There are a lot of slide master templates for Microsoft PowerPoint. The ones that come built-in have shortcomings, but they’re serviceable with a few modifications. Packaged templates you can buy will not be as cookie-cutter, but even those have issues. How do you judge what is a good master slide template? I’ve been studying this for a long time, and have resurrected more PowerPoint slides than I care to number. There are several principles and rules that we adhere to when building slide decks:
The basic principal we use in PowerPoint design is this: "Minimize distractions."Distractions draw attention away from the content the speaker is trying to present. It’s bad enough with coughing, noises from outside, flickering lights or a microphone with feedback. But for most DIY PowerPoint presentations, slides ARE a primary distraction.
The second principle is "You Cannot Project Black." Now if you're using an LCD TV, this is not as much of a problem, but for projector and screen, especially those in a fully liglhted room, you can only add light to a brightly lit screen. While the brain perceives light and dark, it causes issues when projecting photos and certain colors.
When we build a slide deck, these primary design rules take into account the above principles:
AVOID White (or very light) Backgrounds
Nothing screams DIY PowerPoint than a plain white background. Artistic backgrounds that are primarily white are also a problem. Why? Because with a bright projector or LED screen, the screen becomes the brightest thing in the room! The speaker, standing next to it, by contrast is in the dark. White backgrounds are fine for a slide or two, but for the audience, a white screen is like having an open window with the sun shining through, creating eyestrain and glare.
White backgrounds also reveal any flaws in the image delivery system. A smudge on the screen or dirt on the imager will show up for all to see with white.
The best PowerPoint master slide templates use dark backgrounds – rich colors or textures that will conceal flaws in the projection system and not glare in peoples’ faces. Most graphic standards have logo variations that work on a dark background. If the graphic standard doesn't have that variation, it needs one.
AVOID Low Contrast
When graphic designers get involved designing PowerPoint templates, they like to use trendy decorative fonts in colors close to the background. The classic is narrow light gray type on a white background. Or white type on a background with white wisps going through it. It may look fine on a computer screen up close on a desktop, or printed on paper, but at a distance on a screen – it’s a major distraction.
The human eye needs at least a 15:1 contrast ratio to be readable, meaning the type has to be at least 15 times lighter or darker than the background. Gray on white doesn’t work. Neither does gray on black. The most readable templates use pure white type on a dark, or even black background. (When our clients want a printable version we flip the slide master to black on white to save on toner.)
AVOID Tiny Type
The science is proven. People can't read small type from a far distance. Just because you can read it fine 2-feet away from your computer screen doesn't mean they can read it 200' away in the back of the ballroom. We have a calculator that shows how big the type should be in any given layout, based on how far away the most distant viewer is to assure they can read what you put on the screen. What it means is more slides with fewer words and smaller branding graphics.
Be aware of screen size in relation to the room. The smaller the screen, the smaller the type, and the smaller the type the shorter the readability range. If you're going to be able to fill a 20' screen and your audience is 40' away, have fun with tiny type, but if not, size really matters.
Rule of thumb: if you can't read it in the thumbnail, they can't read it in the back of the room. And don't expect to put up an Excel spreadsheet and have anyone actually read it. If they need the numbers, either zoom in or print a handout.
AVOID Decorative or Serif Fonts
So you’re tired of plain old Arial or its derivatives. What do you do? The DIY (and even graphic designer’s) first instinct is to go to the decorative fonts and start playing. What do you get? Copy that’s hard to read.
Decorative fonts are fine for headlines or titles, or if used occasionally for emphasis. But bullet text in a goofy font is very hard for viewers to discrern, making the slide a primary distraction.
Likewise, serif fonts (even good old Times Roman) is hard to read at a distance. Why? Because most serif fonts (with the little feet on the ends of the strokes, called “serifs”), have variable line weights. There are thin and thick parts to each character. When used in print on a page in a book, those line weights and serifs are important clues our brains need for easy reading. But on a screen from 50’ away, those serifs and thins can disappear for people with even slightly impaired vision.
Really thin sans-serif fonts that are just a thin line, or worse a condensed font with thin lines are even harder to read at a distance. Similarly, fonts that are abnormally wide not only eat up precious screen real estate, but they can be hard to discern.
Why do you think road signs look the way they do? Because people have to react quickly to what they read.
AVOID No Margins or Blank Space
Trying to cram as much as they can in a slide, lots of DIYers will shrink the margins so that the text or graphic elements are smack against the edge of the slide frame. That’s distracting for two reasons.
One, type needs to “breathe.” Our eyes expect margins and text crammed against the edge feels crowded. The second reason is that sometimes the display will cut off a few pixels of the frame. This is especially true when using a flatscreen TV that’s not adjusted to show pixels 1:1, and often a projector that fills the screen will sometimes splash outside the screen a little bit.
The best PowerPoint master slide templates have a “safe area” margin that both makes it easier to view and compensates for any cutoff.
AVOID Graphic Standard “High-Style” Templates
Time and again we see companies spend thousands on graphic standards that include PowerPoint templates that break all these rules – and more. I think graphic design schools don’t teach anything about the physics of how vision works at a distance, so you get deluxe-looking designs that are hard to for the audience to view. If you see people squinting when you use the corporate design template, you need a template makeover by a designer who knows how to make signs.
The Best Way to Avoid Problems
We're biased. Who makes the best PowerPoint master slide templates? We do! That's because they're custom - keyed to your corporate color scheme - and they're readable, with font types, colors and backgrounds that will work in whatever environment you find yourself, with minimal eyestrain for your viewers.
Whether it’s for a class report, board meeting, TED talk, keynote speech, HOW slides, we at Advent Media, Inc. can help you put the power into PowerPoint. Don’t hesitate. You’ll never have to say, “I’m sorry you can’t see that.”
Learn about our PowerPoint Design Services
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