PowerPoint Design for Digital Signs

EPISODE 30 | Guests: Melissa Sartin, creative content artist for Visix, and Dwayne Johnson, senior interactive artist for Visix

One of the most popular ways to create content for digital signage is to use PowerPoint and then simply import the slides into the CMS. Which makes sense since people already know how to use PowerPoint. But PowerPoint design for digital signs is not quite the same as creating slides for a presentation; they’re different media. And not everyone is a designer or has a design eye.

In this podcast, two of our award-winning designers give you some best practices to keep in mind with PowerPoint tips for digital signage.

  • Consider aspect ratios
  • Choose the right colors and color combinations
  • Focus on the background
  • Use images correctly, and legally
  • Create campaigns for longer messages
  • Don’t forget a call to action
  • Spell things correctly and use correct punctuation
  • Slide Master can make everything easier
  • Smart Art vs. clip art
  • Watch those transitions and animations

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Learn more about this topic in our Designing Digital Signage Content in PowerPoint White Paper

**Bonus Infographic Download: 10 Design Tips for Better PowerPoint Presentations


Derek DeWitt: So, you know, people don’t really change. People kind of like to stick with what they know. A lot of digital signage products, stuff from Visix included, have content creation tools. But the fact of the matter is, let’s just be honest, a lot of people create digital signage messages using PowerPoint and then simply import them. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. However, dental signage is a little bit different, and so you do have to kind of adapt it, tweak it.

So, we’re going to talk a little bit today about some best practices for using PowerPoint to create your digital signage messages before you stick them up on your screens.

I’m here with Melissa Sartin, creative content artist for Visix. Hi, Melissa.

Melissa Sartin: Hello.

Derek DeWitt: And I’m here with Dwayne Johnson, senior interactive artist for Visix. Hi, Dwayne.

Dwayne Johnson: Hey, how’s it going?

Derek DeWitt: Great. I am of course as always Derek DeWitt, your host, and I’d like to thank Melissa and Dwayne for coming on. And I’d like to thank all of you for listening.

Derek DeWitt: Okay, so PowerPoint. People are using it. We know this. A lot of issues can come up when people are using PowerPoint. One of the first things that comes to my mind is aspect ratios, right? Very often people create it, the resolution is different for the screen, it looks all squished and mashed. And so tell me about this. What should they be looking out for?

Dwayne Johnson: That’s right, Derek, one of the key points when you’re designing for PowerPoint is making sure that aspect ratio meets the destination. So if it’s a 4×3, or 16×9, you want to make sure all your slides for PowerPoint are set up the same way.

Derek DeWitt: Okay.

Melissa Sartin: And that’s really, like he’s saying, that’s going to come down to what type of display it’s going on. It’s, I don’t know if a room sign would make sense, but room signs are typically a 4×3 aspect ratio, whereas what you would think of as a typical quote unquote “TV screen” would be more 16×9.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And then it’s also, is it landscape, is it vertical?

Dwayne Johnson: Right. Portrait aspect.

Melissa Sartin: Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: Or things like this. Right. And what do these numbers mean?

Melissa Sartin: Well, there’s two different types of I guess, ratios. There’s a standard pixel dimension, which is your 1024×768, 1920×1080. And then there’s the aspect ratio, which is a little more vague, and it’s more so to do with the height as compared to the width. So units, units of width versus units of height. And it’s not necessarily, “Oh it’s three pixels”; it’s three units. Does that make sense?

Derek DeWitt: And “unit” is, they’re proportionate for each particular screen.

Melissa Sartin: Exactly. Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: So, like a 4×3 – if we chopped this into four equal parts, that’s your four. And then this one is three of those.

Melissa Sartin: Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, okay. Right. So yeah, I mean that’s the main thing because here’s the problem. So let’s say I don’t make them match, and I end up with one of these squashed or stretched images. So what? Who cares? It’s only up for seven seconds.

Dwayne Johnson: Makes your content look extremely uneasy. Just not what you want on your display. It just looks…you can tell something’s wonky about it. But usually it’ll stretch your graphics ’cause they’ve been predesigned at a size, and you don’t want the aspect ratios to mismatch.

Melissa Sartin: And seven seconds may not sound like a long time, but it actually is. It doesn’t take very long for the eye to percept that something is off. And then those seven seconds feel like seven minutes that it’s up there wrong. It takes away from your credibility and your professional image.

Derek DeWitt: Let’s talk about colors. Something I see myself sometimes, you’ll see these color combinations that are…. And maybe they look good on a computer screen, but they sure don’t look good on the digital signs. You know, like wow, a lime green background with fuchsia text.

