buy, and which slides are downloaded by subscribers. Many subscribers download a lot of slides right after they made the purchase, and then don't return for a couple of weeks. Initial downloads include slides that you can only use in very specific situations, like these sheep. They hardly ever download the same slide 2x. There could be 2 possible explanations:

  • Less likely: after that $99 annual subscription, you better make sure you get what you paid for, maybe the store will stop running somehow before the 12 months are up.
  • More likely: we have built up the habit of mining through old decks, and recycling slides into a new presentation.

As a designer who now uses its own store, I would encourage you to think Netflix, iStock, Spotify: your slides will always be there, and search is there to help you find the slide you need at the moment (and nothing else). Change your design process:

  • From: open your consolidated SlideMagic deck (which took time to assemble from all the individual slides you had to download), pick 20 designs you think you are going to need, see how you can tell your story with these 20 designs
  • To: scribble your story flow on a piece of paper, create a deck of empty slides with just titles, search the appropriate slide template on SlideMagic

It will take you less time, and you get better presentations. And remember: I am constantly adding new slides so your first burst download will run out of date soon.

Having said that, I am willing to look into a technical solution to combine multiple slide downloads in one deck, my commerce platform cannot handle that (yet).


Cover image by Henrik Dønnestad on Unsplash

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Mysterious shipping charges

Mysterious shipping charges

It is very hard to tell eCommerce platforms, Google shopping, tax authority and other sites that digital downloads do not require shipping of physical stuff. Deep down in the bowels of my system $20 shipping charges were still present for some countries. I think I cleaned everything up now. Let me know if you see any other irregularities. If it looks wrong to you, it probably is wrong.


Cover image by chuttersnap on Unsplash

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A Pareto chart

A Pareto chart

Recently, someone searched for a Pareto chart on my site. I must admit, I had to consult WikiPedia about this type of slide. A Pareto chart shows 2 data series, each with their own vertical axis; the first show the absolute frequency count of something, the second one the cumulative occurrence of the data series, adding up to hundred for the last entry. I have added the Pareto chart to the store. 

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Puzzle pieces in PowerPoint

Puzzle pieces in PowerPoint

Although you could consider them a presentation cliché, puzzles can work really well in a presentation:

  • Show how things fit beautifully
  • Show how your are missing (hopefully just one) critical piece
  • Show that you finally managed to plug that last gap

Puzzle shapes can also work great when you use them in combination with images. You can go back to this blog post about making Photoshop-like image cut outs in PowerPoint.

Stock image sites are flooded with millions of puzzle piece designs, but they are not very practical for the average PowerPoint designer (especially late at night working for tomorrow's deadline). Almost all these puzzles pieces are vector objects or images that are impossible to edit in PowerPoint. Moreover, all these puzzle pieces have wildly irregular shapes that make them hard to fit in your slide composition that requires exactly nine of them.

This PowerPoint puzzle slide solves the problem for you. The pieces inside are fully editable PowerPoint shapes, you can change their colour, you can put text in them, you can reconfigure and piece them together as you see fit. Yo'u can download the finished slide by clicking the image (An Apple Keynote version is available as well).

You can try to create the pieces yourself if you want, I used simple square shapes and circles, either joining or subtracting the shapes. Circles and squares might not be the most realistic shapes, but they are very practical when have to piece things together. There is a little bit of math homework to do to determine which type of puzzle shapes you actually need, and which ones you can create by rotating existing pieces.

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Concentric circles in PowerPoint

Concentric circles in PowerPoint

You can create very beautiful compositions by just using basic shapes and a few colours. Below is a presentation slide with concentric circles, and an image that shows how it is constructed. Feel free to borrow the design approach, or you can download the finished slide here.

This technique was often used by the Swiss graphics designers in the 1960s. You can use the slide concept below in a number of ways: show some sort of layering, show multiple layers of security or protection, show a whirl or rolling dynamic. You can take the labels of and just use the circles.

Concentric circles in PowerPoint

Concentric circles in PowerPoint

How to make concentric circles in PowerPoint

How to make concentric circles in PowerPoint

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Quote slides in presentations

Quote slides in presentations

Quotes can add credibility to your presentation. If experts, celebrities, and/or customers agree with you, you must be right. But, not all quotes have equal weight. They have been overused in many PowerPoint decks. (Anyone can find a picture of a serious-looking person and get her to say what you want her to say in a few mouse clicks).

