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Over the past 30 years, I did an INSEAD MBA, worked for a decade at McKinsey, and built a global micro brand in presentation design. Why coding, when this is something that 20 year olds do in far away places like Ukraine?

Yes, it is a bit crazy, but I would call it “calculated craziness”:

  • The world has changed a lot. It is now possible to build a software product with the only investment involved is the missed income of other things you could have done with your time. Try doing the same thing 20 years ago and think of the investment and effort you need

  • My previous business model exploited the fact that usually people who understand business are clueless about design, while I was lucky to combine both in my head. What I am doing now is exploiting the fact that people who can code (backend), usually do not understand design (frontend) either, and both of these usually do not understand user needs very well. When it comes to the niche of business presentation design, I found a way to master all three (still learning the coding part).

  • There is a big difference in between being a developer in a huge organisation with 1,000s of colleagues, working on a specific feature, and coming up with an idea, designing and implementing it in a full product.

  • I think it is very hard to design a completely new product by committee. Something needs to stick their neck out and do something bold, try it, change it, try it again, change it again, without the delays of too much debate about ideas and ho unfair it is that you ask people to turn around and undo/redo their work completely after 48 hours. For me on my own, there is no such thing as wasted time.

This all might not work, but at least I want to give it a try.

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

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Canva acquired the free stock photo sites Pixabay and Pexels. The libraries of these companies will now be integrated in the platform (users creating documents with Canva can access the images for free).

Canva’s is a design platform with a much broader focus than “serious” business presentations: leaflets, websites, social media images, it enables small businesses to avoid paying for a graphics designer. The core revenue model is based on buying images to go into your design, and as such the acquisition makes sense.

For everyday business presentations though, I think images are actually less important, and cheesy stock images in the hands of the non-designer can actually do more damage than good. And Pixabay and Pexels have a fair share of these.

I hope Canva takes the opportunity to prune the stock image collections of these 2 companies. The player to beat is the free image web site Unsplash with images of much higher quality, but - for now - has a much smaller collection and lacks functional images that designers might need (a red bucket isolated on a white background).

The good thing of all of this is this acquisition shows investor appetite for the design market.

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If you are pitching a premium offering, your product/service needs to beat/exceed the combination in terms of quality, speed, weight, or anything that is relevant in your industry sector.

But then there are the small details. People don’t go to an expensive restaurant just to enjoy crips napkins, no the food quality should be right in the first place. But the small details are important to remind and reassure your customer or investor that they made the right choice (there is always that nagging insecure voice in the back of their heads that tells them they are “suckers” who have been taking for a ride at a silly high price).

Being on time for that meeting, replacing that 1990s PowerPoint template, it is not the most important thing compared to your core product offering, or is it? You are who you portray you are.

Photo by Lightscape on Unsplash

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In SlideMagic 2.0, I have pushed the use of colours in the application user interface further. The look and feel of the application will be the opposite of the slides you are working on:

  • If the slides have a dark background colour, the application will be light

  • The accent colour of the application will be the opposite colour on the colour wheel from the colour .you are using in your slides.

Here are some screen shots from the alpha version:

Brown/red in the slides, green in the app

Switch the slide background to dark, the app turns light

Slides on the clipboard are in the template bank are presented in the opposite colour so you can differentiate easily between the slides that are already in your presentation, and the ones you could add.

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This post by Humans of New York follows on my post from yesterday. This person might have it all sorted out, but 1) you are not working to please your boss, 2) you are not working to achieve “super chill” status, humanity will not progress much if we all do that.

“I used to be a corporate attorney for Coca-Cola..." pic.twitter.com/lb2LQh3NOc

— Brandon Stanton (@humansofny) May 10, 2019
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There are two ways a mentor can be really helpful in your career:

  • She continues to pull you up with her as she knows you will always deliver what she wants

  • You learn a lot from her and your increasing skills get recognised by other people than your boss

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

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File organisation on a computer is a pain. Going up and down directory hierarchies to find the right folder, then going backwards again if your machine prompts you to load a file from the location you last saved something in.

Back at McKinsey, one senior partner had a different paper filing system from everyone else: simply plop everything in chronologically: mixing up different projects, personal and work, etc. The arguments: it saves a lot of time to put things away, and a calendar timeline is actually a pretty good access mechanism for your stuff. (‘Where is that presentation I made 3 weeks ago?”) .