Dwayne Johnson: Sometimes that may occur – the colors are out of gamut, depending on which software you’re using, designing with. You want to check those colors to make sure they’re within gamut. And just a good rule of thumb is to look at the brand colors of your company. You know, try to start with something you’re familiar with and you know, even test them on-screen before deployment if you can. That’s usually what we do here.

Melissa Sartin: Right. And that is really important whenever possible, test it. If you have the display up that it’s going to be on when it’s fully deployed, definitely test it there because from monitor to monitor, screen to screen it, one color can look different on all of those.

Dwayne Johnson: So, if you have color calibration software, be sure to take advantage of those tools to make sure the brand is consistent if that’s very important to your marketing message.

Derek DeWitt: I’d be surprised if someone’s only using digital signage and that’s their only form of marketing or communications. How hard is it to get everything to match up?

Melissa Sartin: Hopefully, if you have a marketing department and you have some brand standards, they’ve done that work for you. You have different modes of looking at color: you have your RGB spectrum, you have your CMYK, you have your hex values, and those all are different ways to quote unquote “create” or “mix” the color you’re looking for.

The CMYK is the proportion of cyan, magenta, yellow and black to get this color. RGB is red, green and blue. And then hex is a six-digit code that represents the mix of red, green, and blue to give you web safe versions of your colors.

Derek DeWitt: Right. That’s what’s embedded in HTML code and all that stuff.

Melissa Sartin: Exactly, exactly. And that really, especially working with digital signage, that is going to be the most preferable way, is to pick that hex code. Because that’s going to give you the same color every time.

Derek DeWitt: And it’s pretty precise.

Melissa Sartin: It’s very precise.

Derek DeWitt: How many colors should I use? I mean, can I use 30?

Melissa Sartin: You can use as many as you like. It’s really a question of what are you trying to say? What are you trying to get across? Color can get a little touchy, a little tricky, just because it has a lot of impact. Color has a lot of emotional impact. For example, red. Red is a very energetic color, but it can also be red as an aggressive color.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Or danger.

Melissa Sartin: Or danger. Any kind of bright saturated color. While it grabs your attention, you gotta be really cognizant of how it’s grabbing your attention.

Derek DeWitt: If you’ve got an alert mode, for example, and red is the…. If 80% of your normal background colors are a particular shade of red, and it’s also the same shade as your alerts, you know, you might cause a delay there when the alert goes up and then suddenly people are like, “Oh, I just thought it was advertising the pool party again. I didn’t realize we were on fire.”

Melissa Sartin: Exactly.

Dwayne Johnson: So it’s good to probably stick with a set palette if you can. Establish that with your marketing or your design team. You know, when you’re getting ready to display your signage, make sure you have good contrast.

You know, a lot of people say “It needs to pop.” Basically all they’re saying is make sure the messages have enough contrast. So when the viewer is viewing the messages on a predominantly black background, you want lighter colors and vice versa — for lighter backgrounds, you want darker colors to really carry a message.

Derek DeWitt: Probably at least 50%, if not more, of the time that audience member’s going to see a digital sign, they’re probably in motion towards it. They need to see it, recognize enough that they say, “Oh, I might be interested in that” (they’re continuing to walk while they’re thinking), and then when they get closer, maybe they stop or they take in the message. Whereas if it’s just a blur, a muddy mesh, they’re probably not even going to notice it because they’re not walking down the hallway thinking, “I’m now going to look at the digital signage.” They’re thinking about something else.

Melissa Sartin: Right. It’s gotta catch them from the periphery.

Derek DeWitt: You want to sort of, let’s use the word “intrude”, upon their thought process enough to make them notice.

I know in a blog we wrote a long time ago, we came across some quote somewhere about backgrounds and it was an interesting concept that the background is much more important than you would think. In fact, they’ve done studies, I think, in which they have found that the background is what the eye notices first before it notices anything (text, images and so on) superimposed over that, which seems counterintuitive. Is that right?

Melissa Sartin: That does seem right and it really, when you think about it, is not counterintuitive. Because when you first look at something, you don’t know what you’re looking for, when you first look at it, you are just looking at it as a whole and the background is the whole, it’s what ties everything together. So the background, whether it’s got the whole block of color to tie it together – or it’s just the shape of how everything sits on the background –  the background is what ties all the pieces into one cohesive sign.

Dwayne Johnson: Call it the “subtle glory” in the background. So, they’re definitely key players in making your content stand out. You don’t want to have a background that’s too busy. It’s just, like I said, the “subtle glory” in the background that really supports the starring cast, which is carrying your message.

Derek DeWitt: Right.

Melissa Sartin: Also the background changes, usually, far less frequently than the content on it. So it has to work with a variety of other pieces on it.

