Great presentations are supported by well-designed slides. Most design you see is rather invisible, it's only when something is wrong with a slide design (think of screaming colors for example) that you'll notice how design can be problematic in a presentation.
In this tutorial, we cover the basics of presentation design. As you'll notice, subtle details go a long way in designing a visually pleasing presentation. You'll learn:
- Visual Hierarchy - Understanding the basics of visual hierarchy and how you can use it effectively in a presentation.
- Slide Layout - Turning the principles of visual hierarchy into effective PowerPoint slide designs.
- Typography - Choosing the right typefaces.
- Color - The basics of color theory.
Details - The extras which make your presentation great.
Finally, we'll look into the process of how you can apply all of the above while working on a presentation in PowerPoint.
Before you dig into this tutorial, be sure to download our new, free eBook: The Complete Guide to Making Great Presentations. It will help you master the complete presentation process.
Also, if you're looking to use ready-made presentation designs to shorten the process, I recommend checking out the trending PowerPoint templates on our GraphicRiver marketplace. It can save valuable time when you need to get a beautiful presentation, done quickly.
Without further ado, let's dive into the fundamental principles of design that are behind a great PowerPoint presentation.
1. Visual Hierarchy
Any type of design starts with visual hierarchy. What exactly is visual hierarchy? This refers to the arrangement of elements in a way that it implies importance. With other words, by designing elements with a stronger contrast than others, you can influence how we perceive what we see.
The theory of visual hierarchy helps you define the structure of your PPT design slides. Good visual hierarchy assures that the right elements are catching your attention.
You can achieve visual hierarchy through a number of design techniques:
- Use contrasting colors to make certain elements stand out more.
- Play with the size of text or photos to make something stand out more than something else.
The above concepts are known as adding visual weight to an element. How does this work in practice?
Below, you see two slides with exactly the same copy. One has no visual hierarchy applied, the other one uses simple color and typography (which you'll learn more about later) to apply visual weight to certain content.
In general, what you should remember is that by design, some content will appear as more important than other content if you apply visual hierarchy correctly. This is a principle you should use to your advantage. Ask yourself what needs to stand out in your presentation.
You're giving a financial presentation, you want your audience to recall that the third quarter of last year performed poorly because of a lack of marketing effort.
What is unrealistic, is to believe your audience will recall the exact amount of sales numbers, who exactly performed poorly and the full list of marketing actions which were a failure.
A presentation gives a lot of information in a short time span, and unfortunately the attention of people is quite brief. Focus on key messages and use visual hierarchy to make those ideas stick out.
Now that we understand how visual hierarchy works now, let's learn more about designing PowerPoint slide layouts.
2. Slide Layout Design
Based on how visual hierarchy works, you can apply this knowledge to create effective PowerPoint slide designs.
For each slide, the trick is to understand what is the most important message that you need your audience to grasp. Based on that, you can assure through design, that this will be the content that people remember.
This goes further than just designing one slide. For example, you might have a few slides in a row about the same topic. But, the final slide with the conclusion could be the slide you want to add that extra visual weight to in order for your audience to pay notice. For example, by adding an image for the first time or making the text bigger as usual. This is applying visual hierarchy to your slide layouts as well.
One of the most effective presentation design tricks to apply is that less is more, in most cases. When you have key statistics, such as percentages for example, the following design method helps:
- First, display the graph (or all the statistics) that display the context of the key number.
- Display the key percentage on a single slide, without any further elements as a follow-up to make people pay attention to this number.
This is known as letting your design (and content) breathe. The idea you should keep in mind is that you should try and give your content (and thus your design) a hidden order.
Repetition is another trick to help you emphasize a key message. Displaying a graph and then an individual statistic on two separate slides is a good example of effective repetition.
If you're looking for some inspiration for slide layouts, I recommend taking a look at this collection of PowerPoint templates, or dive into this curated selection of trending PPT presentation designs:
- Microsoft PowerPoint25+ Awesome PowerPoint Templates (With Cool PPT Presentation Designs)Sean Hodge
The right choice of typography goes a long way in improving the design of your PowerPoint presentation.
A general lesson is that good fonts are invisible and bad typography choices are noticed straight away. For example, if your whole presentation has Comic Sans as a font choice, people will notice. When you notice a font, it's often because the legibility of the font is quite poor. If something is difficult to read, it requires much more attention of your audience to pay attention to your presentation.
