Erik Spiekermann

It’s Showtime

Good and bad Powerpoint.

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Hora del show

Someone recently worked out how much economical damage was done by Powerpoint presentations – those occasions where several adult people all sit in the same room, watching some guy who tries to predict the future with the help of a few colored charts.

The expenses that incur because they end up trusting charts more than their own judgment reach billions. The damage done to the body and souls of the audience, the steady loss of visual culture cannot even be calculated. When Colin Powell tried to prove the existence of WMD in his pathetic presentation to the UN Security Council, it became evident how blue graded backgrounds with yellow lines in Arial on a drop shadow have already destroyed all the knowledge Old Europe had acquired since Gutenberg. With Photoshop and limited layout skills, almost everybody could have done a better job of forging maps and aerial photographs showing chemical factories disguised as trucks. Even at the Pentagon, Microsoft’s monopoly seems to have leveled taste and judgment down to that of your average Enron type of company. Are presentations all wasted? Or only those made in Powerpoint?

Software itself cannot be evil, not even when it originates from the «Evil Empire» in Seattle. Blindly repeating tasteless templates is habit-forming and bad. Software makers need to design for a worldwide market of millions of users, so they not only have to find the lowest common denominator of all visual cultures, but first sell even these lowly designs at countless meetings in-house. Calling the results «cultural imperialism» gives it far too much credit. It is simply all the perpetrators learnt back home at their colleges in Ohio or Kansas. In the end, users get what they deserve.

You can actually design very cool presentations in Powerpoint. Although we usually only get involved in nicely packaging someone else’s content, designers ought to follow what few and simple rules for that sort of work exist. The first one says: Never ever use Powerpoint templates! No ready-made format will ever guarantee that the speaker has something to say.

Author
Erik Spiekermann Berlin

This article was previously published in Form magazine.

Published on 06/12/2013

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Erik Spiekermann

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