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Sizzle vs. story: What makes presentation design unique

What makes a presentation design unique?

Recently, one of our team members had a discussion about the value of presentation design with a higher-up at a design agency. “We don’t get a lot of asks for presentation design,” they said. “Occasionally someone in the C-Suite asks for help, and we usually hand it to a Junior Designer because no one else wants to do it.”

The reason this story is important is not that this approach was unusual. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s a clear example of how too many people conflate “graphic design” with “presentation design,” and assume that if someone can do the former, they will also be good at the latter.

Sure, there’s plenty of overlap between the two. In fact, many (if not most) presentation designers probably start out doing traditional graphic design. But despite their similarities, these two disciplines are unique, with their own skills, conventions, and best practices.

So let’s look at a few of the reasons why presentation design is its own unique type of design, and why working with designers who specialize in it can be so valuable for businesses.

The difference between “graphic design” and “presentation design”

PowerPoint design is a subset of graphic design that involves creating visual aids (like slides, data visualizations and more) for presentations and keynotes. While presentation design relies on many of the same skills and principles of traditional graphic design, the intention, purpose and output are distinct.

The key idea here is intention.

In traditional graphic design, the focus is often on creating a standalone piece (even if it’s part of a campaign). That means each asset needs to tell a complete story on its own.

In presentation design, on the other hand, designers create visuals that are intended to support or enhance the story that the presenter is trying to tell. Each slide is just one part of a larger whole, and one moment in an extended experience. Presentation designers have to consider flow, structure, story, audience, and presenter, then distill all of that thinking into a coherent set of slides.

So the intention, or purpose, of a slide is to support a story, rather than to be the story itself. It’s a subtle but important distinction, and one that requires a shift in both approach and mindset by the designer.

In other words, ads are made to grab attention, but presentations are designed to keep it.

It’s all about slides

While they rely on the same tools and techniques, the main difference between traditional graphic design and presentation design comes down to one thing: slides.

Slides are a unique format that only occur in presentations. While the basic shape might look unremarkable, there are two things that make them stand out from other types of design assets:

  1. Context: a slide is typically viewed as part of a presentation, not as a stand-alone element. There are several common slide types, and each has its own set of audience expectations

  2. Content: slides are often used to share complex or detailed information, or as part of a larger story that the presenter wants to tell

More than anything else, presentation design is really all about information. Slides present unique constraints to content, so to explain it effectively, you need to find ways to condense or pace out your story. Often, this information can be complex or technical. Creating ways to make ideas clear and concise is a unique skill of great presentation designers.

Your slides should, of course, look great. There’s a lot of value in having a well-designed presentation or template. But if the visuals aren’t helping to improve your content, then they aren’t doing their job. From data visualization to org charts, presentation designers are experts at elevating essential information and making complex ideas more accessible.

Slides never stay the same

Presentations are unique in that they can (and are) built, revised, and delivered by multiple people. They have to be both consistent and adaptable, and tell a clear story while also being customizable.

With presentations, even the most fully-baked content is far from forever. New data arrives, new logos or brand language gets rolled out, a new client opportunity requires new case studies: presentations are fluid objects, always shifting and adapting to the unique circumstances of each audience.

Two sides of the same coin

Presentations are a unique format, with their own conventions and expectations. Whether it's technical expertise or understanding the common pain points, there’s a lot you need to know that can only be learned by living and breathing the work. That makes it important to find someone who specializes in presentation design to work on your decks, particularly when it comes to template design, keynote presentations, or other high-stakes presentations.

It’s also why presentation design tends to be highly-specialized, and done by designers who know the format inside and out. By understanding the differences between these disciplines, designers can create engaging visual aids that help communicate their message effectively.

Overall, while PowerPoint design shares some similarities with other types of graphic design, it is a unique discipline that requires a specific set of skills and considerations.

Looking for more information about presentation design and beyond? Check out our resources for expert advice and tested strategies.



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