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How To Design A Stellar Slide Deck (the Mack Web Way)

By May 22, 2014Creativity

Mack Web is now Genuinely. Learn more.

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Here at Mack Web, we’re all about creating processes to make our lives easier. In fact, our love of process-making is so great, we even have one in place for designing the slide decks Mack uses at her speaking gigs.

That’s right, a fully developed process that only sees the light of day a handful of times a year. We just…really love processes.

A benefit of this process is that I can easily fit a slide deck into my existing to-do list. I give myself a week to create the slide deck design and within that week I spend four hours (at most) designing Mack’s deck. This frees up the rest of my time for all the other work I have on my plate (like eating cupcakes, making tea, chatting with the team about the history of nunchucks. Y’know, important stuff).

Because here’s the great thing about slide decks: they’re not just for speaking gigs. Slide decks are a wonderful and highly visible way to share your knowledge, creating a pretty great and very, very shareable asset for your business.

The final reason I wanted to share our process is because it’s quite simple. In fact, it’s only 5 steps.

That’s right. You’re only one delightful 5-step process away from creating your own brilliant slide decks. Highly valuable and beautiful resources don’t necessarily have to be difficult to create.

You’re welcome.


Step 1) Stuff Your Brain with Inspiring Stuff (a.k.a. do some research).

This first step is crucial because I need to find design inspiration that makes me want to make a beautiful slide deck. This step doesn’t take long (about 30 minutes) and it’s worth it in the long run. Sometimes, rather than a deliberate hunt and gather, I check out things I’ve stockpiled as I come across them in the course of my everyday life.

Either way, finding creative and inspiring things beforehand speeds up my creative process and makes my slides look better (trust me, when I don’t do research and jump straight into design I always ended up scrapping my initial work and starting over).

There are many resources (online and offline) where you can find inspiration. When it comes to my personal preferences I use Pinterest. Here’s why:

1. I can find an array of design ideas quickly.

2. I can find high quality stuff. I usually start with a search term like ‘typography’, ‘packaging design’ or ‘label design’ and find ample material from there.

3. Pinning everything to the same board helps my workflow and keeps me focused because I don’t have to open multiple windows or search for my reference materials after I’ve saved them.

These were images I pinned to my board when I was creating Mack’s slide deck for Search Love San Diego.

Pinterest Board for SearchLove San Diego

Once I had a decent collection put together, I distilled my board to a handful of pins I wanted to use.

Here’s what that selection looked like:

My distilled pins

Just to give you some idea of the criteria I used when narrowing it down, this is what stood out to me with these pins:

  • I liked the various font pairings that were happening, and used these graphics to guide my font choices for Mack’s deck.
  • The textured backgrounds (I’ve found that backgrounds are a great way to add visual interest to slides while keeping things clean and easy to read).
  • The solid geometric shapes behind specific words were ideal design elements for a slide deck (they add visual interest, and emphasize the selected text without making things too crowded).

Once you’re satisfied that the creativity is brewing in the back of your brain, it’s time to get practical.


Step 2) You Gotta Make a List

After you distill your reference materials to a handful of graphics, there’s one more thing you have to do before jumping into design. You have to make a list of the types of slide templates you’re gonna need.

This step is important because it prevents you from:

1. Creating the same slide design again and again.

2. Spending time creating unnecessary slides that your presenter doesn’t need.

3. Designing a whole bunch of kinda-okay slides rather than a handful of really awesome slide templates.

4. Making the design the #1 priority of the slide deck. While it’s nice to have a beautiful slide deck, remember that design should play a supporting role to the actual content. Creating a list of templates your speaker needs will ensure that your design fits around their content (not vice versa).

If you’re the designer AND presenter, you likely have a good idea of the content you’re speaking about, so just set aside 5 minutes to jot down the types of templates you’re gonna need. Here at Mack Web, I do the design and Mack does the speaking, so this step requires a 10-minute meeting between the two of us to list out the types of templates Mack’s gonna need. (15 minutes if we drift over into reminiscing on adorable kitty photos from previous slide decks).

We’ve created an ample number of slide decks over the years, so our list doesn’t change that much anymore. Nowadays, our meeting is more of a brief chat about the existing list of slide templates. In case you were curious, here’s our working list of the templates we’ve found to be the “building blocks” of a good slide deck, allowing for both versatility and consistency within your deck:

A cover slide that includes the title of the talk and the name of the presenter.

cover slide


A slide with room for text and an image.

Slide with text and an image


A slide for screenshots (remember to leave room for text and stats on this slide).

slide for screenshots


A slide with text that sits over a background image or pattern.

text and background image


A slide for quotes or short statements.

slide with a quote


A slide that you can use as a section divider.

section divider slide


A slide for a bulleted list.

a slide with a bulleted list


A slide that allows for an ample amount of text.

text heavy slide layout


A closing slide with your information (we like to include a link bundle, URLs for our blog and community building guide, and our Twitter handle).

closing slide


Depending on your speaker’s content and needs, this list may look slightly different for you. Once you have your list of templates created, it’s time to move on to the fun part of the process: actually designing your templates.


Step 3) Start Designing: Tips and Best Practices

Before you design each template, be sure you’re familiar with the following best practices in order to ensure your designs are beautiful and functional.

(Many of the best practices mentioned below are things I learned from Ian Lurie’s slide deck: 30 tips for awesome presentations. Ian covers a lot of tips in his deck that I’m not covering in this post, so you really should read it).

I’ve grouped the pointers I frequently use into 4 guidelines. When I’m designing and feel that I’m stuck or that my design is cluttered, I step back and check if my slides are hitting these 4 highlights.

