The following blog post was written by HUB member, Steve Jankowski


Every week, HUB Ottawa hosts a Brown Bag Lunch, an event that allows members to deliver a workshop or lecture in their field. These talks range from subjects such as renewable energy to branding and marketing. Given the diverse membership of the HUB, I decided to give a talk on a subject that everyone could benefit from: visual presentations. Having worked in a number of design studios in Ottawa and as a freelance graphic designer, I have been faced with the question of how to best communicate messages quickly and efficiently. I used this knowledge in my presentation to show how to increase the quality of PowerPoint presentations. Here are three conventions that may help your audience understand your message:


1. Use light coloured text on a dark background.

We are naturally drawn to light. For instance, when we are in a dark room and suddenly, a single point of light is seen, we all instantly look toward it. Put into the context of a presentation, if you have a dark background for your presentation and use white text, people will quickly focus in on the text.

Alternatively, if you use a bright background with dark text, the audience’s eyes will be more attracted to the background rather than the text, which makes the information less legible.

In terms of pure legibility, the optimum combination is a black background with white text. There is a caveat to this statement. While visually optimal for projectors, white on black can seem a little too utilitarian and stark. Therefore using a dark colour for the background can be used to add a bit of flavour to the presentation without interfering with legibility.


2. Use only one or two fonts (made specifically for the screen).

A common mistake is to use too many different kinds of fonts. Sticking to just one or two will help keep things simple. In the case of having two fonts, it’s best to pair a sans serif font with one with serifs.

The contrast between the two types can be useful in differentiating information. In addition to using just one or two fonts, choose fonts that are designed specifically to be read on the screen. Most projectors today use pixels to project light onto a projection screen. As such, fonts that are made for computer screens tend to be highly legible in presentations. Here is a list of fonts that are made specifically for the screen: Droid Serif, Droid Sans, Lato, Open Sans, and PT Serif

3. Use the rule of thirds

The rule of thirds guides the composition of anything visual, whether it is a painting, a photograph, or a presentation. First, create a grid that evenly divides a slide into a 3×3 grid. Second, place the elements of your presentation along these axes. In doing so your presentation will more likely be aesthetically pleasing. The additional benefit is that by consistently adhering to your grid, all of your slides will appear more cohesive, which ultimately reflects on the unity of the message you are presenting.


In Brief
The key to making better presentations is a better understanding go how visual communication works. This understanding can take the form of knowing the medium, using the right tools, and understanding what people expect to see. You can download the presentation I gave here or read a few books to get you started. Additionally, I’m always open to offering consultations about graphic design as well as providing creative services. Strike up a conversation via twitter or visit my website.