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Is PowerPoint inherently bad?

Bright_projectorLast night I had a discussion in a local Starbucks with a very bright university professor and expert teacher about about all the "bad PowerPoint" presentations she sees both here in Japan and throughout the world. I agreed, of course, that we live in a kind of sick "PowerPoint culture," but that PPT is, after all, just a tool. Tools can be used for good or evil. The professor, however, said that PowerPoint is not simply a benign tool, it is in fact a bad tool that is at least partially responsible for why very smart people do very horrible things with PowerPoint software. (She was sounding a bit like Tufte — is PowerPoint evil?) I said PPT is like a car. A car is a very dangerous thing without (1) proper knowledge on how (and even when) to use it, and (2) proper instruction from a pro, and (3) plenty of practice actually using it. Would she attack the automobiles or would she blame poor driving, poor maintenance, and human error and stupidity (as in "road rage")? But the professor said no. PowerPoint is inherently more dangerous than that (in the context of presentation design). I do not think we came up with an agreeable analogy. Is not PPT something like a set of sharp knives? Knives are very useful things for cooking, for example, but can indeed be used for evil. Chopping, slicing, dicing with sharp, professional knives also needs some instruction from an experienced chef. In the hands of amateurs, knives are quite dangerous. In a similar way, PowerPoint in the hands of inexperienced presenters also has undesirable consequences. Have any better analogies or similes for Powerpoint?



I think that ironically PowerPoint suffers from the same problem as modern cars: Features.

There are so many fancy features, buttons, bells and whistles that it is easy to get distracted from the main objective:
Getting from A to B car / delivering a clear and simple presentation.

Of course you can teach people how to use all the layout features in PowerPoint. Sure you can teach people how to use every single button in a modern car’s dashboard.
But why not build a product that avoids driver distraction in the first place?

It’s the driver’s fault if he wrecks his car trying to figure out how to operate his GPS, but still there is a design problem in the product. This cannot be compensated with the best driver’s training in the world.

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