Slide Makeovers: Before and After

Yellow paint on a roller being spread over a white surface. Text reads, "Slide Makeovers: 7 before-and-after examples."
This post presents seven slide makeovers with before and after examples and design tips you can apply to your slides.

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Reading Time: 13 minutes

Introduction

Who doesn’t love a good makeover? There’s something so satisfying about taking something “meh” and turning it into “wow!” Last week, I put out a call on social media for bad slides I could redesign for a post on slide makeovers. 

LinkedIn post from Kayleen Holt that reads, "Give me your tired, your poorly-designed, your walls of text yearning for white space, the wretched refuse of your bloated slides. Seriously, I'm looking for bad slides to redesign for the blog. Message me if you have some you can give me permission to share." Hashtags are PowerPoint and Visual Design.

Screenshot of a LinkedIn post from Kayleen Holt that reads, "Give me your tired, your poorly-designed, your walls of text yearning for white space, the wretched refuse of your bloated slides. Seriously, I'm looking for bad slides to redesign for the blog. Message me if you have some you can give me permission to share." Hashtags are PowerPoint and Visual Design.

I only had a couple of takers (who will remain anonymous). To have more to play with, I went looking for bad slides from the most reliable source I could think of: the federal government. (Thanks also to Gwen Navarrete Klapperich for suggesting it.)

Before some of my government folks get offended, I’ll admit there are some great slides from government agencies out there. But in my experience, they’re the exception, not the norm. Come on, admit it. You know I’m right.

In all, I ended up redesigning seven slides from three different training programs, and this post walks you through what I did and why.

For accessibility, this post includes full-text graphic descriptions for several slides. I recommend reading in your browser so you can toggle these descriptions on if you want to read them.

As a caveat, I’ve had no formal training in visual design. But I am an artist (although I don’t often call myself that). In addition, I’ve worked closely with graphic designers my entire career. I’ve learned a lot from the slide makeovers they’ve done of my designs, as well as from books. (See the resources at the end of the post.)

Slide Makeover #1

Most of us can relate to this struggle: when developing compliance training, how do we present regulatory information in a visually interesting way? That’s the challenge for the first slide makeover.

Before (1 of 7)

This slide has some good things going for it. It uses a readable font, high contrast, and a relevant photo to illustrate the content.

PowerPoint slide with long blocks of white text on a black background, and a small photo of forklifts in the corner.

Powered Industrial Truck - Definition 

  • A mobile, power-propelled truck used to carry, push, pull, lift, stack or tier materials. [American Society of Mechnical Engineers (ASME) definition]
  • Excluded are vehicles used for earth moving and over-the-road hauling.
  • Commonly known as forklifts, pallet trucks, rider trucks, forktrucks, or lift trucks.
  • Can be powered through electric or combustion engines.

But there’s also a lot of text on the slide. Way too much text. This is the most common problem we all struggle with when designing slides.

Remember, slides are free, and there’s no shortage of them. You can use as many as you want. 

This slide also uses a “standard” 4:3 aspect ratio instead of the more modern widescreen size (16:9).

After (1 of 7)

After updating the slide size, I looked for logical places to split the content. I divided it into three slides: one for the definition, one for extra information like the “AKA” content, and one for the outliers that don’t fall into the definition.

Although high-contrast text is a good thing for accessibility, ultra-high contrast, like white on black, can be problematic for some users (including me). To take the contrast down a notch, I lightened the black background to a dark gray. Even though there was nothing wrong with the original font, I added a subtle industrial feel using the free Google font, Coda.

The small picture in the corner felt like an afterthought, and it was too pixelated for me to enlarge. So, I downloaded some free images from Pixabay. To add punch, I created shapes to serve as backgrounds, filling them with colors extracted from the images using PowerPoint’s eyedropper tool.

For accessibility, I verified the color contrast using TPGI’s free Colour Contrast Analyser (CCA) tool and the Coolors color blindness simulator.

Here are the three slides I created to replace the “before” slide. I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments.

Slide titled "What is a powered industrial truck?" with a bulleted list of one-word items and a large photo of a forklift. The title appears on an avocado-green shape that matches the color of the forklift.

What is a powered industrial truck?

A mobile, power-propelled truck used to:

carry,

push,

pull,

lift,

stack, or

tier materials

Slide titled "Did you know?" with one sentence and a list that appears over an orange background.

Did You Know? 