Guideline 1) Make Sure Your Content is Easy to Read

This means:

  • Your text should be large enough for your audience to easily read. If you’ve gotta squint to read what you’ve placed on a slide, that’s usually a sign that you need to make your text larger, even if that means paring it down or separating it into two or more slides.

Don’t do this.

small text that's hard to read

Instead, do this.

Text that's large enough to read


  • You’re using script and decorative fonts sparingly and making sure they are legible.

Don’t stylize all your words in a script typeface.

slide that's hard to read

Instead, select one or two words and stylize them with a script (or decorative) typeface.

slide that uses a script font correctly


  • Your color palette should make your slides easier to read, not harder.

Don’t use background colors (or textures) that make it hard to see your text. In this case, the blue background makes it harder to read certain parts of the slide.

color palette that makes things hard to read

Instead, use background colors (and textures) that make content super easy to see.

slide with dotted lines


Guideline 2) Make Your Content Part of the Design

The content you place onto each slide shouldn’t be an afterthought. Rather you should treat it as another design element in your deck.

  • Choose fonts that allow for numerous styles, the better to add voice to your text (for example, does your font include various weights like hairline, light, bold and black?).

I’ve been on a Lato kick lately because of all the options I have within this one font.

Lato Font Family - an example of a font with an ample number of styles.

  • Use contrasting font sizes, weights, styles, or color to emphasize pieces of your content and draw more attention to it.

This is okay, but note that even though there is an orange bar to highlight “keep in mind” all the text is the same size and color, which tends to make the slide look boring.

okay exapmle of text styling

This is better. Now there’s a difference in text size between the two statements, which adds more visual interest. However, there’s still more you can do…

Better example of text styling

This is best. If you do this, you deserve a gummy bear. Maybe two. “Keep in Mind” is not only a different color, it’s also bold. Further visual interest (and emphasis) is added to the bottom statement by using a light, italic style for the word “more”.

Best example of styling text


Guideline 3) Make Sure Your Images Don’t Interfere with Your Content

When you incorporate images, you want to leave room for text and ensure that your slide is still easy to read. Here are some ways you can do that:

Place a shape with a slight transparency behind the text so it stands out from the background.

example of a slide that uses a transparent square to separate text from the background image.

Create a shape and use it as a frame for your text (look up ‘label design’ on Pinterest; you’ll find a lot of creative shapes you can use for a slide like this).

example of a shape used to frame text on a slide.

Place images to the side of your content. This can tend to look a little boring, so an easy way to add more interest to a slide like this is by placing a border around the image.

example of text next to an image

Guideline 4) Keep It Simple

Remember, you’re limited on the space you can design within, so keep each slide simple. There are additional design elements I like to use in order to give Mack’s slide decks a polished look without causing unnecessary clutter:

Use shapes or banners to highlight text.

Example of a banner highlighting text.


Incorporate lines to add visual interest to a slide (and help separate text for readability)

slide with dotted lines


Use textured backgrounds, like this subtle textile, to create interest without causing clutter.

Example of a green linen texture used as a background.

And of course, at the end of day, the most important rule to keep in mind is readability. (In case you hadn’t picked up on that yet). If people can easily read your slide deck your content is going to get, well, actually read.

Once you have your slide templates created, it’s time to move on to the hand-off. 


Step 4) The Hand-off

The way our process works, it’s up to the presenter (or you, if you happen to be the presenter) to use said templates and create the actual presentation. I’m lucky because Mack has a great design eye (and attention to detail), so the hand-off is pretty easy.

If your presenter doesn’t have a design eye, you should sit down with her (or him) and review each slide template so she (or he) knows where things belong and how to edit stuff without losing all the styling you’ve worked so hard on. (Just to be extra safe, I’d recommend handing off a copy of your slide deck file so you have an original which stays intact).

And never fear, step five is quality control, so you’re gonna have an opportunity to get back into the deck and polish everything up so it looks nice and shiny and beautiful.


Step 5) Quality Control

Once the presentation is created you (or the designer part of your brain, if you happen to also be the presenter) should go through and do a quality control check. I’d suggest looking for the following things:

  • Are the correct fonts and text sizes used on all the slides?
  • Can you easily see (and read) the content?
  • Are the design elements and content aligned correctly on all the slides?
  • Are all the colors correct?
  • Are some slides too crowded? If so, adjust them so they have enough white space (sometimes this means splitting one slide into two slides, etc.).
  • Do you need to create a unique slide for certain piece of content (‘cause sometimes your templates just can’t cover everything).
  • Are images high quality and given proper credit in the form of a link back to the image source?

Of course, the amount of work you’re going to have in this step depends on your presenter’s eye for design and details, so make sure you allow yourself a sufficient amount of time for this part (after you go through this step with a few slide decks, you’ll get a good idea of the time you need).


Bonus Step: Celebrate

Success! At this stage, you should have a beautiful slide deck created. Eat gummy bears, have a drink, do a dance, whatever you need to do to celebrate (just make sure you celebrate).

We’d love to hear other approaches you and your team have when it comes to making slide decks. Let us know in the comments section below.

Author Nat Touchberry

More posts by Nat Touchberry

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • ronell smith says:

    Natalie,

    I love this. I’ve been reading a lot of information on what goes into great presentations.
    This is sweet info, especially since the actual design of the slides is so critical.

    And Mack Web has some street cred in this area.

    I’m gladly stealing.

    Tell my sister hello.

    RS

    • Natalie Touchberry says:

      Thanks Ronell, glad you liked the post! This process definitely made it easier for us to create decks for Mack’s speaking gigs.

      Steal away, and let us know how it works!

  • Martin says:

    Ohhh, I do like this! I’m planning a slide deck version of a big list blog post I’m doing, so this will be most handy. One question, where do you source your images? The cute kitty one, for example?

    Cheers

    Martin

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