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.
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.
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.
Here are the three slides I created to replace the “before” slide. I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
Recap of Slide Makeover 2
Recap of Slide Makeover 3
Here’s a list of design-related books from my shelves:
- Better Than Bullet Points: Creating Engaging e-Learning with PowerPoint, by Jane Bozarth
- Graphic Design or Everyone: Understand the Building Blocks So You Can Do It Yourself, Edited by Cath Caldwell
- Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, by Nancy Duarte
- The Non-Designer’s Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice, by Robin Williams
- The Non-Designer’s Presentation Book: Principles for Effective Presentation Design, by Robin Williams
- Visual Language for Designers: Principles for Creating Graphics That People Understand, by Connie Malamed