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October 2006

Creativity, presentations, and "design thinking"

PumpkinsI just got through giving a talk to college students where I encouraged them — begged them — to remember that they are in fact creative beings (they're human aren't they?). When I asked for a show of hands, most said they were not particularly "creative." After all, they said, they are not designers or artists, they are business students. Then I asked them if they thought creating and delivering a business presentation or a conference presentation was "a creative endeavor" or something requiring a creative process. Only a few felt that it was. How about "design thinking"? Even fewer students understood how that related to the typical business presentation. "Design as differentiator"? Sure, students get that. But what, they say, does that have to do with presentations? But here's the deal: creating business presentations is a supremely creative process. At least it should be. It's as much "right brain" as it is "left brain," and design matters. Who said that business — or at least the study of it — and creativity are mutually exclusive. Is business only about management and administration? Can not students become better business leaders by learning how to become better design thinkers? Can not "design thinking" be a valuable aptitude for all professionals regardless of their discipline or their particular task at hand? I believe it can.

The Stanford
D_school Many in the business world do get the "creativity thing." Silicon Valley, for example, is a place that understands that creativity, design thinking, and business go together. Stanford University, located in the heart of the Valley, is probably the best place in the U.S. to study business and design (and creativity). Stanford is famous for their B-school, of course, and now they're getting a lot of attention for their D-school. One of the cool instructors at the D-school is Diego Rodriguez from IDEO and the author of the Metacool, one of the very few in my blog reader. Checkout his informative website.

Duarte Design
With_duartes Just down the street from the Stanford campus is Duarte Design — you've heard me talk them up many times before. They know presentation design and information graphics better than anyone, and their client list looks like a "who's who" of Silicon Valley (and beyond). When I visited the Duarte offices last December I was impressed with the atmosphere of the place. Not just the physical appearance, but rather "the smell" of the place. By "smell" I mean the intangible kind of somethingness or feeling the place exudes. Some office environments just "smell" good (inspiring, motivating, freeing, stimulating, etc.) and some "smell" like the cottage cheese that you forgot you put in the back of the fridge last summer. The late Professor Sumantra Ghoshal wrote a great article about success and the smell of a workplace. (When I attended the P&G Directors college as a guest over the summer we saw a wonderful video of Sumantra Ghoshal describing the impact of a firm's "smell." It's an incredible video clip; I'd love to track it down.)

The Duarte offices had a "great smell" about them. A smell that told me the environment I was walking into was very open, receptive and the kind of place where people take what they do very seriously, yet do not take themselves too seriously. It "smelled" like the kind of place you'd want to work and the kind of company that understood that play was as much a part of work as...well, work.

Duarte_pumpkin Duarte obviously understands that presentation design is a creative process and that the people who contribute to the process also need to incorporate play in to their work and their work environment. The Duarte Design pumpkin carving contest is a good example of this. By putting their talents to work on pumpkins, the staff at Duarte get to express their creativity outside the world of storyboards and information graphics, etc. Checkout the website to see the kind of imagination and creativity that can be applied to a large seasonal vegetable by a group of professionals dedicated to creating better presentations.

Oh yes, and Happy Halloween, everyone! Boo!

Bill Clinton and the art of speaking in a "human voice"

Good presenters are like good bloggers — both speak "in a human voice." Those who speak in a human voice are not afraid to show some emotion. Good presenters emphasize logic, reasoning, and evidence, but they never forget that both they and their audience members are emotional beings. What got me thinking about this (again) was a post on my buddy Sebastiano Mereu's blog. Seabastiano has a video of Bill Clinton laughing it up at the podium with Boris Yeltsin in 1996. As Dan Pink points out in A whole New mind, true laughter can have an amazing impact. Says Pink,

"Laughter is a form of nonverbal communication that conveys empathy and that is even more contagious than the yawn..."
                                                — Dan Pink

This video clip below is a true example of that. I have shown this clip to a few groups now and each time it causes the room to crack up.

