Designing a Slide Deck

Every person needs to put together a slide deck at some point. But the advice I got in college, and the advice I’ve read on the internet falls far short of what could be considered “good” slide deck advice.

5 Rules of Thumb for Good Slide Design

1. Keep Contrast High

I see folks who want to make their stuff look “snazzy” frequently end up with too much color, especially in their backgrounds. A white background with some dark text can go a long way.


2. Use a typeface with multiple “weights”

If you grew up like me, you were used to a typeface like Calibri or Times New Roman having four options: regular, bolditalic, and bold+italicHowever “professional” typefaces offer more options. Often what passes as “professional” is simply set in a semi-bold weight. Typical examples of weights are “light” or “thin”, “extra light”, “regular”, “semi bold”, “bold”, “extra bold” or “heavy.” They’re also sometimes numbered from 100-900, with 100 being very thin and 900 being very thick.

You can find free typefaces like this on Google Fonts. There’s a ton of good options, but if you’re not sure where to start, try Open Sans or Roboto. The image below uses Open Sans.


3. Simple is fine.

Assuming this presentation involves you presenting it (as opposed to just handing it to someone like a brochure), you can use slides as support. Assume that people will follow your ideas first through the words you say, and second through the slides.

One sentence at the right moment can go a long way.
Full screen images can be powerful. If you’re showing an image, it probably deserves the whole screen.

4. Boxes over Bullets

Presenters love bullets. They’re safe. No one gets fired for a bulleted list. Plus, you can cover so much ground! I have a personal vendetta against all bulleted lists. I think people immediately check out as soon as a bulleted list appears. Ask yourself: is my information structured in some way? If it really is a collection of items which need to share a title, consider putting each item in a box.

If you use boxes, you get the advantage of being able to animate them in, too!

5. Alternate background colors for major sections.

For longer presentations, I alternate using a light, a dark, and a saturated color as the background. In theory, changing colors holds attention as the time goes on. Obviously I hope your audience has perfect attention at all times, but that’s unlikely.

I make sure the color changes signify major changes in focus, as opposed to random color changes, which can be disorienting.

For more, get some slide deck inspiration.