A powered industrial truck may use an electric or combustion engine

Otherwise known as a...
  • forklift
  • pallet truck
  • rider truck
  • fork truck
  • lift truck
Slide titled "What's NOT a powered industrial truck?" with a photo of earth moving equipment with an X over it. The shape on which the title appears is the same color orange as the equipment.

What's NOT a powered industrial truck?  

A vehicle used for:

  • earth moving
  • over-the-road hauling

Slide Makeover #2

For the second slide makeover, I chose three slides out of a deck of 18 that was sent to me.

Before (2 of 7)

I love that this presentation begins with a question to activate the learners’ memory and connect the information to their past experiences. The colors are pleasing, and the background isn’t too busy or distracting.

Slide with a question over a gray and blue grid-paper background and a blue question mark.

Have you ever walked away from a class thinking you understood the content, just to blank out while trying to complete the homework?

Why did this happen?

I like the informal feel of the marker-like font (Marker Felt), but it’s a little hard to read, especially with this much text.

After (2 of 7)

After changing the slide size, I decided to minimize the text. I’m assuming that a facilitator would ask the question, so why list it on the slide? 

I added an image for visual appeal and to illustrate that feeling of being completely lost when you sit down to complete an assignment. This has much more of an immediate emotional impact than reading the text. 

Slide titled "Has this ever happened to you?" with an illustration of a woman at a computer looking confused, with a question mark in a thought bubble.

I liked the colors in this image (from Shutterstock), so I built my color palette around it. Because the image didn’t originally fill the entire slide, I extended the color on the left and right of it.

I also changed the Marker Felt font to the free Google font, Permanent Marker, which is more readable and modern-looking.

Before (3 of 7)

The second slide in the deck illustrates a learner engagement no-no we’ve probably all done: listing the full objectives on the slide. 

Slide titled "Flipped Learning" with six learning objectives in a bulleted list.

Flipped Learning

  • Define flipped learning
  • Differentiate between flipped learning & flipped classroom
  • List the pros and cons of flipped learning
  • Create meaningful connections between in-class and out-of-class activities
  • Evaluate a flipped learning activity
  • Create a flipped learning activity

We need learning objectives as we’re designing the content, but learners don’t necessarily need to see them. If you want to provide the full text, put them in a participant guide or handout.

I can almost hear the horrified gasps. “But learners need to know what to expect!” Yes, of course they do. But we can do that in other ways. At the beginning of a lesson, we need to capture the learner’s attention, and big long lists of objectives just don’t do that. See this post for more about that.

After (3 of 7)

For this slide, I reworded the objectives as a shorter list of questions the learner will be able to answer by completing the lesson. This didn’t reduce the number of words on the slide much, but it’s more readable and interesting now.

Then I added a superhero saying, “Flipped learning to the rescue!” to tie it back to the problem presented in the first slide. This illustration is another Shutterstock image, but I modified the colors and added the “FL” logo to his chest in Photoshop. To go along with the comic-book feel, I added a background (also from Shutterstock) and made it 35% transparent so it didn’t feel too busy.

All caps isn’t very readable for large amounts of text, so I used Lato for the list and customized the bullets to match the color palette.

Notice that I used illustrations for both slides for consistency. I’d prefer for the illustrations to be more similar in style, but I think these are close enough not to be jarring.

Slide titled "Flipped learning to the rescue!" with five questions listed next to a caped superhero with "FL" on his chest. The "L" is backwards.

Flipped Learning to the Rescue!

  • What is flipped learning?
  • Is it the same as a flipped classroom?
  • What’s good and bad about it?
  • How can it improve learning?
  • How do I create effective flipped learning experiences?

Before (4 of 7)

For the last slide from this deck, I chose one with a Bloom’s Taxonomy illustration—a variation of which I’m sure we’ve all used.

Slide titled "Flipped" with a rainbow-styled Bloom's taxonomy on a black background.

Besides the fact that this slide looks out of place in the deck because of the black background, it has a dated look.

Bevels, drop shadows, and glossy buttons can instantly make your slides look dated. I can think of very few use cases for using bevels:

  • You love your slides to have that “retro” 1990s feel.
  • You need to recreate the software interface from Windows ME.
  • You’re building a Death Star.

After (4 of 7)

I focused my makeover of this slide on making it look more modern—including replacing the brackets. While I love a good rainbow, especially during Pride Month, I wanted a more cohesive look that matched the color palette used in the other slides. So, I filled the triangle with the same background image I used on the previous slide.

Slide titled "Flippin' Blooms" with a triangle illustration of Bloom's taxonomy. Knowledge and comprehension levels are marked "at home," while the application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation levels are marked "in class."