Bill Clinton and the art of the connection

No matter your political leanings or what part of the world you may be from, there is no denying that former US President Bill Clinton is one of the most gifted communicators on the planet. There are many reasons why Mr. Clinton is so effective at the podium. Some of the aptitudes that make him so effective are his engaging, "naked," human style, his verbal presentation of clear logic and evidence, as well as his solid storytelling skills such as providing clear examples and painting pictures with his words. Whether it is a speech or an interview, he comes across as articulate and extremely intelligent but without being aloof or pedantic. His style is his own. I am not suggesting you copy his approach or his style, but I am suggesting that you speak in your own natural "in a human voice."

Ideas matter. Evidence matters. Thinking and reasoning matter.
Last week Mr. Clinton gave a speech at his alma mater Georgetown University. You can watch the entire speech in QuickTime on the Georgetown website or watch an excerpt below on YouTube. Here you'll find the transcripts of the talk as well as a link to a longer YouTube version.

What I like here is Clinton's style of speaking from notes rather than reading. The notes keep him on target yet allow him to speak from the heart in "a human voice" while giving many short stories and examples along the way. Those interested in debate or politics, etc. may be interested in the content of the Georgetown talk. As my undergraduate degree was in Philosophy, I am particularly fond of this quote:

"We believe in a politics...dominated by evidence and argument. There is a big difference between a philosophy and an ideology on the right or the left. If you have a philosophy, it generally pushes you in a certain direction or another. But like all philosophers, you want to engage in discussion and argument. You are open to evidence, to new learning. And you are certainly open to debate the practical applications of your philosophy."

"The problem with ideology is if you got an ideology, you already got your mind made up, you know all the answers, and that makes evidence irrelevant and argument a waste of time, so you tend to govern by assertion and attack. The problem with that is that discourages thinking and gives you bad results."
— Bill Clinton

Keeping your cool under fire
Take a look at this short interview between a Fox News interviewer and Mr. Clinton. After the interview the media focused on Clinton's irritation, characterizing Clinton as being "furious" and of "losing it" and "having a complete meltdown." So I watched the entire interview to see what all the fuss was about. But I could not see any evidence of a man letting his emotions (anger) getting the best of him. Yes, he got emotional, but did he "have a complete meltdown"? The loaded question was designed to provoke. “Why didn't you do more to put bin Laden and Al Qaeda out of business when you were president?” he asked. This question assumes guilt and is a very different question than, say, "Do you think you did enough?" or "What would you have done differently?" etc. Clinton clearly was not happy with the implied assumption of guilt in the reporter's question (among other things) and he showed his emotions. He's human (what a shock!). But he also gave lucid, clear logical answers. Frankly, I was amazed he could remain so articulate, frank, and informative while being clearly provoked. Watch the interview and decide for yourself. The majority of the interview is in the two parts below:

Clinton interview part I

Clinton interview part II

The sad thing is that the American media did not focus on the content of Clinton's answers, only the "fact" that he "went nuts." Jon Stewart provides some perspective on the fox interview (see the video) as does an editorial piece on MSNBC (see the video).

Jerry Weissman has a great book and DVD with useful tips for keeping your cool under fire. Many of Weisman's video examples are from the world of Washington politics. If you like examining the good and the bad communication styles of US political figures, you may enjoy Weissman's DVD, In The Line of Fire (the book has the same title).

Finally, you may enjoy this Bill Clinton interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show from a few weeks ago. Bill Clinton is truly one of the great, engaging "presenters" of our time.

Inspiring visual presentations

Here are a couple of video presentations of a different sort. Both employ the use of strong visual elements, text, and audio; neither has narration. The first one is a great example of what can happen if you combine powerful, large images with text — text that is *in* the image not just near it. The second video presentation tells a very simple story with a positive message that I just love.

Appreciate what you have
You may have something similar to this in the past. This on-line slide presentation from Miniature Earth is a wonderful example which demonstrates the effectiveness of high-quality, full screen images combined with text. There is no narration with this, but you can imagine a speaker giving a talk with slides of this sort. Below are the links to the presentation (in three languages) and some sample slides. The slides are the same except for the language of the text.

