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just a passing fad, many large companies began updating their website design to a more updated look so as not to appear outdated.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.

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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.




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