Seth Godin made a nice little presentation at GEL 2006. I like it. I think you will too. In case you are wondering, the name of the font Seth used in his slides is called "Shatterboxx." This font is perfect for his topic (Get it? Shatterboxx? Broken?). You'd never use this for text in a document, but for Seth's presentation it worked well. The font is for very large type, display type. His visuals were just that, visual.
Listen near the end to what Seth says about Edward Tufte's favorite statistical graphic, Napoleon's March. Is it broken?
Some Tuf(te) Love
And speaking of Edward Tufte, what a treat it is to be able to hear an NPR interview about Tufte's new book. (The name of the book is Beautiful Evidence.) There is a short video clip of Tufte presenting at Cal Tech available there as well.
I think Tufte is brilliant and I love his books. They are important books and I've learned a ton from them over the years. It's too bad, though, that he is known by many as the "guru who hates PowerPoint," because frankly, the Cognitive Style of PowerPoint essay does not meet his own high standards. Famous designer Don Norman has talked about Tufte on PowerPoint. "Pure nonsense," says Norman. "...accompanied by poor understanding of speech making and of the difference between the requirements for a speech-giver, the speech-listener (the audience), and for the reader of a printed document." Engineer Jean-luc Doumont also takes issue with Tufte on PowerPoint — Doumont published an essay called The cognitive style of PowerPoint: slides are not all evil.(APPLIED THEORY). You can download the essay from Amazon. Among other things, Doumont — an engineer with a Ph.D in Physics from Stanford — says that slides should be visual with clear messages and with "...as little text as possible."
Still, I am a huge fan of Tufte's work. And I think that there is indeed something to the idea that PowerPoint — judging from what we have seen over the last several years — does seem to take people down the wrong road. But there are also many examples of people making wonderful presentation visuals with PowerPoint. Are these just the 10% of presenters who Tufte says are able to rise above the cognitive style of the PPT software? He implies that about 80-90% of presentations given with the aid of PowerPoint are pretty awful. On this we can certainly agree. The causes and the solutions, however, are a very different matter. Nonetheless, if you want good advice about the visual display of data for documents — books, handouts, technical papers, etc. — Tufte is the grand master.
Is good PowerPoint design an oxymoron?
Good design is possible with PowerPoint, so long as one knows a little something about design and how to best display information appropriate for their own unique situation. Basically, I think, as Tufte thinks, that PowerPoint is really no more than a tool for displaying slides. The only reason I use Keynote, for example, is because it does less, not more (though it does it more elegantly, smoothly, etc.). In the end it's not about slideware or about tools at all. In fact, your average student or business person would be better off buying some basic design books (like this one) rather than a how-to-use-PowerPoint book. Hell, taking Betty Edwards' 5-day drawing seminar will make people better "presentation designers" in the long run than a book on PowerPoint. What a wonderful year it would be if you could attend an Edward Tufte seminar and a Betty Edwards seminar in the same year. Now *that* would be an education. I'd love to hear from folks who have attended either of these seminars.
If I were CEO of a large Silicon Valley company, I'd send my people to Tufte and Edwards, (Toastmasters, Bert Decker, etc.) and send my big presentation projects to Duarte Design. Tools matter, but better design education matters more. When the electricity goes off, who will remain the most effective communicators? As Alan Kay says, "Most ideas you can do pretty darn well with a stick in the sand."
• In defense of PowerPoint by Don Norman
• Clear visuals without lots of text (PZ)
• The cognitive style of PowerPoint: slides are not all evil.(APPLIED THEORY).
• Review of Beautiful Evidence (Penmachine.com)
• Betty Edwards' popular book
• The Elements of Graphic Design