English_1 Spanish  Portugese
Below are some sample slides from the online presentation.





There is a YouTube version with a John Lennon sound track for a different effect.

You can easily imagine how slides like these — powerful photographs with minimal text contained within the image — could be used to support a live talk as well. Perhaps the graphic below simulating a live talk will help you imagine yourself speaking in front of similar visuals. The key is not to narrate slides but rather to speak naturally to the audience. The slides appear naturally as well, in sync with your story.


Three years ago I used a very similar approach when I gave a presentation at United Nations University in Tokyo. Below are two sample slides from that 2003 talk. (Slides concern the issue of refugees in Afghanistan).

Un_1  Un_2

Free Hugs
The next presentation is of a very different sort. This presentation uses video, a bit of text, and a song to visually and emotionally tell a simple, memorable, and inspirational story. I absolutely love this music video presentation. Very raw. Very simple. Very effective. Enjoy. (YouTube link).

(UPDATE: A PZ reader points out that the myriad Free Hugs video uploads have been removed from YouTube. For the time being you can find many uploads of the video on Google, such as the one here. UPDATE 2: Embedded YouTube link above now working.)

Nobody's perect (redux)

Oh_crap If you use technology to support your presentation it's just a matter of time before it fails you. Ending up like this guy in this 1995 Apple commercial is every presenter's nightmare. The secret of success is not just in doing everything possible to reduce the risk of technical failure. The key is in the recovery and in the contingency plans you have in place (something the fictional character in the commercial did not have). For example, you can have two notebooks connected to your projector or a notebook and an iPod (via S-video in) just in case your computer unexpectedly acts nuts (see video). Today I often travel with just the one PowerBook and keep a PDF of the slides on a USB drive that I upload to one of the client's PCs just in case my computer acts up. Earlier this year a client's new Epson projector inexplicably would not recognize my PowerBook. That's never happened before and I would have been dead in the water, but I brought a USB drive with the the PDF file. It worked perfectly. There were no transition effects, but that is not a big deal. The show must go on, and it did...from the backup PC.

Even the master of the demo and the keynote, Steve Jobs, is not completely immune from technical glitches. It's been a while since Steve has had any serious bloopers in a keynote. Still, "Shitake happens," as Guy would say, even to Steve Jobs. But Steve and crew always have backup systems there that can be accessed at the flip of a switch (and he has indeed flipped that switch a time or two over the last few years). Our buddy Seth Godin sent me a link a couple of weeks ago to this YouTube video on Apple keynotes and demo bloopers over the years. I linked to this video in a February post called "nobody's perect" (the typo really was an accident and just too ironic to fix). There have not been too many Apple bloopers, but edited together here in one montage it is really quite amusing.

Jobs: "That's why we have backup systems"

Peter Cohan in his 2005 book, "Great Demo: How to create and execute stunning software demonstrations," provides a great axiom: "The pain and embarrassment potential of an bug appearing is directly proportional to the importance of the demo." Concerning bugs, mistakes and crashes, Cohan says this:

"It is inevitable. No matter how strong your development organization or how well OC'ed your software is, you should still expect to find bugs. The best way to deal with bugs is to plan on them happening!"
                                            — Peter Cohan, "The Demo"

Peter Cohan's book is excellent and is required reading for anyone who does presentations with the help of technology. This book is not just for those making software demos. Lot's of great advice from the front lines.

Zen and the Windows demo

Microsoft has certainly had its share of bloopers of the years too. Such as the (in)famous Windows 98 crash on stage.

The "Yup" heard 'round the world
Bill Gates and Conan O'Brian (below) on stage.

Show only what they need
" only the specific capabilities your audience needs to solve their problem, their Critical Business Issue," says Cohan. "While you may generate additional interest if you show other capabilities, you run the huge risk of boring, alienating, or complicating your demo." Cohan also stresses that you run the risk of running in to bugs or crashing. You gotta know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em.