Derek DeWitt: Is that a good best practice to, say, have three or four messages in a row with one background and then shift? ‘Cause I know sometimes people have, like everything will change. The image changes, the background changes, now seven seconds later that changes. I mean if you stood there, it would seem chaotic.

Melissa Sartin: Right. And that can really distract the eye. The whole goal is to control where your viewer’s eye goes, and that’s done through your design. So if it’s changing all the time, there’s nowhere for the eye to land or the eye to rest.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And then the brain just gets tired. ‘Cause you know, I keep thinking of it as the background almost creates the context for within. As animals we rose up so we could see above the tall grass, giving us an advantage over those predators. That’s our background – it should be a nice calm field of grass. Oop! Something just moved! Let’s stop. Is it going to eat me? And I think we still have these, even in something like an office environment, we still have these instincts inside of us.

Dwayne Johnson: Sure.

Derek DeWitt: How about images? Let’s talk about images. I know everybody always wants high-quality images, HD and so on. You want them to pop. Should they always be big and bright and bold? What about making them sometimes fainter, and things like this? Like how would you recommend using images in these PowerPoint slides?

Melissa Sartin: Hmm.

Derek DeWitt: That’s a tough one, right?

Melissa Sartin: It is a tough one because there’s a case, there’s an argument for both. It’s really just a matter of how you are intending to use it. Are you wanting to use imagery just to give a little bit of visual flair and a little bit of interest to an otherwise very, to use the word, “blank” message or …?

Derek DeWitt: “Register today!”

Melissa Sartin: Exactly. Just a little movement, a little visual something. Or is the photo really trying to drive home…? Again, “Pool party!” You know, big splash, pool party. “Oh cool. I like the pool. I like water. I’m going to look at this ’cause there’s a big bright picture of a pool.” So there’s really arguments for both uses.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. If you’re taking your own pictures, they’re yours. What about using outside imagery?

Dwayne Johnson: If you want to use outside imagery, know all the licensing agreements before actually using any image without permission. Definitely make sure you have the right permissions. If not, there are various resources out there you can use, like Shutterstock or Getty Images, you know that you can use. Again, always check the licensing agreements.

Derek DeWitt: Because I think a lot of people…. You know, I live in the Czech Republic and Czechs have a (sorry, any Czechs who are listening) but they have a very um, interesting attitude towards copyright. Which is that “That’s good for other people but not for me.” Like, it’s commonplace. You’ll see people using, for actual marketing materials, they’ll just steal an image off Google. And there was one guy I talked to recently who said, “But I found it on the internet.” I said, “Yeah, but it’s still not your image.” You know?

Dwayne Johnson: You didn’t physically create it.

Derek DeWitt: Can’t you make the argument that maybe, maybe you could make the argument if I’m doing it in the lobby or I’m doing this for public-facing signage, but if it’s just inside, in the back office, what’s the problem? Is there a, problem?

Melissa Sartin: If you just steal a pack of gum from the gas station, what’s the problem?

Derek DeWitt: Yes. I mean, they sell gas, not gum!

Melissa Sartin: Exactly! Right, right.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. Again, should they find out, they’ll probably coming after you.

Melissa Sartin: You may not get caught. If it’s just in your lobby, it may just be in your lobby and you may be fine. But it’s up to you if you want to take that chance.

Derek DeWitt: I will say one thing, I only have one issue with stock photography and stock images, which is, there are a few out there (which are great ones) but I see them everywhere.

Melissa Sartin: Yes!

Derek DeWitt: Like there’s this one, it’s this like as if there’s glass, you just see it’s a woman and her finger’s touching nothing.

Melissa Sartin: Very popular.

Derek DeWitt: And I have seen this…in the last year. I have seen this 16 times, including on Visix material. ‘Cause that’s a great image and it’s very flexible, and you can add in other elements and stuff. But I get to the point now where I’m like, “Oh, there’s that image again. Oh boy!”

Dwayne Johnson: If you have the ability to, if you have the luxury of having a photographer on site or you know, pull out a camera and make it more personal yourself, I definitely encourage that. That definitely adds more interest, sometimes, visually to your messages. People have something they can relate to directly. So yeah, I’d say go for it.

Melissa Sartin: Yeah. And it does add a little bit of authenticity to your messages. And say it’s in your own office space and someone walks by and, “Oh that’s me in that message!”

Derek DeWitt: Or “I took this!”

Melissa Sartin: Or, I took this.

Derek DeWitt: I took that picture. Ha ha! Copyright: me.

Melissa Sartin: Right, Exactly.

Dwayne Johnson: Right.

