What does it take to be a presentation designer?
Being completely honest, I kind of ‘fell’ into presentation design, and I have a feeling this is where many of my kind begin.
Fifteen years ago, fresh out of university, I had acquired a varied set of skills from my Multimedia Production degree. I knew a little about a lot – Flash animation (RIP), interactive CD-ROM creation in Director (RIP too), graphic design, video and audio production, 3D design and animation, web design and html coding and computer technology. I landed a junior designer position at a start-up creative agency in London as an ‘all-rounder’ – responding to the various client requests that came our way, learning on the job and honing my skills. As the agency started to receive more and more presentation design requests, it quickly became clear it was something that utilised many of my skills in one package, gave me great job satisfaction and resulted in delighted clients!
Since then I’ve designed and animated slides for some huge global brands on their mission critical presentations; worked closely with CEOs of multi million pound businesses; flown around the world supporting clients on-site; been a key part of the crew at events and conferences; designed, built and delivered training for new brand presentation template tools; repeatedly seen the amazement on clients faces when they see what’s possible with PowerPoint; as well as hired and trained a whole team of now specialist presentation designers.
But, despite PowerPoint having an estimated 500 million users worldwide, there are still so few people who are able to get the best from it! There’s still stigma from the design world towards PowerPoint, but it’s not just about the designer getting over their attitude towards using the software - it takes a unique person and skill set to be a presentation designer. In my opinion, these are the key qualities needed:
01 Be cool under pressure
Alongside the planned and well prepped presentation projects, I work on a lot of last minute amends or even whole projects as close to the day before the presentation is being given. Working with the client on-site at events in particular can mean designing under tight timelines, you need to be able to focus, work at speed when needed, and stay calm under this pressure. Part of the job in this scenario is helping keep a client under stress feel like everything is in hand.
02 Be a pixel perfect designer
One of the key elements that contributes to great presentation design is consistency and accuracy of positioning and sizing. Master templates, guides and the alignment tools are all your best friend, but checking in slide show mode twice through is something I always do to spot anything that may shift between slides.
03 Be adaptable
In my experience of working in creative comms agencies, project requirements can vary greatly for example:
Animating the reveal of a bottle for the launch of a new perfume
Taking a FinTech client’s complicated diagram and rethinking it into a beautifully designed interactive set of slides
Converting financial results from clunky excel charts into sleek, easily digestible and printable investor relations slides
Creating auto-running animated digital signage videos
Designing poster templates that allow clients to edit themselves and print
The content subject matter, graphic style and delivery format can vary greatly. Even if you are employed as an in-house presentations designer, it is likely that the presentation types will vary, from financial to internal comms or pitches, which leads into my next point…
04 Embrace technology
Along with the variety in presentation uses also comes the need for an understanding of a wide range of technology requirements and how to design for them. For example, different screen sizes, aspect ratios, resolutions and file formats (such as presentations, templates and videos) depending on the final delivery. We work cross-platform - predominantly designing on PCs (in the corporate world 99% of clients will be editing and running the slides from a PC) but also on Macs as needed and even creating content for Windows and Android tablets as well as iPads.
05 Care about the content
A presentation is often a very personal and important delivery for our clients. It’s a direct reflection of them, and of course they want to leave a lasting positive impression on their clients, their boss or their colleagues. With presentations sometimes covering quite complex and bespoke subjects, it’s not unusual for clients to dive straight in with acronyms and in depth industry information. Rather than letting this bamboozle me, I use the opportunity to learn about each business I work with, getting a real understanding of what the slides mean and therefore designing with all this in mind. It sounds obvious but you’d be amazed at the number of people I’ve encountered who design without even reading the slides - and the results are never as effective!
06 Accept the design challenges of presentation applications
As much as I can push PowerPoint, there are certain technical limitations that I have had to learn to work around. Using system fonts (the basic font set installed on all computers) rather than brand fonts for many projects being one. As a designer, this can feel very restrictive as fonts are often a key part of a brand identity. Part of our challenge on a daily basis is to make system fonts appear to be part of that brand. Of course, some brand fonts can be embedded, but on the whole if we are distributing a template or working on a company overview presentation, that needs to work for a whole business with a BYOD policy, it’s generally most effective to work with the system fonts.
I would thoroughly encourage any creative who feels like these fit their capabilities to explore presentation design further. It’s a real niche skill and so there is huge demand for talented multi-skilled people who are able to design, animate and build beautiful interactive presentations for some of the biggest brands in the world. It has given me a truly diverse and rewarding career, with clients often filled with so much gratitude for the slides I deliver, which is such a great feeling. Being a presentation designer is definitely a unique role... I’m really glad fell into it!