How to Create Your Own Flat Graphics in PowerPoint — and Why!

Microsoft Office software suiteMicrosoft began experimenting with a new look for the interface of its Windows Media Center in 2002.  But the Flat Design trend really took off with the rollout of Windows 8 in 2011, followed by Apple’s iOS7 in 2013.

Flat design has ruled the world of web design for quite a few years now.  The focus is on flat UI design (user interface), especially with designing a more responsive graphical user interface for mobile devices.

And it’s all about user experience or the user interface (UI)!

First and foremost, flat design is about responsive design and that requires attention to what situation the user finds themselves in while attempting to interact with a particular website or piece of content, such as a video or blog post.

 

Good responsive design or flat UI design considers the user experience with questions like these:

  • Does the website display or load quickly?windows-8-528467_1920
  • Does the site look visually appealing?
  • Does it grab the user’s attention and engage their desire to explore further?
  • Is the on-screen text easy to read on small devices?
  • Can users easily find the information they’re looking for?
  • Is the user interface designed for finger tapping rather than typing and mouse-clicking?

Design Trends Change in Reaction to Previous Trends

Just like women’s fashion, keeping up with style changes is important for graphic design as well.

Once it became clear that flat web design was not just a passing fad, many large companies began updating their website design to a more updated look so as not to appear outdated.  Bevels, gradients, and drop shadows were out.  Bright “flat” colors and simple icons and font styles were in.

The flat design trend has now even begun spreading into other graphic outputs beyond just flat design websites.  This is not surprising when you think about it!

iphone-37856_1280Since more and more people are accessing the internet via mobile devices, that means that anything displayed on the web – videos, blog posts, sales pages, social media posts, e-commerce sites, any kind of webpage, and so much more – it all needs to provide an easy, positive user experience.  And one way to improve user experience is with flat design.

Is Flat Design Relevant for PowerPoint?

If your PowerPoint slides are ever going to appear on the internet, then flat design can improve the user experience of your slides too!  This is true regardless of whether you upload the same slideshow you delivered in person (perhaps to a site like Slideshare.net or HaikuDeck.com) or you repurpose the slides into a video, e-book, PDF, or some other form of content.

While the questions listed above may not be relevant to PowerPoint viewers, the issue of user experience definitely transfers from web design to slide design and to visual content design, in general!

What kind of experience do internet users enjoy?  The guiding elements of flat design can help us improve PowerPoint slide design, or slide design with any other software such as Keynote, HaikuDeck, OpenOffice, or Google Slides – as well as the design of visual content marketing in any output form.

Here are a few flat design guidelines that can be applied well to designing visual content in PowerPoint:

  1. Streamlined, simple images that avoid skeuomorphism as well as rich design elements like textures, gradients, drop shadows, bevels, and reflections.

These design elements can be effective on large-screen presentations because they can make graphics look more realistic.  But these elements are not necessary and users can still interpret simpler graphics if they are well designed and use easily recognizable, iconic symbols.

Especially on smaller device screens, simpler graphics are actually easier to interpret quickly because the user does not need to focus in closely to tell what the graphic represents.  This is just as true on slides as it is on websites.

  1. Minimalist designs that load faster and make websites more quickly responsive to changes in the size of the browser window between different devices

PowerPoint slides can also benefit from the smaller file size of these simplified graphics.  Using fewer and smaller graphics can also help slides display more quickly, for example displaying one or several simple icons compared to a full-screen photo background.

Modern typographic styles are another big part of the minimalist approach to design and any design trend that makes text easier to read will definitely be a boon to slide design as well.  However, it is important to keep in mind the difference between reading text on a phone screen a few inches away from the user’s eyes versus reading text on a large screen in an auditorium or meeting room, several yards away or even hundreds of yards away for users sitting at the back of a large audience.

Some elements of flat UI design, such as the trend toward gray text color, may need to be adapted for easier reading on a projection screen for a live presentation, where black text will likely be more readable.

Slide presentations that are being repurposed as videos or e-books are more likely to be viewed by one individual at a time and, as with websites, are more frequently being viewed on mobile devices.