Derek DeWitt: Earlier, you said something, we talked about making sure the things are not too cluttered or not too busy. I mean, you know, there’s the famous acronym K.I.S.S. – keep it simple, stupid (or, in polite company, keep it short and simple). How does that apply here? How will I know that I’m doing too [much]?

Because you know, not for digital signage but for presentations, the bugbear of presentations that use PowerPoint and similar presentation software is people just put far too much stuff up there. (Yeah she’s…you can’t see it, but she’s doing the gun to the head gesture.) Right? It’s a nightmare. How do I know? How can I restrain myself? How do I know when I’m doing too much?

Dwayne Johnson: I’d say a good rule of thumb is to test it out. If you can’t read it within a given amount of time. Be sure to just check the length of the message. You don’t want the messages too short or too long. But I find sometimes the strongest messages are the most simplistic.

Melissa Sartin: And have someone else read it. Have a few people read it within that same time zone and have them tell you, “I couldn’t read all of that in the seven seconds” or, “Okay, yeah, I read it and I was staring at it for the rest of the seven seconds.” It’s really good to get outside input because when you design it, you become really familiar with the content on it and you already inherently know what it says before you test it.

Dwayne Johnson: That’s true.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. This is why it’s always a mistake, as a writer, you know, proofreading your own stuff. It’s like, “Yeah, I don’t need to proofread it too much. I know how to spell ‘the’!”

Dwayne Johnson: “It’s all right.”

Melissa Sartin: Yup. Yep.

Derek DeWitt: You get that forest-for-the-trees syndrome

Melissa Sartin: And keep in mind, since we’re talking specifically about PowerPoint, if you’re familiar with PowerPoint, you know the good rule of thumb is to keep it simple (bane of presentations). But it’s even more so important in digital signage because you’re not going to have a presenter backing up that information like you would with a typical PowerPoint. Typically, they get up and they talk to their audience, and the points are there just to support them. But you don’t have that in digital signage. You only have the slide.

Derek DeWitt: So the slide is the presenter.

Melissa Sartin: The slide is the presenter and the presentation.

Dwayne Johnson: But if you must present, we’ll say a longer message, divide the content up into other slides. So, it’s not so much content that you’re trying to absorb in that short span of time.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Like a campaign sort of concept.

Dwayne Johnson: Sure.

Derek DeWitt: Like the old Burma shave ads. “Don’t forget”, slide two, “Tomorrow’s the day”, slide three, “To finish registering”, Slide four, “Or we’re gonna take your cat” or whatever the punishment is.

Dwayne Johnson: Right.

Derek DeWitt: What about the call to action? So I mean it’s very funny. We say, “All right, have a couple of colors, have some tickers; oh there’s date and time, there’s weather, there’s a news ticker and have an image, maybe some motion.” And you want me to throw in a call to action on top of it all? I mean, this is a real balancing act, isn’t it? Or is it? I don’t know. I mean, you guys are designers, so you’re used to thinking like this. But if I’ve got Jose the secretary over here who has to do this in addition to 55 other tasks throughout the day (which does happen quite a bit, sadly), how can we help this person out? How can they know?

Dwayne Johnson: I think it’s great to start with hierarchy. Figure out what types of things are most important. You know, call outs or different things like that, I would probably utilize more bold type, larger fonts. Anything that I want to draw more attention to, I would probably maybe give that a different color than the rest of the message, to kind of draw more attention there. So, there’s many ways you can change the hierarchy within the message, but those are some of the points I would utilize.

Melissa Sartin: And I would say the call to action, I wouldn’t let that be the hill you die on. It is important because it helps to engage with your audience and get them involved, but it doesn’t have to be a big fancy work of art. It can be a simple “Email Susie for more info” or “Call this number.” It can just be a little phrase at the end or maybe in a little bubble somewhere on the slide. Again, speaking of hierarchy, it doesn’t have to be another equal element with other pieces. It can be pretty far down on the hierarchy level.

Derek DeWitt: How do you guys feel about calls to action that, like a short URL, especially if it’s a bespoke one, if it’s what’s known as a vanity URL (because that way it isn’t just FXY32… no one’s going to remember that, for God’s sake). You need to create your own using a shortener. Or what about QR codes? QR codes seem to me that they would be, sometimes could be quite ugly in a design, but if you are clever you might be able to find a way to incorporate them very nicely into a design.

Melissa Sartin: You can. You do have to be careful though because the way QR codes work, you need to keep the contrast up high for the phone or whatever device to be able to scan it. So just bear that in mind. But that doesn’t mean you can’t…. You know, typically [you] see them in black and white [but] that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be white and purple, some other type of color scheme. So really the biggest piece, if you’re going to modify QRs, just remember, keep the contrast high and keep the predominant color dark enough that it’s going to read against the background.

