One of the default features in PowerPoint is the ability for it to automatically adjust the size of text (“autofit”) in a text box so that it all fits. This may seem like a god-send, but, as with most automated features, it really shouldn’t be the end of the story.

PowerPoint autofit – take back your text

Consider this from a publishing perspective. Have you ever gotten to the end of a chapter in a book, and instead of whatever blank space is left on the page, the publisher made the type in the last paragraph twice as big as the text you’ve been reading so that it fills the rest of the page? Of course not. You see, the biggest offender here is not whether there are too many words on the slide (though that’s certainly a possibility) or that there’s unnecessarily large type (though that’s also a possibility), but that the type sizes are constantly changing from slide to slide.

Yes, using various type sizes is an effective tool of visual communication, but it should be intentional and consistent. Letting the PowerPoint autofit “feature” set your type is not the same thing.

There are lots of ways to improve the content on your slides, but one of the first is to commit to consistency by choosing a few sizes to use throughout your presentation. This is the same best practice used in publishing and improves the overall legibility and visual integrity of your message.

Control it all from the Master Slide

“OK,” you say, “but how?” The best way place to change this default behavior is in the Slide Master, usually under View > Master > Slide Master. Then, when you turn off the ‘autofit’ feature, it will be applied to your entire presentation. Below are some places you might find it in your version of PowerPoint.

PowerPoint-No-Autofit-Win

PowerPoint-No-Autofit-Mac

Once you have your content together, you can decide if there’s too much text on a slide. This doesn’t mean that you’re trying to say too much (thou you may be), but it is an indicator that you’re trying to display too much. You may just need to to break it up on to two slides.

Overall, you should choose text sizes that you can use throughout the presentation. It’s ok to have some write space (really!), and the consistency of the text, like your favorite book, will make your content easier to read, and give your message visual credibility.

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The power of repetition

We (should) all know the basic geometry concept about a line being a straight path made up of at least two points. Similarly, establishing a system is simply repeating something more than once. With this repetition and consistency comes the sense of stability that we know from the physical world: more layers make a material stronger.

This applies to all kinds of things. Someone twirling around once may be stumbling; but if they do it over and over, it’s dancing. If someone tells you something incredible, you may have your doubts, but if another person tells you the same thing, it’s suddenly more believable. You certainly see it in corporate marketing. Some companies, like Coca-Cola have people that go around making sure their corporate color is the same anywhere it’s used.

Consistency in communication

If you have a bunch of different products, but want to establish your brand beyond just using the same logo, repeat the way you use it (always in the lower left, or in a box) as well. Or maybe you have a series of brochures or sales sheets — they will certainly contain different information, but if the layout is the same, you will have a stronger unity when they are lined up together. This is the same reason magazines and newspapers have consistent masthead and company’s commit to using a corporate font.

Here is a basic comparison of four brochure covers from the same company:

consistency-example

The lesson here is that often creativity in design can be applied for a series of things, but there also needs to be some consistency in order for them to look like they belong to the same brand, and to give that impression of quality and integrity. Even an amazing design will have less of an impression if it’s presented in a series without consistency. And even the most mediocre of designs gains (some degree) of integrity when repeated.

So, when it comes to design, or brand, or message, if you want to establish a sense of stability (or integrity) just use part of your content more than once and commit to consistency.

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I found this ‘commitment statement’ printed on the wall of a management office, and thought it would be a good real-world example for this centered text topic. Let’s have a look:

original centered text example

This is a classic case of simply letting text fall where the (arbitrary) margins dictate. The basic approach is to just fill the space: “Let’s see, I’ve typed this out in Word, the wall is [this] wide, I’ll tell the signage people to make it [this] big.” It seems reasonable enough, but it doesn’t consider the context or some best practices of layout and design.

Centered text, properly, and with purpose

Here’s the way it probably should look:

modified centered text example

(This is another case where you probably want to use the “soft return” technique.)

I see this in PowerPoint headers, and Word footers often as well: an isolated sentence simply run across the page with no regard for the (visual) context and balance.

Balancing centered text in a paragraph

Another example where this comes in to play is when a whole paragraph is centered. Frankly, this is rarely a good idea, so if you’re tempted to do this just because you think left-justified is too boring, or because you have a paragraph (or more!) that you want in the center, it is actually harder to read. The example below is not a great layout, and there are other ways to improve it, but just balancing the text in the space helps a lot.

centered text before-after

So, when it comes to centered text, whether centering a single sentence or a paragraph, consider the context, and rather than letting the space determine the form, let the form define how it fills the space.

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Before using images from your camera – well, almost anywhere: website, e-mail, even Word or PowerPoint – you usually need to resize them. Most applications allow you to adjust the size of how an image appears in your document, but it is still using the full resolution file, which can be quite large – usually much larger than it needs to be.

Resize to optimize

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I occasionally get e-mail newsletters or advertisements where the author just plunked in an image from a master file rather than resizing it in an image editor or photo application. An image should be resized to the size (in pixels) that it’s going to be used. This improves the speed of viewing, reduces memory usage, and minimizes network bandwidth. Notice the comparison below:

image-opt-3629255

image-orig-3629255

In this case, the image is being used at 240×240 pixels — which saved as a medium quality .JPG would make the file size about 10kb. However, if an image is used straight from a camera or master file – which could easily fill a large screen – it is still being downloaded in its entirety – possibly over 2-3MB – just to be viewed at this small size.