  1. Avoiding non-functional graphic elements that do not serve a purpose for communication or are a distraction from user experience

Slide design guidelines also share this belief that extraneous visual elements are distracting to the user.  For many slide designers and presenters, this even includes:

  • Page numbers on the bottom of slides
  • Logos or other branding images that appear on every slide
  • And busy slide backgrounds and themes or templates

While rich visual images on a slide can help to create emotional engagement for the viewers, there is a point at which the visuals can distract from the speaker’s message – which is, ultimately, the real focus of the presentation.

  1. Bold color blocks used to divide the content space into different sections

This use of color to structure a space is certainly compatible with good slide design.  But, again, we need to consider the different between viewing a bright color block on a tiny phone screen versus viewing that same bright block on a very large screen, lighted by the bright glow of a projector lamp.

Just make sure your color blocks are not so bold that they become uncomfortable for presentation viewers to look at for the time that they will be on-screen.

One particularly good use of color blocks in slide design is to divide a wide-screen slide horizontally, setting aside a block on the left or right side of the screen for the slide headline and leaving a narrower section for images or for more text.  This can create a more balanced use of the 16:9 slide layout compared to placing the slide headline at the top and stretching the whole content across the full width of the slide.

root_beer_float_glass

Designing Your Own Flat Graphics in PowerPoint

Many users are not aware that PowerPoint is actually a pretty powerful graphic design tool.  As such, it can be used to create customized flat design graphics, such as icons, buttons, social media headers, and much more.
When searching for those simplified, minimalist graphics, you might not find just the right image for your topic.  So why not design your own?

By using the Shapes functionality of PowerPoint, it is quite easy to create your own flat graphics – with a little training.  Take a look at this recording from my Creative Marketing TV hangout series, in which I demonstrated how to create flat graphics in PowerPoint in celebration of “Vanilla Ice Cream Day” on July 23rd.

There is also a free graphics offer at the end of the video!

Your Response

Do you think you could design your own simple graphics using PowerPoint shapes?  Do flat design principles make sense when applied to your slide presentations or other visual content marketing?

What else would you like to learn about in future episodes of Creative Marketing TV?  I’d love to hear your feedback – both about this blog post and about the hangout recording.


Finding Free Pictures for Blog Posts

free pictures for blog postsI am always trying different software tools for finding free pictures for blog posts — because I know so many people need help with this!

Most people see 3 choices:

  1. You might search on Google and just grab any picture from any website and run the risk of getting sued for copyright violation.
  2. You could search for free digital photos on different sites, which can be time consuming.
  3. Or you can pay for your images, which can definitely get expensive.

Well, I have another solution for you:  Image Suite

This WordPress plugin connects directly to six different digital image sites and search based on the keyword or phrase you enter.  It searches for Creative Commons licenses and only returns images that are in the public domain (CC0) and therefore require no attribution.

graphic design

Free Graphic Image

Image Suite also enables you to edit the image before inserting it into your blog post.  Editing functions include adding text, filters and other effects, as well as stickers, shapes, borders, and other overlays.

The editing features were not very intuitive for me, but once I got used to them, I like this plugin a lot.  Image Suite saves me time in 2 ways:

First it speeds up my search for blog post illustrations by searching against multiple sites all at once.

But the big time saver for me is being able to add text and other overlays directly inside of WordPress instead of downloading the picture, opening it in an image editing software, saving the finished work, and then importing that into my blog.

I encourage you to take a look at Image Suite.  It offers quite a lot of power for a very low price.  And the owner offers good support, too.

The one area where they could use some improvement is in the training videos.  So if you decide to purchase Image Suite through my affiliate link, I will provide you with some additional training.

Click here to check out Image Suite plugin for WordPress.

My Demo of Image Suite

You can also view a demonstration of Image Suite that I recorded on the March 12, 2016, episode of Creative Marketing TV.  Click below to watch the 2nd half of that hangout recording.

 

 


National Photograph Month – How will you celebrate?

smart phone taking a photo

If you’re part of my online community, you probably already know that I like to use holidays in my content marketing.

Some of my favorite sources for this information include HolidayInsights.com and BrownieLocks.com.  I even publish a free, holiday marketing calendar each month.  (Click here to get yours)

The month of May offers us a fantastic holiday to celebrate as visual content marketers:  National Photograph Month!

Most of us carry a camera around with us all the time in the form of our mobile phones.  Do you look for opportunities to take photos that you can use in your visual content marketing?