Derek DeWitt: Probably not canary yellow and white.

Melissa Sartin: Yeah. Yellow. White. I’d be careful of bright oranges and pinks and things like that. Nice dark blues, greens, whatever colors. And if you’re on a dark background, then it’s reversed – brighter colors on a black background or a dark blue background.

Dwayne Johnson: Sounds good.

Derek DeWitt: When we get to text, obviously we’ve said some things about that. Keep things as short as possible. And you don’t really, you don’t have to have grammatically correct sentences up there, right? You don’t need to say, “Hey everybody, don’t forget tomorrow is the last day to register.” You could just say “Tomorrow, last day for registration” or “last day to register”.

Melissa Sartin: Right.

Derek DeWitt: Or “Registration tomorrow, last day”…there’s not even a verb there.

Melissa Sartin: Paraphrasing is your friend when it comes to signage. For sure.

Derek DeWitt: The 3×5 Rule, which we’ve talked about on other podcasts, three lines text, five words each, or the opposite, five lines, three words each. Does that still apply?

Melissa Sartin: That’s a pretty good rule of thumb. I will say you don’t have to adhere 100% exactly to that. You don’t want to go more than eight words by two lines. It’s really about the shape of the text block, how it ends up. Because what you’re trying to do is keep the eye from fatiguing as it reads across the lines. The lines get too long and your brain kind of forgets what was at the beginning of the line before you move onto the next one.

Dwayne Johnson: Sure. Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, it really stays in short-term memory, like a second and a half or something.

Melissa Sartin: Right.

Dwayne Johnson: You definitely don’t want to have your sentences too long, onscreen. That goes back to the timing of the message. Also, our eyes are letterbox, or left and right in that top and bottom. And you’ll notice more popular or more appeasing to the eye is 16×9, usually, because it’s in line with the way we see naturally. That’s why most movies are shot 16×9.

Derek DeWitt: That’s true, we don’t look out of a square. That’s very, very interesting.

Dwayne Johnson: I mean it’s good to go back a little bit and talk about the other aspect ratio of 9×16. Those are great if you’re displaying content that’s more vertical, you know, portrait. But we get the best feedback when what we’re designing is letterbox with 16×9 aspect ratios.

Derek DeWitt: Really? That’s the one that people like. And it’s interesting ’cause I know some of the social media platforms out there, back to pushing 4×4 squares and things like this and I don’t like it.

What about this idea of whenever possible, like say, we’re going to incorporate images or whatever, use an image to replace text? So instead of, instead of saying “hot delicious coffee at the cafe”, have a great picture of hot coffee (which we assume is delicious) and then just say “Only a dollar today at the cafe.” We know it’s coffee. I mean, I don’t know that I need to see a picture of coffee and then have you say the word “coffee” also on the same message.

Melissa Sartin: Right. That’s, that’s a really good example. And the benefit of that is your brain’s going to recognize the image much quicker than it will to see the word and then process the word. “Oh, coffee! I like coffee.”

Derek DeWitt: ‘Cause different parts of the brain are used to process words as opposed to images.

Melissa Sartin: Exactly.

Dwayne Johnson: Sure. It’s definitely more relatable. I recall designing a message earlier this year, internally, for the ice cream social and it was literally just an ice cream man, you know, with his hands out, and the date and the time of the event.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And that told the whole story.

Dwayne Johnson: Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: I’m sort of involved, in some of my writing work, in battles with my editors who claim that, “Oh, it doesn’t matter if it’s technically grammatically correct” or “So what if I capitalize this word?” ‘Cause this is a thing that’s happening now, and I’m not going to say who to blame (but I know who to blame), this random capitalization of words.

I have people telling me now, “I did it for emphasis.” Well, that’s not how we emphasize things in English. If you want to do that, then the whole word needs to be emphasized, or bolded or a different color or something. But simply capitalizing the word “hot” in “hot coffee”, doesn’t that make you look like an idiot? Or no? I mean, is this a terrible idea? Does it really matter if I don’t use commas correctly? Does it matter if I misspell a word?

Dwayne Johnson: Yes! In short – yes! A bold yes!

Derek DeWitt: I think it does.

Melissa Sartin: Yeah, I was just going to say I’m a bit of a stickler for grammar and punctuation, so yes. Another, my biggest pet peeve is quotation marks for emphasis.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah!

Melissa Sartin: That drives me absolutely up a wall.

