Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book review: Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte

This book comes with recommendations from such luminaries as Garr Reynolds and Jerry Weissman, and I've considered buying it for quite a while now. In teh very likely case that the name Nancy Duarte doesn't ring a bell, Duarte design - headed by the very same Nancy Duarte - is the design company that can be credited for Al Gore's recent success and even (arguably) him now being a Nobel laureate. Gore has been talking about global warming and environmental issues for years and years, but it wasn't before he hired Duarte Design to make "An Inconvenient truth" as well as some actual presentation technique coaches that he went from a mumbling black hole of charisma to one of the highest paid and most sought after on the international lecture circuit.

It should be mentioned that this book was published AFTER Presentation Zen, so be warned: The first six chapters mostly deal with regurgitating Reynolds' book, as well as numerous references to Tufte and Weissman. At several points during these chapters I seriously found myself thinking that if there really was a market for a cliff notes version of already condensed books on presentation technique, I'd like a piece of that action. The references are many, the puns and clever catchphrases are abundant, and the amount of new information is scarce. Moreover, the accompanying slide examples look pedestrian and - dare I say it - cheap considering the credentials of the author.

However, the book really picks up after the sixth chapter. The sections on how to select color schemes (consciously rather than by happy accident), typesetting and animation alone make the book well worth buying. Really cool, and I'm gonna get right to applying those lessons. There's also a chapter on making templates which is really informative. Still, seeing as how I've just made the plunge from six years of lab-specific templates (one of which was of my own design) to wide open slides, I'm not yet ready to creep back into the template cage again. The amount of info you can fit on each slide really dwindles when templates are applied. While I admit that this can sometimes (or even often) be a good thing, I often find that building schematics or figures that span the entire slide really works within hard science - often the alternative is repeating the same image with slightly different areas highlighted over lots of slides.

If you're looking for efficient ways to implement animation and color schemes, then this book is definitely worth buying. If you're after a book on designing and delivering good presentations, look elsewhere.


Anders said...

Damn, great minds think alike. I just bought this book, but haven't started on it yet. Just a quick peep through it, and mostly the animation part. I did try a couple of animation tricks, which had some refreshing thoughts. I might end up including some animation in my next presentation (if I get around to read the book by then). I haven't read it, but I also thought the sample slides had more "fluff" then the PresentationZen slides. Anyway, I will post my own review when I've read it. I've been thinking of making a "template" with design grids in Powerpoint. And include color scheme (I've already made custom palette in Excel which is great) and a good font family. I hope the book can give me some ideas on that.

Btw, after my last Amazon raid, I now have all the Tufte books, PResentationZenDesign and Stephen Few latest on Visual Techniques for Quantitive Analysis. Currently working on the Few book; I've already read all the articles on his web page so I think I'm in for a treat. ;)

Anders said...

Btw, I'm hoping Garr is covering grids and "templates" in detail in his new PresentationZen Design book.

Wilhelm said...

Custom palette in Excel,you say...how's that working?

Lemme know how your template works out. I've been there, and while I was fairly happy with the template when I first made it, I really found it to be very limiting in terms of colors and slide real estate.

Wilhelm said...

Btw; would you hook a brutha' up with some font advice?

Anders said...

Use a sans serif font. Don't go with Ariel. Just a tohught: Your "institution of higher learning you're a tenured faculty member of" does have a special font in it's logo. If you have that font available, it could tie your presentation together without repeating the logo on every page? It's called Din, if I remember correctly.

I do like to have a font with different weight, condensed, bold, etc., and I usually sticks to one type per presentation. Mr. Reyolds uses/used a lot of Gill Sans, which is cool. I like a bit of a neutral font. Helvetica is the standard, but some find it really boring. Of the standard fonts in Windows, I like Tahoma, Calibri and even Lucida Sans.

One thing you should be aware of when you choose a font, is legible. You'd be surprise how a small change in the font can affect legibility, even in two nearly identical fonts.

Don't know if that's what you meant by font advice?

Wilhelm said...


As you know, I've been rollin' with Tahoma and Comic Sans, but I'm looking for other fonts to throw into the mix.

Much like barbershop quartets but very much unlike power metal, one style gets stale

Anders said...

F**k. I wrote up an lengthy reply with links'n'stuff in it back home. Seems like I forgot to click the publish button. Oh well, I'll post it when I get back home.

Wilhelm said...

It's teh effing economy, bro