More and more, I go to a one directory workflow. The one directory usually ends up being the default downloads folder:

  • Save and load everything in one folder

  • Don’t bother naming images, look them up by thumbnails, if you can’t find them, search for a similar one online

  • Once in a while, go through the folder and put the most important things away properly:

    • Most work files expire: that version 29 you were so keen on saving in order to roll back to it, is no longer relevant by version 37. After returning from holiday, the hotel and car reservations are not needed anymore. All can be deleted safely. (That is the reason that the few bits of paper that are still floating around in my office first go in the “buffer box” before filing, usually the archive problem solves itself after 2 months)

    • There are exceptions: for my app source code: I need to be careful not to cause a massive corruption. Family photos, medical files, contracts, they go somewhere properly.

  • Use gmail search as your archiving index:

    • You can find when that meeting or call was, and pull up the required document

    • A true ‘commit’ of a document is usually not the version you save and call '“final final”, it is the one you deemed good enough to send to someone.

Photo by Mr Cup / Fabien Barral on Unsplash

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My venture into software design also sparked an interest in user interface design.

A recent road trip through Europe provided an opportunity to catch up with modern car user interfaces thanks to many car rentals in different countries. Most of the cars I used now had an all digital display, without any physical indicators.

This should provide a great opportunity for automotive engineers: there is no longer a need to reserve space for warning lights and indicators that you only need when things go wrong (engine temperature, brakes, etc., and you can include things like maps for navigation.

Well, they still have something to learn, up to the point where I think a car’s user interface could be competitive advantage similar to the one Apple exploited in computers in the 2000s.

Take navigation for example. The screen is littered with information you don’t need, and items you want are hard to find. It looks like designers still consider a map (used since the Middle Ages by explorers to ponder and plan routes) and a navigation app to be the same.

Navigation apps show maps in great detail. You pass by a city and are offered the full road map with street names of the city inside the ring highway. Furthermore, the app shows the full detail of the next upcoming 15 turns 100km ahead. Instead, what you need is actually different:

  • A huge display of time now, time to go, km to go (scattered in small print across the screen now)

  • A very clean display of the flow of the road you are currently driving on (hair pins), plus an ultra zoom of complicated junctions with bus lanes that come in handy inside the town centres of Italian cities

  • A very clear indication of landmarks on the road: a city, an airport, a river passing, gas stations.

  • Better selection of destinations: it was impossible for me to enter Milan Malpensa airport as a destination more than 100km from Milan.

And then for the graphics itself. Designer try to emulate physical clocks using all kind of shadows and gradients, that actually give away the imperfections of the screen resolution (far worse than you have in your phone). Straight simple graphics will look much better and classier.

Someone will get this right eventually.

Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

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A good sales presentation is important for landing a deal, but other factors play a role as well. It is important to understand the dynamics of the decision makers. Investing a lot of time and effort in making slides prettier is a waste if the decision has nothing to do with the presentation.

Some thoughts that can go on in the back of the mind of the decision maker:

  • “These slides look totally 1990s and are full of typos, they are not serious professionals”

  • “Great slides, but I have no idea what they are trying to say”

  • “They never seem to understand/answer my questions”

  • “They are always 5 minutes late, what about future project deadlines”

  • “Better play it safe and hire a big brand for the project, I need a promotion at the end of the year”

  • “Sorry, but I cannot see myself working with this woman managing the project for the next year”

  • “Hopefully she notices my favourite tie I always wear on the days of the tender meetings”

  • “We need on the ground presence in China, and I already told them it is a deal breaker if they don’t have it”

  • “They do not know what they are doing, they charge far too little for all they are doing”

  • “Again trying to argue why we need to spend $10m when our budget is $5m”

  • “The other contender offered a summer job position for the daughter of my boss”

  • “Last night’s venue was a bit shady, but they kept their promise and opened a 1996 Dom Perignon at the end”

  • “All these small calculation errors, not a big deal in a presentation, but a catastrophy for the project”

Photo by Zan Ilic on Unsplash

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Either you make a perfect digital fake image, or you go for a less ambitious slide layout. I laugh when you seen an obvious Photoshop mistake, I cringe when I see a 95% correct image. “Something is not right”

In the image above, the light on the cars, the camera angles, something is not working. Ultra high definition monitors now also give away the artificial digital backgrounds of movies.

In a few years time, software will have solved this problem. Until then, your presentation slides, web sites, and other marketing material will look like the work of a young kid who slowly starts to add the 3rd dimensions to its drawings. (In the early years children do not actively notice the concept of perspective, and things getting smaller towards the horizon).

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