Larry Osterman: "I'm glad you're enjoying this"

Vr_ms_demo_1Larry Osterman may be wondering if his demo of voice recognition was really worth it. Osterman's voice rec demo was a very small part of a longer demo and he eventually recovered and the feature seemed to work well, but the initial trouble he had was jumped on by the media. I guess the moral of the story is if you are going to demo something which is a bit risky (in this case perhaps due to the room not the software) it better be worth it.

In hindsight it doesn't seem worth the risk. Even if the demo on speech recognition would have worked perfectly, it does not seem like that big a deal. People on Macs and PCs have been using voice recognition for a very long time. Is this new? And in a demo situation where it is dicey, why take the risk? It just does not seem like there was really anything to gain. And while the glitch was actually small and corrected, the media pounced on the "failure." This glitch in the Microsoft presentation, if viewed in context, was not a big deal. But it is a sobering reminder nonetheless that any glitch can be taken for a PR spin. Take a look at this clip again. I do not know which is worse, the demo gone bad or the corny reporters covering (and totally distorting) the story. Read the reports here, and here. Read Larry Osterman's blog post on the incident here.

The Origami demo fumbleruski in Korea
How many executives does it take to run PowerPoint from an Origami? Apparently more than three. Too bad there's no video for this Origami demo fumbleruski. Read about it here and here in this Korea Times article, "Origami Stumps CEOs in Jobs-Style Presentation."

How to be a demo god by Guy Kawasaki
Presentation Aikido (part 1)
Presentation Aikido (part 2)
Tips for demoing your company
Dos and don'ts for presenting at DEMO
Tips on giving a 90-second demo
Five Tips For A Great Software Demo

Grande Presentazione Italiana

Marco_1 I received a note the other day from Marco MontemagnoBlogosfere CEO. Marco shared a recent 10-minute presentation he made in Italy on the evolution of blogging there. Marco told me he was inspired by the Presentation Zen website and mixed in the methods of Dick Hardt, Lawrence Lessig and even a little "Takahashi Method."  I'd say there is a little "Jobsian Method" in there as well. Even if you do not speak Italian, you will enjoy this presentation. This is a highly visual presentation with a good mix of images, simple (big) text, animation, and video. And Marco is obviously a personable figure. My friend and band mate Sebastiano ("Sebi") Mereu, an Italian living in Switzerland (currently in Japan), watched this presentation with me. Sebastiano said the presentation was exellent and could have been even better with 12-13 minutes rather than 10. "The information was great, the slides were informative and funny, and his voice was good. I have to admit, we Italians tend to speak fast without stopping anywhere, and Marco covered a lot of info in 10 minutes. Do it in 12 minutes with a little more variation in tempo and stress and it would have been even more awesome!" (See the video.)

For those who do not speak Italian
If you do not speak Italian, then you may want to read
these summary notes (pdf) from the talk. A big thank you to Sebi for jotting down these notes while listening to the presentation. There may be some typos or some small errors in there, but this is just to give you a better idea of Marco's verbal message. Obviously his vocal and visual you can pick up on pretty well.

(Speaking of Italy, an Italian business student of mine did a great presentation (in English) in the Apple Store a while back on the issue of color, design, and brand identity in Italy and Japan.)

Beppe Grillo (In English and Italian)
Marco Montemagno's blog

Urban life: Graphic design is everywhere

Design is everywhere. But if you live in a crowded urban environment, you are absolutely surrounded by it. Much of it may go unnoticed. Just paying attention to the ubiquitous samples of graphic design — for example posters, banners, billboards, etc. — could fill every waking moment of your day. This explains why we ignore most of it — we've all got stuff to do! Still, we can learn a lot by paying attention to our urban environment. Professional designers tend to be better than most people at noticing "the design" around them, but we all can improve our "design quotient" by simply opening our eyes and our minds and peer into the urban background that may have been no more than visual noise before.

