Blogging in 2019

Blogging in 2019

I have been writing posts on almost every work day since 2008, and now and then I look back (like other bloggers do) and ahead. It has been instrumental in my career as a designer, without my blog, there would have been no way I could have sustained a presentation design business in Tel Aviv serving clients all over the globe.

The world of blogging has changed. When I started out, I was up against SEO-keyword stuffed marketing fluff, later the social media experts stuffing their feeds with links to stories.

I did basically my own thing, not worrying about any of this, and just creating a trail of stories that were mostly based on client work I did everyday. As a result, things will change a bit into the future, as my design work has now stopped and I am focusing fulltime on coding the 2nd version of my app.

Let’s see where it brings us.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Pay attention to PowerPoint theme color names

Pay attention to PowerPoint theme color names

Most people who customise a PowerPoint theme color template simply plop in new colors in the boxes without paying much attention to what they are called. It is worth doing that though to save time. When you copy a presentation with another color scheme into yours, PowerPoint will color the new presentation with specific rules. For example, text is set in “Text/Background - Dark 1”. If you colored that box with your logo accent color, you are going to spend a lot of time converting the pink text back to black every time you receive a deck from a colleague with a different template.

Screenshot 2019-02-11 07.57.00.png

Photo by Bruno Martins on Unsplash

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Common make over fixes

Common make over fixes

I offered to do a quick slide polish on a deck of a long-standing client who gave the SlideMagic template store a go for a business plan. My objective was to learn how the slide templates are used “in the wild”. The results were encouraging, here are a few examples where I had to step in:

  • Set the exact accent color that matches the company logo

  • Put the occasional rogue bullet chart into a proper 3, 4, 5, or 6 box slide template

  • Move slide content a bit so they fit exactly in the same frame on each page

  • Reduce font sizes a bit here and there to give text a bit more space to breathe in busy tables

These were slides in a business plan, not a TED talk, and exactly the sort of every day presentation they were intended for.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
2 presenters: difficult

2 presenters: difficult

You are 2 co-founders, or have both worked on a big project, and/or could not really decide who gets to shine in front of the audience and want to give a shared presentation. You can either split up the deck and go one after the other, or, try doing it as a true duo: presentation the slides together.

The latter option is tricky:

  • You very little room for improvisation or the hand over to the second speaker will go wrong

  • The audience needs to lock into 2 different presentation styles

  • It requires careful scripting…

  • …and a lot, lot, of rehearsing

As a result, most duo presentations feel a bit unnatural. Make a video of your rehearsals before making the final decision to do it

Photo by elen aivali on Unsplash.

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Make over: managing complex change

Make over: managing complex change

This diagram originally created by Mary Lippitt of Enterprise Management is floating around the internet in varies shapes of forms:

Managing complex change

I attempted to give it a makeover by trying to do the following:

  • Cut the word repetition to reduce clutter

  • Simplify the labels a bit

  • Add some color

  • Add movement (the arrow) to show that other options are a dead end road

I have uploaded this chart to the SlideMagic template store, subscribers can download it free of charge.

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
White elephants

White elephants

A VC friend got sent a pitch the other day that sounded like an exact copy of a company that underwent a spectacular and well-known crash a few months ago. The pitch completely ignored this white elephant and followed the standard presentation structure.

It is unlikely that this copy was indeed an exact replica of the famous failure, and it is unlikely that the pitching entrepreneur would think that seasoned investors did not know about that crash.

So in your pitch, you might as well take it straight on. The highly publicised failure did already part of the work for you, that, if you get this company to work, the market expectations are pretty big. Now on to the more difficult part, why that one failed and this one won’t.

Photo by Lili Koslowksi on Unsplash

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Most good presentations are repeats

Most good presentations are repeats

It is extremely hard to put a presentation together from scratch on a completely new subject and make it interesting. Come to think of it, most (maybe even every) good presentation you see, hear, read is a repeat: it has been given hundreds of time before.

