23 Jul

Use a Creative Brief in Presentation Development, Maximize the Design Potential

I’ve done some freelance work recently that reminded me how incredibly crucial it is to develop a presentation palette and style guide prior to beginning work. Spending this extra effort beforehand can be a life saver especially when creating corporate or litigation presentations that often have changing deadlines and last minute edits, not to mention teams of people working on several sets of slides for one matter. If multiple people are working on the same project I don’t see how this step can be skipped and still preserve fluidity and aesthetic appeal of the presentation.

Designers are not mind readers, and if your team has a specific divide of creative (ideas) and design (translating ideas into graphics) then you need to make sure the designers have necessary information to do their jobs well. Also if you often bring in freelancers to help out with overflow, don’t expect them to naturally jump in on a project and just create meaningful graphics out of thin air.
In order to resolve some of the issues facing us in presentation design we need to more widely adopt one crucial element that has helped the ad agency world in the creative process… the creative brief.

What is a Creative Brief?

Essentially a creative brief is a document that outlines pertinent information about the project so that the entire team has a clear sense of the project’s background and goals. (Information Design Workbook, Baer)

This book has a really nice short chapter defining what a creative brief is, what it’s for and how it can help in the design process.

The brief includes information such as who the client is, goals, deadlines and can contain a “special edition” style guide for the design team. Some form of the creative brief, with project goals is reviewed and signed off by the client. I don’t think I need to point out the benefits of a client signing off on that they agree with your understanding of the project goals.

Think about this scenario, as this happens quite often. I receive a request for freelance work. I’m asked to create a new set of slides or “format/fix” existing ones based on an “example” attached. For example I’m asked to create new charts from an Excel file or format charts that have already been inserted into PowerPoint.

The Benefit of Sharing Project Goals with the Design Team

Without any knowledge of the PURPOSE for these charts, how effective do you think the design will be? Yes I can do some magic with data, and have it look beautiful and clear and easy to understand but I’m sure there is a reason for this graph, besides that it needs to be shown. There will be a story associated with it, a point will be made, but without this information I’m basically driving with a blind fold. If you want good design, don’t tell a designer, do THIS & make it look pretty, give them the data with a goal and have them solve the problem. That’s what designers (at least the good ones) do. Make sure you know if you’re working with a graphic designer or a graphic artist though. An artist will make your data pretty, a designer will make it pretty & meaningful.

Style Guide

If you have several people working on a set of slides, or multiple slide decks, how do you keep design consistent?

A good lead designer and/or art director will take measures to ensure that their presentation is fluid, and consistent.

Setting up a PowerPoint template and creating layouts is not enough (and I still get presentations from design shops that don’t utilize even this basic feature). Creating sample slides as a guide is just a small step above. Someone just coming in on the project, can’t tell what treatments were used by simply looking at them; at least not to the 100th percentile of certainty.
There is valuable time being wasted every time someone is trying to figure out what style treatments have already been used; or worse several people creating new styles at the same time.  There should be one designer, if not an art director that develops a style guide for the presentation and everyone on the team will have a clear understanding, that this is their “design bible” for the duration of the project. This could be extremely useful in situations when non-designers develop slides to help with the production process.

I recently worked on a presentation that used about 20 different hues and shades/tints of blue.  Navy, Aqua, Sky blue, all on the same presentation… sometimes all on one slide.  (sad note, the presentation had an “art director” working on it, and I use that term loosely as I’m sure it’s just a title, and not the role this person serves). I thought my pupils were going to explode from the design blasphemy that was being committed. I was told, use a blue color… I thought to myself.  WHICH ONE?! I had to spend time looking up the colors of the background elements, and then creating a palette for the objects, so they wouldn’t clash.

Writing a Presentation Style Guide

As I’m writing this post a new article appeared in my reader from SmashingMagazine.com. Designing Style Guidelines For Brands And Websites If you have any involvement in the design process you should be subscribing to this site.  It’s geared toward web design professions but it offers valuable information for anyone in the creative or production fields.

Since we work in presentation media, I think the style guide can be created within the presentation software.  In PowerPoint there are four types of pre-defined styles 1.Layouts (created via Slide Masters) 2. Colors (pre-defined color scheme, that is available in the color selection menu) 3. Fonts (a main title font and a body font) and 4. Effects. You can create NEW layouts, color themes and font themes but you are limited to the pre-existing effects (object styles) that are based on the Colors portion of the theme.  PowerPoint nor keynote offer a utility to save multiple “effects” or object treatments that will appear throughout the presentation.   This has to be defined on a slide, by creating the object, and then writing down it’s style properties. The reason you should write down the properties instead of just having examples, is because sometimes the copy/apply style tool will not work with what someone needs the style for. You also can’t use that feature on tables and graphs.
Sample text bubbles on a bar chart:

The basics to include on a style guide:

  1. Color Palette

    I can’t stress how much a pre-defined color palette is important.  In addition to creating a new color theme within PowerPoint or Keynote (and you really should be utilizing these features, there are there for a reason), you should specify the RGB values of the colors and their intended purpose. This can be achieved by simply creating a bunch of shapes filling each with a color of the palette and then typing in the RGB numbers within the shape.  For example: Accent color (to highlight important data on graphs, attention box) : Theme color 7, RGB =  254,184,10
    I will do a whole post on color palette development next time, including how to re-purpose existing PowerPoint 2007 color themes.

  2. Fonts

    Font name, purpose, color, size (min size to preserve readability, which can be derived by knowing presentation location and screen size). For example TITLE: Arial, 40-44pt, Gray 80% RBG=77,77,77, shadow: black, blur 3, distance 2

  3. Copy-writing

    Copy-writing is one of those things that most people register subconsciously. When reading, your brain automatically looks for consistency and patterns, and poor copy-writing can ruin the reading flow. (smashingmagazine.com) Copy writing specifies things like Title: Capitalize Each Word, No Periods. Body: sentence case with a period. Dates: January 1, 2010

  4. Logos

    Don’t make every person working on the show grab the logo from an illustrator file or grab a non vector version from the web. Just have them all on one slide, ready to be copy/pasted.

  5. Icon and Photo Library

    At the very least a style guide how these should look like, so if several people are creating icons or using pictures, they all have the same look.

  6. Object Styles

    Pretty much any design property applied to a specific object.  If you’re going to have graphs in the presentation, define what these should look like.  For example. Bar graph: no vertical axes, no grid lines, labels: number value, outside top, label font Halvetica Neue Condensed Bold 18pt,  label font color: 77,77,77.

Having these basic guidelines established gives everyone working on the presentation more time for actual problem solving. It helps preserve the cohesiveness and fluidity of the project.

I can’t see anyone disagreeing with creating a style guide and a creative brief.  If a designer thinks they don’t need one, they are just not a good designer.  If you think it takes too much time and you need to make project deadlines, remember you’ll save a lot of time in production by having this done ahead of time.

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