Derek DeWitt: I think people realize that when you’re putting something in quotation marks, you’re saying “so-called” or “some call it this”, but as a writer you’re actually saying, “I don’t think it’s this.” Yes, it was quote “funny” unquote when Uncle Harry threw the cat in the fire.

Dwayne Johnson: Yeah. It feels sarcastic.

Melissa Sartin: Yeah, right!

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, exactly. It’s not emphasis, right?

Melissa Sartin: No, it’s not emphasis. I think it’s just a misguided attempt to emphasize or enhance a word, but yes, please don’t capitalize words for the sake of capitalizing. Also keep in mind when you capitalize words, very much as when you’re writing emails and, on the internet, capitalized words on digital signage, sometimes it can come across as yelling at you.

Dwayne Johnson: Yeah, I was just about to comment on that. It’s actually harder to read capitalization quickly. So that’s why it’s better sometimes to use a sentence case, so the reader can see more of the characters and the eye recognizes the characters easier with that than reading all caps.

Derek DeWitt: The way that we read words is the eye doesn’t read each letter and then assemble the word. We’re actually reading the shape of the word.

Dwayne Johnson: Sure, Yep.

Melissa Sartin: Right.

Derek DeWitt: Which is why some words are commonly misspelled because if you do “ea” or “ae” in this word, it kind of has the same shape, and that’s why people make that mistake all the time.

Melissa Sartin: And as a designer, I totally understand the temptation because fully capitalized words are really easy to work with from a design perspective. Topographically they’re very pretty and they’re very nice. But they don’t always serve your best interest.

Dwayne Johnson: I prefer serifs.

Derek DeWitt: You do?

Dwayne Johnson: Really.

Derek DeWitt: Really?! Really for digital? Ooh!

Dwayne Johnson: Not for digital. If I’m going to use it for digital signage, mainly headings.

Derek DeWitt: Aaaaah!

Melissa Sartin: Right. Sparingly.

Dwayne Johnson: Yeah, very sparingly. But for that legibility you know, you see the edge of a glyph on a letter, you know, it’s recognizable. For digital signage, [you] definitely want to stay with more sans serif-based fonts.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. They’re just cleaner, especially from a distance.

Melissa Sartin: Now that being said, if your brand guidelines include a serif font, it doesn’t hurt to use that. Again, like Dwayne said, you can use it for, say, headers, message headers, update, company news, those kinds of things, sparingly. Just to give a little more visual interest because serif fonts tend to have more of an established, authoritative kind of feel. And if that is your brand, say you’re a bank or you’re a government office, that’s really going to help tie that feeling and that authority back to your signage.

Derek DeWitt: What about using more than one font in a message?

Melissa Sartin: Stick with two. That’s usually a good rule of thumb.

Dwayne Johnson: Yeah, two to three.

Melissa Sartin: Two to three. And three, you can kind of put that in quotes, because you can use, you can use different weights of the same font, as in bold or light or medium, or italicize, and that somewhat counts as a different font. Visually it looks different even though it’s the same font.

Derek DeWitt: So stick to one with some variants. Two, if you want. Don’t go… You see something where, like, every sentence is, it’s five sentences or five lines and every one’s a different…

Dwayne Johnson: What, are you making ransom letters?

Derek DeWitt: “Or we will cut off a finger.”

Melissa Sartin: Right.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. Let’s talk about some specific-to-PowerPoint things.

Melissa Sartin: Okay.

Derek DeWitt: Slide Master. What is Slide Master? How does it work?

Dwayne Johnson: Slide Master is usually where I start in PowerPoint.

Derek DeWitt: Really?

Melissa Sartin: Mm-hmm.

Dwayne Johnson: Yes. I always start with the Slide Master and that helps me establish my headers, the body content. So if I’m going to incorporate images on a particular side of a slide, I’ve already preplanned on the Slide Master, how that content may look by having foresight of the Slide Master, as opposed to, I’m 20 slides and I’m like, “You know what? I think I want to add an image here now.” And by you’ve already given into account how much space you may want to use on your bullet points. You’ve already established that, so I won’t look like an afterthought later.

Melissa Sartin: I have to agree. I love the Slide Master, because you can really set up a framework that shapes the visual feel of your whole presentation. You can set up…

Derek DeWitt: ‘Cause it makes global changes.

Melissa Sartin: It’s kind of, I don’t want to say “template”, because that’s a different thing in PowerPoint, but in a way, you can visually create a template for your PowerPoint slides. You can create two or three, four, however many actually, and then use those and create dozens and dozens and dozens of slides that have the same visual style, the same feel. It’ll take care of your font choices (it won’t take care of them for you, but it’ll apply the font choices you make to all of those slides), color choices, and you can really do a little bit of work at the beginning and save yourself so so much work in the long run.

