Universal Design Principles for Presentations

Principles of Design

Mikey Mioduski, Founder / CEO

Mikey Mioduski

Feb 28, 2022

Your PowerPoint presentation can be as captivating as an action movie or lifeless as an overdrawn speech from a tired bureaucratic honcho. While having natural charisma, great content, and excellent communication skills goes a long way, your presentation’s design is equally important. A well-designed presentation doubles down on your message by making every slide unique, appealing, and memorable. 

The last thing you want is your audience falling asleep midway through your presentation, as happens to many speakers. Fortunately, you can reference universal design principles to polish up your presentation and leave a lasting impression on your audience.  

Let’s talk about the principles of design, why they’re important, and how to incorporate them in your presentation.

What Are Universal Principles of Design? 

The principles of design are general rules that provide a framework for designers across the board to make appealing and user-friendly designs. Design principles guide designers to package their message in an easy-to-digest format that’s universally accessible. These principles include contrast, repetition, balance, and alignment, emphasis, movement, white space, proportion, hierarchy, variety, pattern, rhythm, and unity.

Depending on the product you’re designing and your application field, you’ll find some design principles more relevant than others. In our case, we’ll discuss the five most useful design principles for PowerPoint (PPT) presentations. 

Let’s jump in.

White Space is Your Friend

White space (negative space) is the blank space around elements on a PPT slide. These elements include logos, shapes, pictures, and text boxes. Simply, white space is the unused space in a design. You use white space to separate sections and create space between elements to avoid crowded or chaotic slides. This enhances the readability of your presentation.

Also, white space boosts comprehension by drawing your audience’s focus to the most important elements in your presentation. For instance, if you have ample white space around a picture, people will spend extra time on that picture because the white space indicates that it’s important. White space helps you design clutter-free and elegant-looking slides, making your presentation coherent and put together.

big idea illustration white space

Movement: The Eyes Should Move

How you organize elements in your slide will dictate how your audience navigates through it visually. This is referred to as movement. You should position your elements harmoniously so the eye transitions from one element to the next without getting stuck on one section. Essentially, movement gives your presentation ebb and flow, enabling your slides to flow more naturally like a narrative or story.

Repetition and Consistency in Design 

To reinforce an idea in your presentation, you may need to reuse certain elements like typefaces, fonts, logos, or shapes. Almost always, you’ll need to use multiple elements in your presentation for illustration and design aesthetics. Repetition helps you achieve consistency so that the repeated elements don’t come off as an error.  

Say you use Fira Sans font for the body text in most slides, but use Libre-Baskerville font in a few slides for stylistic effect. If the Libre-Baskerville font appears only in one slide or body text, your audience may interpret it as a casual error rather than a stylistic effect. However, if you use Libre-Baskerville font in multiple slides, your audience will catch on.

Symmetry Keeps Your Presentation Balanced

Every element in your PPT presentation (symbols, pictures, 3D models, or SmartArt) has visual weight. The size, shape, and contrast contribute to the visual weight that must be balanced for the slides to look even. You can achieve balance through symmetry or asymmetry, as we explain below. 

Symmetry 

In your PPT presentation, you position elements of equal visual weight on opposite sides of an imaginary center line on your slide to get symmetrical balance. Here’s an illustration:

symmetry illustration

Asymmetry 

To achieve asymmetrical balance, you position elements of varying visual weight without considering an imaginary center line.

Both symmetrical and asymmetrical design layouts help keep your presentation visually pleasing. If you have a creative bone in your body, you can capitalize on symmetrical and asymmetrical designs to make your PPT presentation stylish and unique. Here’s an illustration: 

asymmetry illustration

Hierarchy: What Is the Key Content?

Hierarchy refers to the order of importance of your presentation content. Visual hierarchy dictates that you prioritize your presentation’s most important design elements. The meaty sections explaining your core ideas should come first so the audience can get the broader picture within the first five minutes of your presentation. 

Given the declining human attention span, it can be an uphill task to retain your audience’s attention throughout your presentation. That’s why you should strike the iron while it’s hot and explain your primary ideas while you have your audience’s attention. A good way to do this is by embedding key concepts in your headings, subheadings, and introductory slides. 

Why Are Design Principles Important in Presentations?

Principles of presentation design are a source of guidance and reference for designers to create stand-out designs that are usable and accessible to all people. Likewise, design principles guide you through creating a powerful PPT presentation with design elements that will woo your audience. 

You want to communicate to your audience in an interactive and captivating way. Referencing the principles of design when creating your PPT presentation will elevate your presentation. By applying these principles, you ensure that your presentation is world-class, right down to the last detail.

How Do These Principles Affect the Design Process?

Each design principle helps you achieve a specific impact. As such, you have to consider the design elements and the effects you want your presentation to exude. For the most part, you’ll integrate the design principles on the go while preparing your presentation. Even so, you may want to plan and note down the design elements you want to include to save time when applying them to your slides. This makes the design process more effective.

GhostRanch Communications Can Help

We know that creating a riveting PowerPoint presentation requires more than understanding and applying design principles. That’s why we go far beyond to design custom presentations that turn heads, save you time, and help you close more deals. Whether you want us to design your PPT presentation from scratch or provide some touch-ups to enhance readability and aesthetics, we are game. 

Let GhostRanch be your go-to partner for all your design services. We deliver the results you need on time and on point.

Contact 'The Ranch' today to discuss how we can help with your presentation deck.

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About The Author

Mikey Mioduski, Founder / CEO

Michael "Mikey" Mioduski founded GhostRanch Communications in 2015 after falling in love with the medium of presentation design. He holds an MFA in Advertising Design from SCAD, a BA in History from DePauw University, and currently lives with his family in Zionsville, Indiana. 

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