Here is a check list:

  • The person needs to be relevant and credible (third tier social media "experts" do not carry much weight)
  • The person needs to be identifiable ("Senior marketing executive at major high tech firm" can be anyone and is most likely you)
  • The quote needs to be interesting, cut the buzzwords and marketing language, cut the cliches ("Wow,  these guys really have a targeted value proposition that resonates with my medium-term return on investment objectives")
  • The text needs to be long enough that it is specific, and short enough that it reads like a headline. A full page of verbatim will not come across 
  • The quote needs to be relevant, a generic motivational quote might not help close that enterprise software contract.

Quote slides are (and should be) pretty simple: a nice big image with a big text overlay. Still there are some things to watch out for. Below is a quote slide that I have added to the SlideMagic template store. Let's go through the design process.

  • The image should have a calm background with enough "white" space for text. You don't need to be a Photoshop guru to extend the background of an image in PowerPoint, it is easy to add a black or white box next to images. You can use the colour picker to match the precise colour, or use semi transparent overlays for the best effects
  • Make the quote symbol stand out. Regular quotes are too small, and the layout does not look good, as the quote pushes the start of the paragraph in. There are endless ways to do it and I settled on this one. One big quote at the beginning of the paragraph with a text indent. Take some time to find a quote in a good font. In the above slide, the text font is the Microsoft Office standard Calibri, but the quotes of this font don't look that "fat", I used Arial.
  • This slide is a framed image slide, which gives me the opportunity to add a big headline at the top of the slide with the main message (the headline can say "Customers are really happy", the quote can say "With product [x], I no longer need to use a pencil".

Feel free to borrow the suggestions above, or you can download the finished slide here. The template store has related designs for quotes, or customers.

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Blue ocean strategy in a presentation

Blue ocean strategy in a presentation

Most investor or sales presentation have some sort of slide about the competitive environment. (Here are earlier blog posts about how to present the competition). Usually, people use tables, or 2x2 / 3x3 matrices to show how they are different.

The chart below might a completely different take on the subject. The Blue Ocean strategy concept developed by INSEAD argues that is often better to define an entirely new market rather than battling with all the existing companies that go after well-established market segments. You can download the slide here.

Visualise the competition using "Blue Ocean Strategy" in a presentation

Visualise the competition using "Blue Ocean Strategy" in a presentation


Cover image by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash

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Presentation layout for when you are stuck...

Presentation layout for when you are stuck...

Sometimes the simplest slides can be the most effective ones. This slide layout shows a big arrow crashing into a wall to visualise your obstacle or roadblock. The wall image is framed, while the arrow is bleeding of the page, adding an extra movement effect.Edit to text in the arrow and/or on the wall to show your audience what it stuck. The text in the arrow will automatically tilt in the right 3D angle, and both the wall and arrow will colour in your primary accent colour. Please copy this slide into a presentation that uses your own corporate presentation colour theme.

I am gaining a lot of experience now in translating PowerPoint designs into Keynote. This chart is only available in PowerPoint and not in Keynote, because the latter cannot tilt objects in a 3D space. The same problem arises with charts that rely heavily on bevels or other 3D lighting effects, which is not obvious to do in Keynote.

Here you can find this wall layout in the SlideMagic store. Cover image by Chris Benson on Unsplash

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Bubble charts in PowerPoint and Keynote

Bubble charts in PowerPoint and Keynote

Bubble charts are useful to present and analyse very large datasets. The standard template in PowerPoint and Keynote still needs some adjustment to make the chart useful. In this bubble chart on the SlideMagic template store, I have tried to do the hard work for you.

This a reformatted version of the standard bubble chart that you will find in PowerPoint and Keynote, on top it has the layout of a 2x2 matrix. The bubble chart is useful when you want to compare a data series with 3 elements, across a large number of data points. Examples are countries, business units, regions, products, etc.

The first two elements will be plotted on a regular XY chart, the 3rd element is the size of the bubble. PowerPoint or Keynote do not support labelling of the bubble very well, which are put in manually.