Dwayne Johnson: Yeah. You don’t want to go keep formatting. You’ve taking care of the formatting on the Master; it leaves less for you to do. It’s more like guidelines that you’re setting in place.

Melissa Sartin: Mm-hmm.

Derek DeWitt: And then obviously, too, if you…you’ve done a bunch, you’ve done two or three playlists using this, and then you decide to change it (for whatever reason), either because you’ve done some research with your audience and you’ve found out actually, you know what, it turns out we need to shift this here, we need to change this. You do the change in one place and it applies it everywhere.

Melissa Sartin: Right.

Derek DeWitt: Globally.

Dwayne Johnson: Yes, that’s right.

Derek DeWitt: It’s like style sheets for web design.

Dwayne Johnson: Sure.

Melissa Sartin: Yup.

Derek DeWitt: So this is a good thing. And where is it? I think it’s in you go to View…

Melissa Sartin: View.

Derek DeWitt: …and then there’s just a Slide Master button. That’s it.

Melissa Sartin: Yup, that’s it. And that kind of opens up the back end of it so that you can work with your air quotes “templates”.

Dwayne Johnson: Another rule of thumb, too: I tend to practice with Slide Masters. If you’re going to use a background image, this is the place where you want to insert that image into the background. Unless you’re adding some type of custom animation, you definitely don’t want to continue placing that same image throughout your entire project.

Derek DeWitt: Right! I’m gonna do it. And then do it again. And do it again.

Dwayne Johnson: Yeah. We’re just making a larger file than it needs to be.

Melissa Sartin: And you run the risk of accidentally moving one of them on one slide, just a tiny bit, and then during your playlist it goes “boop” and it moves off to the side.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, there’s a jump. Yeah, right. Do I smell toast? What is that? What happened?

Dwayne Johnson: Got ’em!

Derek DeWitt: All right, what about Smart Art?

Dwayne Johnson: Smart Art is pretty cool.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, we have a difference of opinion here! This is great. They’re gonna fight!

Dwayne Johnson: If you really know how to utilize it. I think, you know, most of the times the novice may not have the resources to hire a graphic designer to tie in data. So sometimes Smart Art is a great tool to utilize, to quickly incorporate your colors and your bullet points; you know, adding a little more visual interest.

Derek DeWitt: Mm-hmmm. And? Counterpoint?

Melissa Sartin: Counterpoint. I’ll just say I personally am not the biggest fan of Smart Art. I do think it can be a very useful tool, but I also think it’s very easy to lean on it and expect it to do the work of conveying information for you.

So, I’m not saying don’t use Smart Art. It really, in and of itself, it is a great tool. But go into it knowing how you want to use it. It’s real fun and real tempting to go in there, “Oh look, this is really cool. I could put that on, that looks awesome. You know, check out this one. That’s awesome.” And yeah, they’re fun. But when you go that route it tends to start falling the way of the clip art thing, where I’m putting it in there just ’cause it kind of looks cool. And then when you do that four or five or 12 or 20 times…

Dwayne Johnson: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Melissa Sartin: Just because you can. Again, back to the stock photo thing, people start recognizing, “I’ve seen that one before.”

Derek DeWitt: Yawn!

Melissa Sartin: Boring, I’m not paying attention anymore.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Sort of the design equivalent of binge eating.

Melissa Sartin: It’s what I call a “canned effect” — you just pop the top off and there it is.

Derek DeWitt: Which, and again, I understand why they created stuff like that.

Melissa Sartin: Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: Because not everybody is a designer. And someone is going, “Wow, I have half an hour to get all this stuff done. Quick, quick, quick!” But, as always, I think the overriding consideration is don’t make it too busy. And, more importantly, it’s a bit like swearing: if you swear all the time, then when you actually mean it, it doesn’t have any impact, but if you use it sparingly…. Really, if you really want to draw attention to something, maybe same with like a small animation or something.

Melissa Sartin: Right, right.

Derek DeWitt: So you said clip art. There’s a big debate about clip art. Use it, don’t use it? Is it hokey?

Dwayne Johnson: I’d stay far away from clip art. Far, far away.

Melissa Sartin: I’ll throw the caveat. I have a degree in illustration, so I’m not a real fan of clip art.

Derek DeWitt: It was like early days… It became Smart Art…

Melissa Sartin: Yeah.

Dwayne Johnson: Like back in desktop publishing.

Melissa Sartin: It came on CDs and you throw CD 3 of 5 in there.

Dwayne Johnson: 3 of 500!

Melissa Sartin: Yeah!

Dwayne Johnson: I got 500 clip art!