By slowing down a bit we will be able to see all of the graphic design that fills our daily lives. Living in Japan is a designer's dream in many ways; there is just so much to see. Some of the "best" graphic design in the world is right here in Japan, and so is some of the "worst." Much can be learned by examining both extremes and all the bits in between. We can even learn something during the morning commute. I usually spend a couple of hours everyday on trains, all of which are filled with an ever-changing tapestry of banners, signs, and ad posters. All most every day I notice something particularly good (or bad).   
Every time I step outside the door there is more graphic design to witness. I like to view the posters and billboards I encounter as if they were slides on a screen supporting a narrative. Now slides and posters/banners are different things, but we can — more or less — examine them using many of the same basic graphic design fundamentals. I outlined some of these principles on my website here. I also suggest Design for Non-Designers by Robin Williams; Elements of Graphic Design by Alexander White (which I have recommended many times before); or Exploring The Elements of Design by Mark Thomas. And I love Japanese Graphics Now! by Wiedermann and Kozak. This book will give you insights in to how Japanese think about graphics. The book includes a fantastic DVD featuring interviews with Japanese designers and 600 pages of colorful, high-quality real graphic examples from Japan. Excellent book.

"The Japanese style sensitivity is based, among other things, on a respect for balance... But Japanese design is not only about balance and proportion, or even minimalism, which is probably the strongest image people abroad have about Japanese design. Sometimes graphic design gets a little more chaotic..."                                                                                                               — From Japanese Graphics Now!

On the train to Kobe
Sunday we took the train to Kobe across the bay from our home in central Osaka to attend a charity walkathon. As you can see from the photo below, I joined attorney Jiri Mestecky (guitar/vocal) and Swiss musician Mereu Sebastiano (bass) for a set of blues on stage to entertain the crowd at the event. Performing music on stage is one of my favorite kinds of "presentation." The sound was actually great as we were lucky to have the American producer Aaron Walker from Music Japan TV volunteering his time as stage manager and sound engineer for the event. Anyway, below are some photos of signs I found noteworthy on the train ride in to Kobe.

Performing for a charity event in Kobe.

While walking in the rain near the Kobe Harbor I spotted this café sign (above). Simple pictographs with minimal text, two colors in harmony with the "green" atmosphere of the park. The design communicates a clear, noticeable message from a distance: this is a café where you can get something to drink and something to eat. No big deal. No big café brand. But it works. Signs, like posters or even slides, must (1) be noticed and (2) must be understood.

The banner ad (above) is advertising an event for used and vintage Rolex watches in Osaka. My wife, who received her formal design education from Chico State in California, pointed out this wonderfully cluttered poster to me on the train. She felt the narrow type face made the ad very hard to read (and don't get her started about the oblique treatment to this "Gothic" kanji). Every nook and cranny is filled with some kind of text, logo or map. Good poster design (or slide design) will have a clear hierarchy and one clear focal point. By featuring two watches of the same size rather than just one large image, the focal point is less clear. I'm sure you could think of many ways to improve the design. This is not a very attractive ad (though this is not the ugliest I've seen), and I do not think it was a very effective one. On the other hand, it is quite possible that the designer is just trying to entertain the passenger and give him something to read (so long as he is close enough to read it). In that sense it may "work." It is also possible that the designer was just following orders from the client to "Put in more info! Really sell it big!" Sadly, the banner reminds me of a lot of PowerPoint slides in Japan.

If you buy a new Softbank phone (and a two-year subscription) you get a free iPod. Talk. Rock. Simple. It's so simple in fact that it sticks out, it gets noticed, and it's understood. (Though there is still a bit of mystery in this design, which can be an attractive thing.)

On some of the JR lines they have replaced some of the paper banners with monitors featuring static slides (ads) that fade in and out. Recently I have been creating visuals similar to the slide on the right. Minimal text with a full-bleed photograph.

Noise and elimination of the nonessential (Presentation Zen)

Font Myths: italic and bold styles
Dot-font: Ten Tips for Top Type

Typeface tips
Japanese gothic typeface
Mincho (Japanese "serif" fonts)