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Applications with a dark background are fashionable now. I can still remember back at the end of the 1980s, when screens went the other way: light backgrounds with dark letters, even on green and amber monitors.

Research (lots of it done in the 1980s), suggests that light backgrounds are better. Light tightens the iris, and and a smaller iris can focus better. (Think squinting and pinhole cameras).

As I am coding away on my app, I need to think about this.

  • Again, not all user interfaces are the same. Dark mode can be useful when reading Twitter feeds late at night in bed with others sleeping, but this is not the context of presentation design.

  • We need to separate presenting and designing. Presenting on a big screen is better with a dark background, since the speaker does not get overpowered by this big wall of light. (Dark backgrounds will encourage people to dim the lights in the conference room though, encouraging sleep). In some industries, people sill print decks (banking), and a white background saves a lot of ink cartridges.

  • When it comes to user interfaces, I am again on the fence. Coding on a dark background is more convenient because it is easer to see subtle differences in text color (functions, variables, etc.).

  • Apps need to be more or less consistent. Switching back and forth between light and dark is tiring. If the everyone goes dark, I probably have to follow. (This was probably one of the main reasons for people to switch in the 1980s, switching back and forth from the screen to paper)

  • There is an opportunity to make a starker contrast between the design canvas and the software UI, making one light, the other dark

  • In 2018, dark applications give the impression of being “cool” and modern, which is what a new startup needs…

In short, it is complicated.

Photo by Dmitri Popov on Unsplash

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Overheard from a VC friend: an entrepreneur who was pitching suggesting that his colleague would for sure understand the opportunity, since he has an undergraduate degree in the subject at hand, A few mistakes:

  1. You lost a few niceness points there

  2. Your score for judgement as a salesman in sales pitches just was lowered

  3. Yes, 4 years of undergraduate education in a certain subject has value, but so has 30 years of professional and investing experience.

Even if you think the VC you are pitching does not understand the subject at hand (and you could be totally right of course), hold the feedback for yourself. Instead, make it your problem to convince him.

Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

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For a number of reasons, keyboards do not follow an alphabetical layout, including increasing typing speed by promoting the use of alternating hands, and/or preventing jams of hammers in mechanical type writers.

I feel that many of today’s presentation (and all other productivity) software is still in the ABC phase. Functions are grouped logically so you can more easily find them the first time around. Instead, they should be grouped in the way you actually use them:

  • How often are they required?

  • What features are typically used together?

The resulting user interface might not be logical, but will be very useful. Work in progress.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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Seth Godin designed this framework to explain what Linchpin Jobs are:

I did a quick makeover of the diagram, keeping the design super simple (life is too short to be spending designing charts at your desk):

  • Move from an XY to a 2x2 layout to make it easer to read the axis

  • Changing the labels of the boxes, axes to get rid of excess text, make them more consistent

  • Change the colours so that the cog jobs stand out (I think they are worse than what I call “lazy specialist” roles

Cover image credit: Jared Goralnick

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I met someone at Amazon the other day, explaining how they deal with communication (spoiler: no PowerPoint):

  • For a decision, you have to write a memo (2 pages max), no slides / PowerPoint

  • The memo gets handed out in the meeting (no pre-reading), and people have 30 minutes to read it in silence

  • Then, the discussion follows, going straight to Q&A, no presenting

There are obviously some good things about this approach:

  • No time wasted on designing 100+ page PowerPoint decks

  • No time wasted in sitting through presentations where people are reading slides from the screen

  • Less risk that people will jump in the conversation without having done their homework

  • No pre-reading late at night after the kids are asleep

But…

  • Writing a good memo might be more time consuming/difficult then creating a quick presentation

  • Some information on which you want to base a decision is better presented visually than in paragraphs (pros/cons, graphs with trends, tables with financial data)

  • Sometimes, you actually need some time to ponder things over before making a big decision.

On balance, it is probably the right thing to do because it creates a strong cultural statement.

(BTW, I am going to experiment with uploading the cover images in colour, a nice change for 2019, what do you think?)

Photo by Luca Micheli on Unsplash

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I was looking back at my old site on the Wayback Machine the other day and noticed how my approach to presentation design has changed. Back then, I would put huge efforts in finding unusual images, study advertising design, push PowerPoint to its limits. The result: some pretty unusual presentations.

Today, I have become much more pragmatic: presentations should be easy to understand (which might mean cutting that exotic visual metaphor), have a pro/no-nonsense look, and very easy/quick to put together, there are more important things to do than battling presentation design software.

Have I become lazy? I don’t think so. Just a more realistic and practical approach to presentation design.

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This post on AVC describes a common situation: technical problems when setting up a presentation. Different computers and different screens (dimensions, operating systems, resolutions, cables, plugs) make it unpredictable what happens when you connect the 2.

This a particular problem in marathon meetings, where a large number of presenters show up one after the other. It is a time waste for the audience and a concentration breaker for the presenter.

The solution in the post was an interesting one: use Zoom (or another web conferencing service) locally (i.e., standing in the same room). This eliminates the need for hardware connections and allows presenters to line up, solve any technical issues before they are due on stage.

In the absence of such a solution, my recommendation would be to always carry a USB stick with your deck around (in PowerPoint and PDF), just in case. Ultimately portable projectors will be compact and capable enough that everyone who has a high-stakes presentation to pitch will carry one around.

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

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My first software product that I coded myself seems to be working and I need a handful of beta testers to work with. I want to see if there are unexpected bugs still hiding in the product, and what happens if people start installing things on a machine other than my own (full of developer privileges when it comes to accessing hard disks, etc.)

What is this product? A plug in for PowerPoint that converts SlideMagic presentations to 100% perfect PowerPoint. Extra bonus: automatic translation to and from a dark background, and flipping between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratio in a second without distortions. Users get sent a “.MAGIC” file that the tool can interpret.

It runs on Windows only, since I had to dive pretty deep into the Microsoft .NET libraries to get all this to work. (At the moment, I deal with Mac-originated conversion requests partly manually, you get the same quality conversion sent to you with a time zone delay, but this will not be sustainable if request volume goes up).

This product is not the final stage of SlideMagic, more a first step for me to test whether I can ship useful software. I am catching up with technology since my 1992 graduation from engineering school, now I have moved on from PowerPoint plugins to writing Windows desktop applications from scratch for a next product release. Desktop apps are a bit “1995”, but for B2B design work, “cloud” might not always be the best solution. In any way, I have to pass this station before being able to move on to web and possibly mobile app technologies. It is fascinating to see that you can basically do anything in software if you are not intimidated by technology and have the courage to leave the traditional boxes/application models and user interface approaches.

If you area a Windows user and are interested in helping out, send me an email to jan at slidemagic dot com.

Photo by Nicolas Thomas on Unsplash

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