Not necessarily with these slides, or in this format though. The startup founder starts building the story of his company the moment he puts the first line of code down. The CEO of that Fortune 500 giant has been selling cars since she joined the company 25 years ago, now she is selling the whole company to investors. The job applicant is pressing play on the story he kept on telling himself when he left his job to study an MBA 2 years ago.

Repeating makes you get better at the telling the story, learning from the verbal and non-verbal reaction of anyone you told it to. A good story is hardly ever born overnight.

Photo by Namroud Gorguis on Unsplash

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Staying focussed (2)

Staying focussed (2)

No post today as I am out with a small fever. It is interesting to see that in my previous, non-freelance jobs, you could simply plough on as a kind of endurance test with tasks that require less focus when you are a bit sick. Writing code or coming up with a new design concept for a presentation: forget it when your mind is not 100% there.

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
"The opposite..."

"The opposite..."

Many writers use this type of wordplay, for example Seth Godin in a recent post:

Just because it’s easy to measure doesn’t mean we should (and the opposite is even more true).

It can be a nice word play, but maybe it is me, I find it hard to understand. I actually need to reconstruct the opposite sentence, “read it to myself", and then go back to the original one.

When you use it, use it as a last sentence somewhere (like Seth did), to give the audience a little brain teaser.

Photo by Andrew Shiau on Unsplash

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Staying focused

Staying focused

In my work as a designer, and now as a founder-coder, I have the luxury that most people working miss: hours of meeting-free, uninterrupted time to get things done. I think anyone who managed to build a career in this working model has proven to be able to stay focussed and disciplined, when there is no boss around who can remind you that watching Netflix episodes during work hours is not what you are supposed to do.

Still, my work is not an endurance test to resist temptations. I tend to group my work into different types and switch between them when I am stuck, bored, tired, energetic, full of inspiration, suffering from the downstairs neighbour who is drilling in the ceiling.:

  • Cracking a complicated problem (fundamental code architecture, the visual approach to a new presentation)

  • Just making something look pretty (user interface, that competitor slide)

  • Googling for solutions for that nasty, but actually unimportant, bug

  • Doing accounting

  • Writing a week full of blog posts in one go

In my time as a consultant when I was working with lots of people, I could not really set my own working schedule. Now that that noise has disappeared you start noticing there are huge differences when you do certain things during the day, and in what mood.

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Can you pull it off?

Can you pull it off?

That is a key question every investor is pondering while you click through the slides of your investor deck. But it might also go through the mind of a CEO of a big corporation who listens to the final results of a consulting project that talks about let’s say a major reorganisation.

There is often infinite amount of logic and data about how people should be grouped together, and when the the coin can fall right or left, it is probably the gut feel about you as a person that leads to the decision.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Visual mathematical proofs

Visual mathematical proofs

Like coding, mathematical language needs to be precise and as a result looks super scary to the outsider, turning of many people that might have had an interest in exploring more. Here is a great picture that should be an inspiration for the rewriting of mathematics education:

Photo by Antoine Dautry on Unsplash

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
Subscriptions update

Subscriptions update

I started the subscription slide template store almost a year ago, and the first subscribers will soon receive an email alerting them about the upcoming subscription renewal. I must admit that over the past few months I have not added as many new designs to the store as I had planned to, since I am investing a lot of time in developing the next generation of the SlideMagic app.

I have lots of ideas for new slides, but the underlying platform makes it very cumbersome to maintain everything, especially in multiple slide formats and aspect ratios. The Shopify platform I am using is built for selling t-shirts in different sizes, and is less suited for digital downloads.

A 1 year unlimited download is still a tremendous deal with the current library, but I understand if people decide not to roll over the subscription into a second year. The site should give you the tools to stop the subscription, if you need help please reach out. Obviously, you are invited to continue to support me as I am trying to change the world of presentation design.

The new app will include a better solution for accessing templates, now that my coding skills are reaching a point where I am less dependent on out-of-the-box platforms. Eventually we will get there.

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
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

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
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

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
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

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
"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.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
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.

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
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.

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.
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

------------------
If you liked this post, why not subscribe to daily updates about presentation design via email? Just blog posts, no spam, or you can follow Jan on Twitter to never miss a thing.