I could have used the revised version of Bloom’s, but I’m old school. Which version do you use? Or do you even use Bloom’s at all? There are alternatives, you know.

Slide Makeover #3

For the last set of makeovers, I wanted some ugly slides I could transform from Josie Grossie to Drew Barrymore. 

Cue a search of federal government websites—after all, they’re in the public domain, so they’re fair game, right? I selected three slides from two different lessons of an old FEMA training program. 

To be clear, I love FEMA as an agency. I’ve done a lot of work for them and am proud to support their mission. So I hope they don’t take it personally that I’m picking on their slides. The file I chose is from the 90s, so it’s no surprise that it’s out-dated. 

Before (5 of 7)

The first slide has some positive design elements. The layout is appealing, with nice symmetry and grouping. It’s colorful, uses a highly readable font, and illustrates each phase with a photo.

Orange slide titled "Project Impact" with four photos illustrating four phases. See text description.

Project Impact: 4 Phases to a Disaster-Resistant Community

  1. Building partnerships (graphic: a senator speaking with a home improvement employee)
  2. Assessing risk (graphic: two emergency managers stand next to a stream. One gestures toward the water.)
  3. Prioritizing needs (graphic: two women stand in front of a Project Impact booth looking at a brochure)
  4. Keep your community informed (a man wearing a suit steps out of a Project Impact van, while a man wearing a hard hat stands behind him)

Of course, there is room for improvement. The background is distracting and doesn’t provide sufficient color-contrast for the white and red text. In addition, the photos are grainy, and the boxes look a little dated (which is understandable, given the age of this file).

After (5 of 7)

To update the slide, I removed the heading “Project Impact,” because it’s the title of the whole slide deck, so it’s not necessary to repeat it. Then I found higher quality images to illustrate each phase. I recolored the images in PowerPoint to give them a cohesive look, and I moved the numbers into red circles above them.

I normally don’t use outlines for shapes because they can look dated, but in this case, I used a thick border around the circles, matching the background color, to set them off from the orange shapes.

I also reworded the last phase slightly, because “Keep Your Community Informed” is not parallel with the other items (which use “-ing” verbs), and it was too long for the space. This redesigned slide uses the font, Open Sans.

Slide titled "4 Phases to a Disaster Resistant Community." See text description.

4 Phases to a Disaster-Resistant Community

  1. Building partnerships (graphic: handshake)
  2. Assessing risk (graphic: two emergency managers holding clipboards approach a man standing on his porch)
  3. Prioritizing needs (graphic: a note with the words "people first" tacked on a bulletin board)
  4. Updating the community (a man speaks from a podium as a sign language interpreter translates next to him)

Before (6 of 7)

The next slide I chose to redesign uses a readable font that’s consistent with the other slides in this deck. But the orange-on-white text fails a color contrast check, even for large text. And the colorful hands image is distracting behind the text.

Slide with the title listed in orange. Bulleted text appears over a green and purple illustration of four hands in a circle.

Fourth Phase: It Takes Everyone! Communicate Your Progress

  • Keep your community informed as you take actions
  • Promote involvement of your partners
  • Maintain support for your long-term initiatives

After (6 of 7)

To refresh this slide, I shortened the title, and I used part of the image for Phase 4, from the overview slide, as a subtle reminder of which phase we’re talking about. Then I added icons for each bulleted item for a punch of color and visual interest.

I’m not a fan of logos at the bottom of the slides. They just clutter up the slides. If you must include a logo, put it on the title slide only. It’s not likely that your learners will forget whose training they’re in.

It’s not an earth-shattering transformation, but it’s an improvement.

Slide titled "Resilience is a team effort" with three items in a list with icons next to each. The slide also includes a photo of a man speaking from a podium.

Fourth Phase: It Takes Everyone! Communicate Your Progress

  • Keep your community informed as you take actions
  • Promote involvement of your partners
  • Maintain support for your long-term initiatives

Before (7 of 7)

I saved the best for last. And by “best,” I absolutely mean “worst.” I think this background might have come standard in PowerPoint back in the day, but what were they thinking?

Slide titled "Disasters Impact Differently" in yellow text over a magenta background with swirly stripes similar to a tiger's stripes. The slide includes a bulleted list of six items.

Disasters Impact Differently

Some Are More Vulnerable Than Others

  • The poor
  • The marginalized
  • The very young
  • The elderly
  • Single mothers with young children
  • The disabled

This slide illustrates that passing a color contrast checker isn’t everything. Yes, this one passes. But that doesn’t mean it looks good or is easy on the eyes. In general, we need to stay away from yellow text.  