A 2x2 matrix structure is put on top of the regular bubble chart, giving you 4 distinct quadrants to segment your bubbles in. In the current example, the quadrants have the same size, by putting the 2 axes right in the middle. To do so, you need to manage the ranges of the axes carefully. If this is not important to you, you can put the X and Y axes where they are relevant without worrying about this. Quadrants of unequal size will still look good.

I am working hard to make the store more useable. This layout is an example. There are 4 variants of the chart: PowerPoint, Keynote, both in 4:3 or 16:9. I tried to add all the right instructions about how to use the layout, and show many links to other relevant slides in the store. While working on your presentation, you can go back and forth between designs and get ideas on how to visualise the key messages of your presentation. Some layout suggestions, you might be able to create yourself, others you might already have bought and can re-use, or you can download a layout right away to add it to your library. SlideMagic will be a place that saves you time making your business presentations.

Cover image by Alejandro Alvarez on Unsplash

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Most templates now available for Apple Keynote

Most templates now available for Apple Keynote

The template store now supports Apple Keynote, a drop down menu let's you make a selection between your preferred presentation software. Not all templates could be converted, Keynote is missing the 3D shape rotation feature of PowerPoint that I used in some of the slides.

The store now gives you the option to download templates either as a PowerPoint or Keynote file

The store now gives you the option to download templates either as a PowerPoint or Keynote file

Slides in Keynote look the same except for the font

Slides in Keynote look the same except for the font

The only adjustment I made was the font: switching it from PowerPoint's default Calibri to Helvetica Neue for  Keynote. I am keen to keep the look and feel of the charts as "standard" as possible to make it easy to integrate the design in the corporate presentation templates that people are using.

Under pressure!

Under pressure!

The slide above is a layering of 2 images that visualizes a big dam that is under pressure from something. You can use it either to show that something is about to burst, or the opposite, that defenses are strong and holding out well. I love the massive architectural scale of these hydro power installations, especially when you can highlight it with this tiny car driving across it. You can download this dam template here.

Looking for other visual concepts that are similar? You can try and search the store for "forces", "down", or this search "downward" and see what slides come up. That is my longer-term vision: no more boring bullet point charts, and no more searching for "where is that slide that I made 2 years ago", but rather have all the relevant designs ready at your finger tips. The search engine with design ideas is almost as important as the actual design itself.

Searching for "downward" in the template store

Searching for "downward" in the template store

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The snapping chain

The snapping chain

Business presentations usually rely on a few basic concepts. One of them is the snapping chain or rope, where 2 forces pulls something apart. One way to create this is with a stock image of a snapping rope or chain, but it can be hard to find one without an unhelpful 3D rotation, another approach is to create a chain from basic PowerPoint shapes.

Here is what I did

  • Take a rectangle with rounded corners
  • Increase the rounded corners until they become half circles (the small yellow dot in the shape)
  • Copy the shape, make it smaller
  • Centre the 2 shapes, subtract the smaller from the bigger
  • Apply some 3D bevel to to get the basic chain ring
  • The other chain ring is simply a rectangle with rounded corners.
  • Now, scribble a "saw" freehand shape.
  • Copy a chain ring, subtract the saw shape to get the broken ring
  • Copy this broken ring, and subtract it from another ring (to get the exact complement of the break lines)
  • Line everything up for the final composition.

You can follow these steps, or download the finished product from the template store.

Once you have your chain, "store it in a safe place", there are endless ways you could use it in future slides: multiple chains, longer chains, chains that go all around the slide :-) Here is another possible composition from the SlideMagic archive

The resulting chart is not a master piece illustration, but its unpretentious simplicity can do a decent job in an everyday business presentation. People spent too much time dealing with presentation software, and the objective of SlideMagic (the app, the store) is to help you get business concepts on a decent slide quickly and move on with more important things in life (and business).

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Popping out of the box

Popping out of the box

Popping out of the box. Unlike many designers, I actually like framing my slides, leaving white space around the edges. Stretching your picture all the way to the slide boundary looks nice on one page, but creates inconsistencies with more traditional data slides, and reduces the readability of slide titles.

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App demo slides

App demo slides

App demo slides. Doing a live app demo in a 20 minute pitch meeting is risky, the technology might go wrong, and probably more than half the time you spent in a 2 minute app demo could be things that are not really interesting: logging in etc. Instead, I usually prepare a series of screen shots with big explanation bubbles in my presentations.

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