I want to talk about 3 ideas that will help you with this:

  1.  Keep this idea top of mind so that you are always on the look-out for potential photographs that could represent subject matter related to your business message or pictures that could be used as visual metaphors or even just for inspirational or fun ways to engage with your clients and fans on social media.  It doesn’t have to ALL be about business!
  2. Find a couple of apps that you’re comfortable using on your phone so that you can quickly and easily add text over your photos and then post them directly to multiple social media platforms.  Most apps will also let you email those photos (with the overlaid typography) to yourself so that you can save these modified images to your computer for future use — in PowerPoint presentations, videos, e-books, and other future forms of content marketing.
  3. Figure out an easy way to transfer potential business photos off your phone and onto your computer or onto a “cloud-based” drive, such as Dropbox, iDrive, Windows One Drive, or something similar that is easy to access from your phone.  Developing an easy routine for this will make it much more likely for you to save your photos on a regular basis.  You may even want to schedule a monthly or weekly task on your calendar to make sure it gets done!

That last step is important for a couple of reasons:  First, you want to be able to organize those photos on your computer for easy access to create future content marketing materials.  Secondly, you don’t want to end up with hundreds of photos you need to transfer before you can upgrade the software on your phone!  (I learned this the hard way!)

image of seedling - Growing creative ideas

Software Tools for Using Photos

I have quite a few apps on my iPhone, but really I only use a couple of them with any consistency.  Part of my difficulty is that the on-screen buttons and text labels on most apps are so difficult to read on the small phone screen.  Yet I’m not interested in buying a larger phone that will be harder to tuck into my purse or my pocket.  Instead I still prefer to do most of my visual content creation on my desktop computer.  If that makes me old-fashioned — so be it!

Typorama is one of the apps I enjoy using on my phone.  I find it pretty intuitive and easy to use.  Plus I like the fact that I can use it with my own photos or search for free, public domain photos on one of my favorite sites – Pixabay.com.  The image above on the right is one I created recently with Typorama.

photo collage created with Pexels Add-In for PowerPointOn my computer, I often create my quote graphics and other photo-based sharing content using PowerPoint.  I have a square template I created and saved (7.5″ square) that is a good size for posting to the Facebook newsfeed.  I simply add a photo and overlay with text for a quote or tip.  It’s fast and easy!

I recently discovered an “add-in” for PowerPoint that makes this process even easier and it comes from another of my favorite photo sharing sites:  Pexels.com  

Pexels is another public domain image site.  Their license for photo usage clearly states that all images on their site have a Creative Commons CC0 license, which means that they can be used free of charge, without attribution, and can be modified and used for pretty much any purpose.  The only restriction is, if there are identifiable people in the image, it cannot be used in a way that shows those people in a bad light — unless you get their written permission.

The Pexels website hosts some beautiful photos and I encourage you to check them out!  The Pexels Add-In for PowerPoint is one of the “apps” I will be demonstrating in my next episode of Creative Marketing TV on May 21, 2016.  I will also demonstrate using the Typorama iPhone app.

National Photograph Month Hangout Announcement

 

You can register for this free hangout at the Google+ Event page at http://bit.ly/CMTV_May21.  Look for the question “Are you going?” and just answer Yes or Maybe.  Then Google+ will send you a reminder.  Or you can watch the recording whenever you want.

Please go ahead and leave a comment for me on the G+ Event page or below this blog post.  Let me know what questions you have about using photo apps or share which apps you like to use and what you do with them.  I’ll do my best to incorporate your questions or comments into the show.

 

 

 

 

Redefining PowerPoint and Presentations – Are they the same or different?

PowerPoint slide with bullet pointsPresentation has become so commonly associated with the PowerPoint software that many people use to create presentation slides that “powerpoint” has taken on an almost generic meaning – like Kleenex or Xerox.

But, in this blog post, I’ll talk about why powerpoint and presentation have a little bit of overlap, but a whole lot of differences in their meaning and their capabilities!

Just because you were taught to create PowerPoint slides like a bullet-pointed outline doesn’t mean that’s the best way to use the PowerPoint software.

And just because lots of people use PowerPoint to create presentations doesn’t mean that’s the best format to present your message to your ideal audience.

Let’s redefine those 2 terms!

