(In)Designing in Powerpoint

InDesiginInPowerpoint cover image

I am thrilled to be writing this post. This isn’t a topic I should be excited about, this isn’t a topic ANYONE is excited about, but I am. In my job, I have developed a skill set at designing PowerPoint templates. I know there are many amazing PowerPoint designers out there, and I am not claiming to be one of them. What I can help you do is work efficiently in PowerPoint…when you hate PowerPoint.

My first few posts will concentrate on PowerPoint, but make no mistake about it…I will move on to topics I’m much more passionate about. There are tons of experts out there with amazing blogs on design apps. But, there isn’t much for designers who need to use PowerPoint. Today lets go over a few best practices and later I’ll post actual tutorials.

  1. Let go. Look, PowerPoint is frustrating for those used to the Adobe toolsets. Let it go, be one with the presentation software. Yes, I know it’s not intuitive. But once you accept PowerPoint and stop trying to compare the toolsets to those in InDesign, you will be happier. Remember, even PowerPoint has some redeeming qualities. Every time I create complex graphs in InDesign, I secretly pine for PowerPoint (please don’t tell anyone).
  2. Leave your typographer’s hat at the door. Powerpoint’s typographical controls are hidden and clunky (i.e., they stink). But they are there and better than most people realize. But have you ever overheard people complain about horrible kerning at an otherwise great presentation? No. (Take heed though: don’t stare at specific words as you design. Then, you will see the bad pairs and they will haunt you.)
  3. Get comfortable with the chart tools. The out-of-the-box charts aren’t stellar. But if you take the time to master the tools, you can create some beautiful and even minimalistic charts. And better yet, all while keeping the data live (take that InDesign).
  4. Learn some shortcuts. For example, “Paste Special” invokes a pop-up that allows you to paste without formatting. If you are pasting from other applications with unexpected results—this is your fix. I’ll throw out more shortcuts as we move forward
  5. Understand the funky guides. Guides are one of my major frustrations in PowerPoint, but I have high hopes this will get better soon. For now, your best hope is just to understand them completely, which should lessen your pain.
  6. Change your approach. Go beyond the toolsets, be open to changing the way you think about designing/formatting. PowerPoint was engineered for the average person, not designers. So you will need to put yourself in their shoes.
  7. Graphics on master pages. The only objects put on master pages that are editable in a deck are placeholders. Such as, a graphic placed on the master is locked and can not be manipulated by the user. So unless something should ALWAYS be on that page, the master is not the place to put it.
  8. Give up control. Give yourself permission for things not to be perfectly templated. I used to be quite strict and only create master pages. But at a creative agency…it wasn’t conducive to some of our brand aesthetics. I now build as many master pages as possible, then create what can’t be templatized as a deck. This deck becomes the saved template file. Without paragraph styles and unlockable master page items; this may be your best option for maintaining brand integrity.

At the end of the day, here is my best advice. Check your frustration at the door, this tool wasn’t built for you—but it can help you help others make awesome things.


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