A brief history of slide design

Slides or visual aids  have changed significantly over the years. Ignoring the blackboard, whiteboard and flipchart which have been used for mainly hand drawn visual aids, the introduction of slides to support a presentation started with the use of 35mm slides.  These were prepared, usually by specialists well in advance of a presentation. They were expensive to produce and once created could never be changed.

Overhead Projectors

The first main revolution in slides came with the overhead projector. This enabled individuals to create their own slides, either hand drawn or printed using transparencies and a photocopier. Creating slides was still a fairly time consuming process and most slides were monochrome and textual.

A typical slide showing the three keys to good health might look something like this:


Notice it is very text heavy with all the detail spelt out. Individual bullet points could be revealed one at a time by placing a sheet of paper under the transparency and pulling it down, point by point.


Initially PowerPoint was used mainly to create the slide layouts for Overhead projector transparencies, but as technology developed an LCD tablet mounted on an overhead projector allowed slides to be viewed directly from the computer. Not only did this speed up the whole process of creating a visual aid, but they could now easily be created using colour and the omnipresent clip art.


As corporate marketing departments became involved in the production of slides for staff to use then corporate branding became more important. Slides had to comply to a predefined format and display the company’s logo. Individuals were no longer free to use which ever of the many standard templates provided by PowerPoint they chose. In some ways the creation of a corporate standard was a good thing mainly because it limited the use of over zealous animation and slide transitions, which had started to detract from the content of the visual aids.

Corporate Branding

standard course

As the processing power and storage capabilities of the standard PC improved it became more and more practical to include photo quality images in a presentation, this co-incided with the advent of the internet, enabling images to be found and shared easily. Clip art became out dated and old fashioned.

Using Images



In the above example, we still have the same corporate layout and all the main text is still present but now it has been augmented by an image. Often people would keep the bullet points they had become used to using but add a photograph on one side of the slide. However, in attempts to de-clutter their slides and make the most of the images many people decided to dump the corporate formats and concentrate on making the slide content as visible as possible and remove anything that may distract the viewer from their key message.. As in the following example:


Keep it Simple

Current thinking has taken this idea of “keeping it simple” even further. There is now a the idea of only having one idea per slide and minimizing the amount of text shown on a slide. After all if the presenter is saying the words, why do people need to read them as well. Contrary to popular belief, people can’t actually multitask very well, so if the audience are reading the slide they are not listening to what the presenter is saying and vice versa.

One idea One Slide

This concept means that the visual aids to accompany a presentation on the “Basis for Good Health” might now consist of three slides rather than one and look more like this:




However, this may be too simplistic. After all the topic is good health, rather than each of the contributors to good health, so you may prefer to bring them all back together like this:

good health

Visual aids have evolved in line with the capability and capacity of available technology.  Adding video clips and live twitter feeds into a presentation is now common place along with other technologies which encourage audience participation. As long as it is implemented in such a way that it continues to add to what the speaker is saying rather than distract the audience, I think any such improvements should be applauded.

Remember the purpose of visual aids is to add value to what the speaker is saying not replace the speaker or repeat what he/she has just said.

Finally, don’t forget that your visual aids don’t have to be slides at all, they can just as easily be physical objects.

All the best

Graham Young


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