Hence that traditional font choices are often the best to use for PowerPoint presentation design. Stick to Helvetica, Arial or Gill Sans for example. Use the regular version for your body text, and use the bold version for your title. Make your font size big enough in order to assure readability (eg. 18pt) and make titles bigger (eg. 34pt).
It's also possible to mix fonts, but when you're just starting out I'd recommend not trying to mix fonts as it's easy to mess up. If you're curious, you could always try to search for good font combinations.
If you're intrigued by typography, there are plenty online resources to help you. I personally enjoy Typewolf for example.
The simple rule for typography is that solid typography goes unnoticed. Unnoticed typography means it's legible and with that, you've accomplished already a lot in terms of typography. Of course, typography is a way to customize a design and make presentations much more unique. But, when starting out, I recommend sticking to the basics.
Something else to think about is how much text you use on your slides. It's rarely useful to write down full sentences in presentations. It's much better to use bullet lists of key facts and make sure that people are paying attention to you while you are giving your presentation. Remember our 'Improving our marketing' slide? Let's clean that one up so you'll notice the difference.
Color is a complex topic in itself. A good understanding of the basics go a long way. Important in presentation design is to understand that colors express a certain feeling, much like photography does. Brighter, more vibrant colors often come across more playful, while darker, more cooler colors often feel a little cooler (and more professional).
Notice how in the Eureka PowerPoint presentation design template, that slide colors are playful and creative, though if you dig further into the PPT download there are a number of simple minimal slides and a darker set to work with as well.
Of course, the colors of your presentation design highly depend on the context of your presentation. If you're making a professional presentation, chances are high you're working with the colors of your brand. Honestly, that makes presentation design much easier and I would recommend sticking to brand colors instead of experimenting for the sake of design.
In other cases, you might have to choose colors from scratch. In that case, don't panic yet.
The easiest way to pick a color palette is to work with a single primary color (take blue for example) and work with greys as supporting colors (whites, greys, blacks). Using one, or two colors and keeping the rest simple goes a long way. Again, take a look at our marketing slide above for a good example!
If you're a little more daring, you can learn more about color theory. You have complimentary and contrasting colors for example.
An easy way to get started with being a little bit more adventurous with color is to use a resource such as Adobe Color. By browsing the 'Explore' section you can discover wonderful color palettes. Another way to see some nice palettes is to use design sites as Dribbble or Behance and see what colors are being used in a single design as inspiration.
Finally and perhaps the most interesting way to improve the design of your presentations is getting the details right. You'd be surprised how some subtle elements can pack a lot of punch to improve your presentation visually.
A presentation wouldn't be complete without the use of photography. Photography is the easiest way to visually support your presentation. A simple trick to improve the design of your presentation is to stay away from traditional stock photography sites and use images from Unsplash. Unsplash has free-to-use gorgeous photography which feels much different than imagery used on stock photography websites.
Another simple way to visually enhance your presentation is to use icons. Icons are great to use when you have little text in your presentation and don't want to continuously be using photography.
Ideally, you use icons from a single icon kit. This assures that all icons do have the same style. What's excellent is that a lot of Powerpoint themes you can purchase include a icon kit. If not, you can find icon kits online for free to use, or you can purchase icon kits from GraphicRiver.
When working with data, adding some type of chart can help in your presentation.
Charts as a design element is something to pay attention to, as it's easy to overwhelm your audience with a bunch of data. Here are some thoughts in regards to using charts to your advantage:
- Don't use too many charts. Rather use them sparingly and only when they add value to what you have to say.
- Make sure that the data is easy legible. This, by avoiding fancy animations or unnecessary 3D design for example.
- Have a follow-up slide explaining the key takeaway of your chart.
The Marketofy PowerPoint template has a data-driven presentation design. It's one of the most popular PPT templates on GraphicRiver, and includes a number of infographics, charts, diagrams, to work with quickly.
Learn more about how to create charts in PowerPoint:
Discover more helpful infographic and data-driven PowerPoint presentation design templates:
- Microsoft PowerPoint20 Best PowerPoint Presentation Templates—With Great Infographic SlidesSean Hodge
If possible, adding some multimedia to your presentation can help in a number of ways. First and foremost, it makes your presentation feel interactive. An interactive element can help you explain what words and pictures can't.