Besides the busyness of the magenta tiger-striped background, let’s talk about coherence. This slide deck is a part of the same program that included the previous two slides, yet it looks nothing like those slides. 

While I understand that learners might want variety, I’d argue that they also need consistency. If you want to mix things up by using different templates for different lessons, I’d advise keeping the general look and feel the same but changing the colors.

After (7 of 7)

PowerPoints are often filled to the brim with lists. Many of us resort to SmartArt as a way to cut down on the bullets.

I chose this slide to demonstrate another way to approach lists. Instead of a bulleted list, I used images to illustrate each point. These were originally black silhouettes that I recolored in PowerPoint to match my theme.

Slide titled "Which populations experience the worst impacts in disaster?" Six items are listed underneath orange silhouettes of people.

Which populations experience the worst impacts in disasters?

  • Those with disabilities (silhouette of a man using a wheelchair)
  • The very young (silhouette of a baby crawling)
  • The elderly (silhouettes of a man and woman wearing hats. The man uses a cane.)
  • Single parents with young children (silhouette of a man holding the hand of a child)
  • The poor (silhouette of a man with his pockets turned out)
  • Other marginalized groups (silhouette of a Muslim woman kneeling in prayer)

When I first inserted the silhouettes, they looked like they were floating in mid-air. To fix this, I added a shape to serve as a platform for them to stand on (or to sit, crawl, or kneel on), and I created shadows by duplicating the images, filling them with a transparent gray, and using the 3-D Rotation picture effect to skew them. In some instances, I also cropped the feet off the shadows to make them look better.

You’ll notice I also reworded the slide title and some of the text to use more inclusive language.

Summary

Here’s a recap of all the before-and-after images. Let me know what you think!

Don’t miss the list of design-related books below the graphics.

Recap of Slide Makeover 1

Slide Makeovers recap (1 of 3). See the text description.

Slide Makeover

In the "before" column is a slide with a lot of white text on a black background, with a small photo of forklifts in the corner.

An arrow points from the following list to the "before" image:

  • Too much text
  • Too high contrast for some users
  • Image gets lost in the corner
  • Boring

In the "after" column are three slides in which the text from the "before" slide has been divided up. Two of the slides contain large high-quality images. The background has been changed to dark gray, and the slides incorporate color blocks in green and orange.

Design Tips:
  • Break up long blocks of text onto separate slides
  • Use high contrast but not ultra-high contrast
  • Extract colors from photos to create a cohesive palette
  • Use an easily readable font that complements the theme

Recap of Slide Makeover 2

Slide Makeovers recap (2 of 3). See the text description.

Slide Makeover

"Before" and "after" columns with three slides in each. 

The first "before" slide lists two questions on a gray background. The "after" slide is titled "Has this ever happened to you?" and includes an illustration of a confused woman over an indigo background.

The second "before" slide is titled "Flipped Learning" and lists six learning objectives over a gray background. The "after slide" uses a comic-book style background with a superhero character saying "Flipped learning to the rescue!" The slide lists five questions in lieu of learning objectives.

The third "before" slide includes an illustration of Bloom's Taxonomy in red, green, purple, blue, and orange beveled shapes over a black background. On the "after" slide, the taxonomy uses a comic-book-style background, and the slide background is indigo to match the other slides.

Design Tips:
  • Use legible fonts
  • Use images instead of words whenever possible
  • Communicate learning expectations in a meaningful way
  • Use color to gain attention
  • Be consistent
  • Just say no to beveled shapes

Recap of Slide Makeover 3

Slide Makeovers recap (3 of 3). See the text description.

Slide Makeover

"Before" and "after" columns with three slides in each. 

The first "before" slide has an orange background with black, white, and red text and four images captioned with four phases. In the "after" slide, the title is shorter and the images crisper and stylized with an orange color for a cohesive look.

In the second "before" slide, the title appears in orange text over a white background. Three bullet points appear over a green and purple illustration of four hands. On the "after slide," the title appears in black text on an orange box, and the bulleted items appear next to red icons. The slide includes a photo of a man speaking at a podium.

The third "before" slide places yellow and white text over a magenta background with stripes similar to those of a tiger. A bulleted list details various population groups. The "after" slide uses a light gray background. The population groups are listed across the bottom of the slide, underneath orange silhouettes of people.

Design Tips:
  • Avoid distracting backgrounds
  • Shorten text wherever possible
  • Use high-quality images
  • Think beyond bulleted lists
  • Use consistent styles

Recommended Reading

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