The 5-Point Makeover Process
I want to share with you the visual copy editing process I use when folks ask us to makeover their PowerPoint and e-learning slides. Most of the time users want us to just look at the slides or course, and give some feedback on ways to improve it.
They’re not asking for custom makeover designs or custom themes; they simply want everything in visual alignment and consistent from the first slide to the last.
This easy and repeatable makeover process involves addressing five key areas of slide design:
- Background images
- Graphic styles
- Layout and arrangement
If you follow these five steps in this order, you’re going to have much of what you need to ensure a consistent visual voice throughout your slide design. So let’s go through each one in detail, then show the process in action on a real-world example.
In my experience, inconsistent fonts hang up a lot of slides. So, focus on defining your font styles first. The single most important thing is to pick your core fonts for:
- Heading 1
Play around with your fonts, see how they look in sequence, and establish your core fonts first. Those two alone will make your slides feel much cleaner since they are the most common styles needed. And maybe it goes without saying, but once you’ve defined your styles, be sure to use them consistently for maximum impact.
You may also want to think about establishing a second Heading font, or emphasis font, to call attention to particular details—things like captions and labels. And if you do a lot of technical training, you’ll also want to find a specific font for labeling visual aids—diagrams, schematics, graphics, or anything else you need to label.
Once your fonts are set, the next thing to consider is the text spacing on your slide. Make sure your line spacing, letter spacing, kerning, and the indent for bullets are all uniform and comfortable—not cramped. When your text has room to breathe, you’ll make it easier for your learner to read your slides.
A background is the largest slide element and—more than any other object—sets the context for your slide’s visual voice. It should enhance your content, not dominate over or compete with it. Backgrounds can also play a supporting role, so it’s good to understand how those elements work when content is placed on them. Be aware of the relationship between your slide’s background and its layout—we’ll go into more details on layout in section 04—but for now, just know they should play nicely together.
Graphics makeover means the images, clip art, arrows, and markers on your slides. Think through how you’re using and selecting them—are they consistent?
One of the common mistakes happens with shapes like rounded rectangles. You start with a rectangle, then maybe you scale it up or over a couple of times. And before you know it, you have a totally different type of corner. Well, if that’s not intentional, it makes the slide and the course look visually sloppy. Just having an understanding of those elements, of how they look in the big picture, can make your course look more cohesive.
Earlier we mentioned that the background plays a fundamental role in facilitating your content. Beyond aesthetics, it’s there to help your learner understand and assimilate your content more easily.
Since most courses use a 4:3 ratio, we can use some consistent common layout models. I always like to use the analogy of a lunch tray, which most people can imagine pretty easily. The meat is the main course, your side dishes are your supporting content, and then there’s your dessert. Visualizing it this way helps you prioritize your content on the page so you allocate the right proportion and space to each element.
You can divide your screen into smaller areas, or “containers”, even if you don’t have visible lines for them. Containers make it easy to arrange and group your content so it looks neat and consistent. Use the simple grids and guides to help keep your spacing consistent and organized on the slide and between elements.
Choosing colors might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. The easiest way to start working with colors is to start with a neutral palette, just a simple color—maybe a dark gray and then do shades of it for your type styles, like we did here. There’s a little heavier color for Heading 1, then lighter for Heading 2, then lighter still for the body font. You can also try one color for emphasis—here, we’re going to use two, green and red.
Let’s take a quick look and see how the 5-Point makeover process comes together. This was an electrical course that someone had sent us.
It’s a good example of a makeover where you kind of need to hit everything from the type, elements, backgrounds graphics and colors.
So, how did this come together? Well, the first thing we did was address the type styles. This was the first slide, so as I replaced those I defined a style guide to map out where each of those fonts goes.
This slide has Heading 1, Heading 2, body and emphasis fonts. It also needs a label or caption font for all the call outs used in this example. Technical style fonts usually well for those types. Then we removed the existing text styles and defined how each style should be used.
Next we decided the marble style background wasn’t working, so we removed that graphic and added something softer. We also established a visual hierarchy on the slide: the focus is around where the arrows are pointing, the different settings for the multimeter. So to keep the focus there, we lightened some of the other areas of the slide that were secondary.
What a difference! Those few changes to the fonts, background, and colors made the slide dramatically clearer and cleaner. We didn’t really change much of the layout. The layout’s pretty much the same, but we just went through and hit each of those five main points to change the way it appears.
Hope that’s helpful. If you have any makeover questions, please feel free to post it at the forums.
Design Mapping: How to design the right look and feel for your e-learning course.