Unit #2: Slide Deck Redesign

(Worth 20% of your grade; due on October 15)


As a student in 21st century America, you have seen more than your fair share of electronic slide presentations. Some have been impressive, but many others have been disastrous. The genre of “PowerPoint Presentations” or, more generically, “slide decks,” has become widely disparaged for a variety of reasons: oversimplification of complex details, poor visual design, information overload, ineffective use of slides by presenters, and on, and on…

This assignment begins with the premise that slide decks are not inherently bad; rather, they become bad when designers fail to learn how slide deck applications work, over-rely on default software settings, neglect the importance of visual communication, or are constrained by their organizations’ ineffective and outdated templates. But bad slides can be fixed! During the next three weeks, as our class turns into a “Slide Deck Boot Camp,” each of you will find, analyze, and improve an ineffective slide presentation. Building on the principles in Presentation Zen Design and other online resources we’ll read, you will experiment with at least three different tools for creating presentations, then select one of them to redevelop a portion of the slide deck you’ve chosen. Along with your finished slide deck, you will submit a short memo that analyzes and justifies your design decisions.

Assignment Guidelines

1. Find a deck. Your first task for this project is to find a slide deck in need of improvement. Bad slide decks are everywhere, but for this assignment we’ll limit ourselves to “official,” government-produced decks. You can find these presentations by searching for PowerPoint files located on “.gov” websites. If you are interested in a particular subject, you can add some keywords to the end of your search string to narrow the results. I have added several sample files to a new folder called “PowerPoint Starter Files,” located in our class’s shared Google Drive folder. You are welcome to use one of these files for your project, but I would prefer that you find a file of your own, focused on a topic about which you have some interest and/or knowledge. If you have any questions about the suitability of a file for this project, please let me know.

2. Select specific slides. Depending on the length of the slide deck you have chosen to redesign, you may need to narrow your focus to a smaller section of the deck. In your finished project, I expect to see at least 15 slides (or the conceptual equivalent, if you’re using a tool like Prezi), but no more than 25. Remember that there might not be a 1:1 relationship between the number of slides in the original presentation and the number of slides in your finished deck. (For instance, a text-heavy slide in the original deck might be split into four or five slides in your finished deck.)

3. Experiment with various tools. Next, you should select three different slide deck programs to test various visual and conceptual approaches for redesigning your deck. You don’t need to redesign all of your slides in all three programs, but you should use the three programs long enough to get a feel for what they can do and whether they might be right for your project. There are many tools for designing slide decks, but I recommend starting with these:

4. Redesign your slide deck. After you have settled on a specific software program, you should develop a unified “visual theme” for your slides. Such a theme should include a color scheme, typography, image styles, transitions, etc… All of the slides in your finished deck should follow the guidelines you’ve established for your theme. Because slide decks like these are designed to “stand alone” (i.e., be read/viewed without someone delivering the presentation in person), your redesigned slides should not rely on a human presenter or audio recording.

5. Justify the choices you’ve made. The final component of this project is a short memo of transmittal (400–600 words), in which you explain and justify the design decisions you made as you redesigned your slide deck. This memo should explain why the original file was in need of help and should persuade me that your redesigned file is more effective than the original.

Submitting Your Project

Before you come to class on October 15, you should should upload the following materials to your shared Google Drive folder:

  • Your “before” file (the original, unaltered PowerPoint deck)
  • Your “after” file (the redesigned deck you created)
  • A PDF version of your “after” file (to ensure that I can see the deck exactly as you intended)
  • Your memo of transmittal (in Google Docs format)

Evaluation Criteria

I will evaluate your finished project using the following criteria:

  • Written Content: Does the redesigned slide deck communicate important information? Is the writing clear, concise, and stylistically consistent?
  • Visual Design: Does the deck employ a unified visual theme? Do the colors, typography, and images complement the written text? Do all slides in the redesigned deck feel like they belong together?
  • Data: Do the charts, graphs, and tables present data in a visually appealing, easy-to-understand manner? Does the deck present data in an ethically responsible way?
  • Technical Proficiency: Does the redesigned deck contain 15–25 slides? Do slide transitions and “builds” function properly? Are images appropriately scaled to avoid pixelization and distortion? Has any additional text related to each slide been placed in the “presenter notes” section?
  • Revision: Does the redesigned deck represent a significant improvement over the original? Have you taken “ownership” of the deck and truly made it yours?
  • Grammatical Conventions and Mechanics: Does all text in the slides (and the “presenter notes”) adhere to the conventions of standard written English?