Design, don’t write

pulse_website_screenshotI recently had a stand next to Pulse creative marketing. I can’t claim to be best buddies, but we get on – nice folk!

And as you’d expect, their stand was engaging and classy. And also as you’d expect, I promised them a blog post. (Ahem – yes, alright, I didn’t say when by, did I?)

And it got me thinking about the process of creating marketing and presentations. Don’t get me wrong, for all that I’m great at writing and delivering presentations – and at training you to do the same – I’m absolutely awful about developing marketing. There’s something about the process which brings me out in a metaphorical cold sweat.

… probably the same cold sweat as any normal human being gets when they’ve got to make a presentation.

That got me thinking about other similarities between the two processes.

  1. You need to know exactly what you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t know what you’re trying to do, how well can you possibly do it?  And how will you know if you have? Marketing and presenting both need clearly defined, achievable and measurable outcomeTip: design what you want to change with your presentation and get it into few enough words to fit on a T-shirt. The discipline of that will be very helpful in focussing your thinking.
  2. The design process is analogue. No matter how well you know your technology, if you’re designing using that technology you’re going to have to think like it, act like it and be limited by what it can do. The best way to learn how to dance is to do it, but if you’re sat in front of a PowerPoint template that might never cross your mindTip: turn off your computer. Seriously.  Go for a walk and design your presentation in your head away from all technology.
  3. There’s a lot of ‘wasted’ effort. Sure you might get the answer first time but you can’t be sure that it’s the best answer until you’ve tried a lot of others. Having more experience makes it more likely you’ll get their quickly but even experts need the thrash around a bit, sometimes (though we call it ‘brainstorming’ or something)Tip: set aside time in your diary to design. Then double it. ;)
  4. Much of that effort is verbal. That’s necessary because we use different mindsets and vocabularies when we write – compared to when we speak. In the past I’ve referred to this as ‘Saxon English’ and ‘Latin English’. You might reasonably write phrase “At the project’s inception” but you’d be much more likely to say “At the very start of the project” or something similar. Saxon English is more appealing in these situations. (I had to change that from ‘these circumstances’ ;) )Tip: you shouldn’t be using a script, but if you need to use one, create it by speaking out loud, not sitting an typing.
  5. Design, don’t write. This is as much a mindset as it is a particular technique but I think it’s a key one. Writing is too linear for the creation process. And what’s more, if you write, you’re locked into one way of doing things (see earlier points about which sort of language you use and verbal effort!). Once you start writing things it’s much harder to end up with something that’s not written. And presentations aren’t about the text.Tip: create the presentation with no text at all first… and then add any necessary words afterwards only.
  6. Colour is key. Yeah, I know, this is more or less a repeat of the last point – or at least a sub-component of it, but it’s so important it I figured it needed to be said again. (Oh, and by the way “sub-component” is latin English – I could have said “part of it”.)Tip: for every slide, go back to in after you’ve finished an look at the impact of your colour choices.   If you’re using red, make sure you’re using for a reason…
  7. Accessibility is critical. There’s no point in designing something in red/green combinations if your audience is red/green colour blind. There’s no point in designing for women if your audience is men (sexism alert!). There’s no point designing in Icelandic for an audience that only speaks English. There’s no point in designing in 14 point text for an audience that is sat more than a couple of feet away. (36-ish point is your emergency smallest font, please!).  In short, design with your audience in mind, not yourself.Tip: once your slides are finished, look at them in greyscale view to make sure they’re readable by everyone – and then sit at the back of the room you’ll be working in and squint.  Can you still read them easily?
  8. Bad delivery medium/technology can undo everything. There’s no point in designing lush graphics that pop out of your screen if you’re sitting in front of a big iMac when you realise you’re going to be presenting on a tiny screen with an underpowered data-projector in a room with wall to wall windows and bright sunshine. Clue – if your audience is squinting, things aren’t working. You need to design for how you can deliver.Tip: find out what resources you’ve got available before the session. Design your presentation assuming life is perfect, otherwise you’ll limit your creativity, but check when you’ve done that that it will work in the room, using the kit you’ve got etc.  Put a time in your diary to check that with enough time to sort it out if it doesn’t work.  Saying you’re sorry to the audience doesn’t cut it.

So what do you think?

Simon is one of the UK's most highly regarded presentation skills trainers and professional speakers in the fields of presenting, confidence and emotional resilience.