For example, if you have a digital product such as a mobile app, displaying a video where you demo some features might be an intriguing option to improve the experience of your presentation.
Transitions and Animations
Finally, another design element to consider are your transitions between your slides and animations on your slides.
The above is a little tricky, as it's very easy to overdo the use of animations and transitions up to the point it distracts your audience tremendously. A good rule to keep in mind (and which often works really well) is that 80% of your presentation doesn't really need a transition between slides or an animation.
Only use transitions and animations where it matters: when you want to assure that your audience remembers what you are saying. The principles of visual hierarchy apply here as well.
Learn more about how to use animations in your PowerPoint presentation designs:
How to Follow a Good PowerPoint Presentation Design Process
Finally, let's dive into how you can apply all the lessons above while working on a PowerPoint presentation design.
Step 1. Plan Your Content Before the Design
Before you start working on the design of your PPT slides, it's much more productive to be thinking about your content and your key messages. Ask yourself what your audience should remember after seeing your presentation.
Based on that, you can optimize your slides to support those key messages and make sure that your content and your key message stands out. That's where all of the above design advice kicks in. When you're presenting your key message, that's where you can cleverly use animations to highlight your animation for example.
In summary, start with your key message. The opportunity to design will follow. Learn more about the presentation writing process:
- PresentationsHow to Write a Professional PowerPoint Presentation (Discover the Writing Process)Brad Smith
Step 2. Now Begin With Presentation Design Basics
Once you have your content is figured out, next you should define what the foundations of your slide design should be. This is defined by your selection of color and typography. Pick a primary color and a font you'd like to work with and you're off for a good start.
Step 3. Collect Your Photography
Presumably you'll be using some sort of photography (or other imagery) in your presentation. Start collecting images you like, to select them for your PowerPoint presentation once you start designing.
After you're all set with the above, you can start with the actual design.
Step 4. Define Your Slide Layout(s)
Finally, it's time to work on the layout of each individual slide. It's not necessary to create a unique layout for each slide, but some variety helps. Typically, for a presentation of about 20 slides, I work on about 6-8 layouts I use throughout my PowerPoint presentation design. For this presentation for example, I've designed three layouts which you can see below for some inspiration:
A layout can be quite simple. For example, a simple title with a subtitle or a slide containing a photo. Or, a layout can be complex. For example, combining some bullet points and a graph.
The trick is to create enough layouts as you see fit and pay attention to the design of the slide layout individually.
Once you've designed all layouts, you can put your PowerPoint design together and see how your presentation flows. Make sure to practice your presentation at least once! Then, you can fine-tune your design and finish your presentation!
More Great PowerPoint Tutorial Resources
Here are Microsoft PowerPoint tutorials from Envato Tuts+ and resources to help take your presentation skills further:
- Microsoft PowerPointHow to Learn PowerPoint Quickly (Complete Beginner's Guide)Andrew Childress
- Microsoft PowerPoint15 PowerPoint Presentation Tips: To Make Good PPT Slides (Quickly)Andrew Childress
- Microsoft PowerPointHow to Work With Views in Microsoft PowerPointAndrew Childress
Make Great Presentations (Free eBook Download)
Take the tips you learned in this article further with our new eBook: The Complete Guide to Making Great Presentations (grab it now for FREE).
It will help walk you through the complete presentation process. Learn how to write your presentation, design it like a pro, and prepare it to present powerfully.
Apply Design Principles to Your Next PowerPoint Presentation
That's it! We covered the basics of effective PowerPoint presentation design. As a key takeaway, remember that good design is often subtle. The best design is typically invisible.
Instead of trying to design everything, keep it simple and focus on a process which works for you. For example, design a few layouts you could use. Only use animations where it makes sense. Keep your colors simple.
If you lack of time, I recommend starting from a professional PPT template and customizing it to your needs.
Here are some excellent PowerPoint templates to take a look at on Envato Elements, where you can download unlimited presentation designs, web templates, and graphic assets for a single monthly fee. Or, discover more trending PowerPoint template designs on GraphicRiver.
Designing is much easier if you don't make it unnecessary difficult for yourself.
If you have any further questions, feel free to ping me on Twitter or in the comments below. Thank you for your time!