No taste, no art, no genius

From time to time we hear people using the term “presentation artist”, implying that inspiration, creativity, and genius play a major role in designing visual aids. But, that is a gross overstatement. Works of art are created “to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power” (New Oxford American Dictionary), they serve no practical purpose, whereas presentation slides serve the very practical purpose of displaying information in the most adequate and efficient way.

Our slides are supposed to make it easy for our audience to follow our chain of thought; they should be put together so clearly that they do not distract our listeners from what we are saying. If we allow our listeners to lag behind trying to absorb our visual information, we lose our connection to them — and fail as presenters.

There is no artistic freedom when it comes to creating proper slides. On the contrary, we are bound by strict rules which are directly connected to human perception, and there are no easy recipes, tricks or shortcuts, as much as all do-it-yourself-home-improvement-style presentation bibles try to suggest. Nevertheless, if we manage to keep our slides as well as our talk simple, clear, and consistent, we are already moving in the right direction.

As for the “good taste” that seems to be necessary to come up with acceptable results, back at university studying art history our professor used to say: “Taste belongs in the kitchen, it has nothing to do with matters of art and design.” So, no taste, no art, no genius — instead: knowledge, experience, and effort.

Axel Wendelberger