Big images are great… to start with

Here are some numbers: an average camera can easily take a photo that is 4800 x 3600px, which is great for printing posters, or zooming in full screen on a large display.  But if this same image file is used in a web page or e-mail, say at a very usable 480 x 360px, without using a smaller copy, everyone could be downloading many megabytes of detail they’ll never see. This can add up to actual dollars for someone on a limited data plan smart phone, or having e-mails get blocked because of attachment file size limits.

If you can wrap your head around the idea that file size is money – which ultimately it is – this is a savings that can and should be made. Just Google “easy image resize” and choose a method to speed up your web pages and e-blasts, reduce bandwidth drains, and minimize unnecessary disk space clutter.

 

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If you are preparing files to be offered up as downloads, whether it’s a school assignment, a software installer or a white paper, consider the context that it’s going to be in once it’s downloaded by the user. This is a different context than when you (or your team) are working on the file on your end. In that case it may be called something familiar, perhaps with a date, or initials indicating who modified it last, etc. That’s fine. It may also be the only file of its kind from you: your only “software update”, or your only “annual report”. But think about where it’s ending up: it’s going to be along side who-knows-how-many other files in someone’s downloads folder or on their desktop. One of the most common things missing from files like this is the company name! If I just downloaded a software update from “TechCorpGroup,” and there’s no file with that name in it in my downloads folder, I’ll have to search and guess which is the one I’m looking for.

Name your download files for the end user

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Let’s pretend that you’ve uploaded your annual report to your website to be available to the general public. The name of your company is “DemiCo.” Let’s also take the scenario that someone is collecting annual reports, perhaps from the same types of business, for research. Here’s what their “Downloads” folder might look like:

download-file-name-bad-example

Not too helpful, right? Now, the operating system may provide thumbnail previews of documents, but even these may not be truly informative enough to identifying a particular one. If all of these company’s had applied a little end-user consideration in their file naming, the same list of files might look more like this:

download-file-name-good-empale

I wouldn’t address this if I didn’t encounter it on a regular basis – sometimes from some very large companies. I will say, I’m also not a proponent of file names that are sentences. File names should be precise and concise – details can be found in file information and document titles. So be sure to pay attention to what you’re naming the files you distribute. It will help your audience find the thing they came to your for, and is another opportunity to improve your integrity of your brand.

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This may seem more obvious to some than others, but if you’ve only used the “Find and Replace” feature for words, you may be missing out.

Any time you come across a case of needing to repeat some corrective formatting more than a few times, it could be an opportunity to automate the process. Maybe you need to remove all of the bullets that came over from another document, or maybe you need to turn two paragraph returns in to just one. These kinds of formatting fixes are common when moving from basic text formatting (like an e-mail) to proper publishing (like a newsletter), for example.

Find and Replace common formatting changes

find-and-replace-para-example
Here are some of the more common conversions I use a lot:

— to — or (space)–(space)

.(space)(space) to .(space)

(para)(para) to (para){“space after”}

(tab)(tab)(tab) to [nothing]

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Here’s a do-it-yourself technique for when you need a slick museum-like sign. Let’s say we want to make a series of cards to label a small art exhibit. It could just look like this:

print-white-orig-1
But, let’s class it up a little. For best results you will need to set up a trimming station with an exacto knife or box cutter, a ruler with a metal edge, and a surface you can cut on, like an expendable sheet of cardboard. Using a paper cutter will work in some cases, but is less ideal, and requires a different technique.

In your app of choice, draw a box the exact size you need — in Word and PowerPoint, for example, once you draw a box you can right-click on the edge of the rectangle and choose ‘format’ and there you can type in specific dimensions.

Set the line color to something distinct (pure green, or maybe cyan, if you’re old school). Then, with the line/drawing tool, draw out four lines along, but past, each edge. Make sure all of these  line colors are set to black.

Holding down the start(WIN)/control(MAC) key (to disable ‘snap to grid’), drag the lines so that they overlap the box lines.

print-white-dev-2

Delete the original rectangle. You should now have the same rectangle shape – but defined by the four intersecting lines.

Create a black rectangle a little larger than the first outlined box.

Either click in the new black box (involking the text tool) or create a ‘text box’ about the size of the original rectangle.

Type in the text you want, and set the text color to white. You may do this first, before you begin typing, by selecting the white swatch in the text style palette. There you go: white text!

When everything is ready, details and spelling are checked and layout is refined, it’s time to print. The beauty if this specific technique is that it can be achieved with a black and white printer.

I recommend printing on thicker paper (be sure of what your printer can handle), even if you’re going to mount this on foam core or other material.

If you are going to mount this on foam core, in this specific example, get the black stuff, if you can. You may also want to get some spray glue, if you can. I have a few tips on that process here.

print-white-after-3

The trick here is to glue the sheet to the board FIRST, then, using the guidelines, cut the whole thing together. Also, when you’re cutting, and why I don’t recommend a paper cutter for this, cut from the end of one guideline to the other, but be sure not to cut the excess all the way off.

And there you have it, not a quick process, but doable; and the results can look worthy of a big time exhibit.

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