Microsoft Office software suitePowerPoint is …

a software tool for content creation and graphic design.  PowerPoint also has an ability to project the content, on a computer monitor or on a large projection screen, in an electronic, digital display which may look slightly different than the original content.

The most common type of content created with PowerPoint is a presentation or slideshow.  The most common way to organize the content (message) of a presentation or slideshow created in PowerPoint is by outlining the verbal message in bullet points (as shown in the image above) and then adding small images around the text.

However there are other types of content that can be created with the PowerPoint software tools.  Presentations and slideshows are only a small fraction of what PowerPoint can do.

digital projectorA presentation is …

a means of delivering a message for the purpose of education, information, persuasion, or entertainment.

The most commonly used tool for creating and delivering a presentation is PowerPoint, but there are so many other tools that could be used and, in fact, many other formats in which a presentation can be delivered.

Too often people use the term “PowerPoint” to refer to their presentation.  Unfortunately, this confusion leads many people to plan, write, and create their whole presentation inside of the PowerPoint software — which is really a design tool, not a planning tool.

From a business perspective, any opportunity you have to get your message in front of your ideal audience — your target clients or prospects – that’s a presentation!

Let’s take a look at the commonalities, as well as the differences, between PowerPoint and presentations.

PowerPoint Characteristics:

Here are some of the many things you can do with PowerPoint which most people don’t know you can do with PowerPoint!

  • You can change the “canvas” to almost any size and shape!
  • You can save the output in many different file types, including image files, video, PDF, and more.
  • You can format text blocks in an almost unlimited range of font sizes (not limited to the built-in choices).
  • You can change the output resolution to higher quality (easy on Mac; on Windows involves editing the Registry)
  • Graphics in PowerPoint are much easier to edit and format then in Word.output file types
  • There is a wide variety of available templates/themes/designs for designing PowerPoint documents.
  • You can modify those templates/themes/designs or create your own from scratch.
  • Graphic/image effects and text effects in PowerPoint are more extensive than in some other image editing software.
  • You can format text blocks without bullet points – which is a good idea since many people loathe bullet point slides and find them quite boring!
  • Animations and transitions are easier to use in PowerPoint than in more complex video editing software.
  • You control navigation within a PowerPoint document using hyperlinks.  (For instance, click a button on a slide and have it jump to a different part of the file.)

Presentation Characteristics:

Any time you get your message in front of an audience, that’s a presentation!  Even if that’s one person reading your blog post or viewing your infographic.  Even if that’s thousands of people watching your video that you created with a web-based animation program and then posted on YouTube.

Presentations can be:

one-on-one presentation

  • In person, face-to-face discussion (with or without slides shared on a tablet device)
  • By phone one-on-one or to a group
  • Audio presentation via radio show or podcast (live or prerecorded)
  • Written material (hopefully with visuals) – e-book or white paper
  • “Live” Webinar with audio and slides
  • Prerecorded (evergreen) webinar with audio and slides
  • Web-based Slideshow without audio
  • Live presentation (with or without slides) to small group (conference room)
  • Live presentation (with or without slides) to large group (auditorium)
  • Video presentation (with or without narration; with or without music)
  • Created with a wide range of software tool choices!

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.  THINK OUTSIDE THE BULLET-POINT TEXT BOX.  THINK OUTSIDE THE SLIDE!

You may have learned to use PowerPoint by typing text into a bullet point outline.  But PowerPoint software is capable of doing so much more.

Above all else, PowerPoint is a graphic design tool.  Even though many people don’t make very good use of its graphics functionality, PowerPoint offers some serious design functions compared to other software of similar price.

And since many people already have some familiarity with the PowerPoint software, it is much easier to learn how to create visual content in PowerPoint than to learn a completely new and different software tool, many of which are more complicated to use.

high quality presentationIn my Creative Marketing TV hangout series, I’ll be presenting some little known techniques for designing high-resolution graphic output from PowerPoint in Windows.  These are secret tips that many graphic designers don’t know about because they are working in PowerPoint on a Mac, which offers other built-in options.

While Windows does not make it as easy as Mac, you can save your PowerPoint files at 300 dpi when needed for print quality.  But you need to know about the techniques I’ll be teaching!

To explore ways of creating visual content with PowerPoint, register here for your free PDF guide for the May 7th hangout.

I will send you the hangout details, as well as the PDF with the tips and techniques that I’ll teach in the hangout.