A good photograph says something. It communicates with those who take time to view it, and it somehow moves them. The same could be said for good presentation design.

As presenters, we should aim to create presentation graphics that appeal visually and communicate clearly. To those ends, it might help us to take a few notes from a photographer. In his book The Essence of Photography: Seeing and Creativity, photographer Bruce Barnbaum shares tips for how to create stunning images. His expert advice is highly applicable to presentation design. Sometimes it helps us to remember that every single line, shape, color, and contrasting element communicates. And we can use all of them to help us accomplish our presentation purposes and goals.

1. Lines

Did you know that the lines in your presentation can create different energy or emotions? Barnbaum says vertical lines communicate strength and stability (“like that of tall conifer trees or buildings”). On the other hand, horizontal lines communicate more restful and quiet energy. Think about the horizontal line of a bed or a beach horizon. And diagonal lines “have an inherent kinetic energy, as . . . in the process of rising or falling.” This movement up or down creates “dynamism and activity.”

As you create graphics for your presentation, look at the lines of your images. These lines serve to lead our eyes, and the way in which our eyes are led create different moods. Where is your presentation design leading your audience?

2. Shapes

In addition to the lines in your graphics, you should pay attention to the shapes created by those lines. Barnbaum says “a photograph that features sharp, broken or jagged lines, or lines with tight curves, will have far greater impact than one that features gently curved lines.” There is more interest, tension, and energy communicated with certain shapes than with others. The shapes you choose to use in your presentation should match your overall presentation energy and the mood you are hoping to call forth from your audience.

The communicative power of shapes extends to the fonts you choose as well. Creative Director of a London-based design agency Martin Christie says, “Jagged, angular typefaces may appear as aggressive or dynamic; on the other hand, soft, rounded letters give a youthful appeal. Curved typefaces and cursive scripts tend to appeal more to women, while strong, bold lettering has a more masculine edge.”

3. Colors

Colors are highly communicative. In fact, one study found that people make 62-90% of their impulse decisions on color alone. The field of color psychology aims to understand how color affects us. Take for example the color red and its relation to our eating habits. Have you noticed how many fast food restaurants use the color red in their logos? That’s because red increases our heart rates, drives excitement, and stimulates impulse eating. However, you won’t find the same colors inside nicer, sit down restaurants because these establishments aren’t about increasing the volume of what you eat nor the speed at which you eat it.

If you want to make an impression on your audience, Barnbaum says to use “highly saturated, deep colors.” Color saturation refers to how instense and pure the colors are. No colors are off limits when it comes to designing for your presentations. However, you will want to pay attention to the saturation of the colors you use and how that difference affects your audience.

4. Contrast

A graphic with greater contrast jumps out and grabs our attention. On the other hand, an image with tones that are more similar produces a “softer, quieter, and perhaps reassuring feeling.” But Barnhaum warns, “You have to be careful not to cross the line from quiet to boring.” Some of the easier ways to produce appealing contrast is to use blacks and whites, to use opposites on the color wheel, or to use different saturations of the same color.

Contrast doesn’t just work in imagery, though. You can use contrast by making use of pauses (sound vs. silence). You can use it when you address both statistics and stories (appeals to reason vs. appeals to emotion). And you can even use it when you take a few steps (movement vs. stillness). Contrast should be woven all throughout your presentation to help gain attention.

Barnbaum’s tips of how to use lines, shapes, colors, and contrast remind us that every little part of our presentation design adds to the whole of our communication. And when we pay attention to all of those little parts, it adds up to greater presentation success.

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