Melissa Sartin: Yeah. I mean I suppose if you really want to, you can make an argument, there’s a place for it. As designers, I just think we’re going to agree to disagree on that part.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Cause I kinda think now if you want, oh, the little birthday cake, you know, I think we can find probably a creative commons license, free, very nice, high-quality image of a birthday cake…

Dwayne Johnson: Sure.

Melissa Sartin: Right.

Derek DeWitt: …that would be just as effective if not more effective. Because a clip art cake, I never look at that and go, “Man, I want some cake!”

Dwayne Johnson: Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: When I see a picture of cake, all I can think about is cake.

Dwayne Johnson: I’m there!

Melissa Sartin: Well, and again, it kinda takes away from your credibility a little bit too, because “Yeah, we are a very professional, organized company…. Here’s a clip art of a cake.”

Derek DeWitt: With fuchsia text on an orange background.

Melissa Sartin: In Comic Sans.

Derek DeWitt: Oooh!

Dwayne Johnson: Oooh!

Derek DeWitt: You know, not that long ago, the creator of Comic Sans, somebody interviewed him. And he said…

Melissa Sartin: Poor guy.

Derek DeWitt: And he said when he talked to the lovers and the haters, he said, “If you hate comic Sans, you need a new hobby.”

Melissa Sartin: True.

Derek DeWitt: “And if you love Comic Sans, find a different font.”

Melissa Sartin: I’ll go on record and say it’s not his fault. It’s just been overused, that’s all.

Derek DeWitt: One of the things that you’ll find a lot, I know any presentation I’ve had to suffer through with PowerPoint, is you get people who, kind of like with the Smart Art, they start going crazy with those animations and transitions. And you’re like, “Wow, I’ve seen so many transitions in this 10-minute presentation, I don’t really know what to do.” We all know it’s a bad idea. Why is a bad idea?

Dwayne Johnson: Usually it’s a bad idea ‘cause you don’t want the user to, again, get confused with what’s going on. You want to deliver a clean, concise message. If the message is more energetic and youthful for a younger audience, some more playful animations may be acceptable. But if it’s in a corporate environment or an environment where the usual flow of viewers, you don’t want something that’s too crazy or off the wall.

Derek DeWitt: Or that takes too long. I mean, some of the transitions are not fast.

Dwayne Johnson: What is that visual effect really doing for the message? Always ask that question if you’re going to use it. Because sometimes it will be something where it flashes or dips to black and you’re like, “What? What did I just look at?”

Derek DeWitt: Did the power go out?

Dwayne Johnson: Right. So make sure that visual transition has some weight to it, I guess.

Melissa Sartin: My thought is a good animation is one you don’t notice.

Derek DeWitt: Ah, that’s true. Instead you notice the thing that it’s drawing attention to.

Melissa Sartin: Right. You can get away with a certain level of movement and animation that just kind of floats on the subconscious level, and really ties things together nicely without actually coming to the conscious part of the brain, [which] is saying, “Oh, that just transitioned.” Very simple, you know, left to right movement, fade into your next slides. A lot of these, like, bounce-around and turn-into-checkerboards and then spin around four times – it just distracts.

Derek DeWitt: Even the flippy, like it’s on a card and it flips around. Jesus, that can be nauseating.

Melissa Sartin: Yeah, that’s a lot of movement. Yeah. You may have someone with vertigo that just kind of falls out there. In the middle of the lobby.

Derek DeWitt: The good news is they certainly noticed our digital signage. The bad news is they’re in the infirmary.

Melissa Sartin: Did they notice anything on the sign?

Dwayne Johnson: Yeah!

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, right. I read something that said, very often for digital signage, it’s good to use Appear at the top, Disappear at the end and then just Fade between messages. Something like that’s enough.

Melissa Sartin: Exactly. Just nice, subtle transitions.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And I find…I will say sometimes you even get like these wipes, like these diagonal wipes that go across, I find them almost aggressive.

Dwayne Johnson: Yeah.

Derek DeWitt: It’s almost like, cause I’m looking at it, my eye is settled onto the image (and again, we’re talking about 5, 10 seconds here) and then suddenly something comes along and just kind of slaps you.

Dwayne Johnson: That’s enough!

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, right! You don’t get to see that anymore!

Anything else? Any other advice for people who would use PowerPoint to design their digital signage messages?

Dwayne Johnson: Just again, keep it clean and concise. You don’t want 20 bullet points showing on digital signage. I think we talked about that earlier on.

Melissa Sartin: Yeah. I would just say bear in mind it’s a presentation without a presenter and test, test, test with as many people as you have time to test with.

Derek DeWitt: And I would also say adjust.

Melissa Sartin: True.

Derek DeWitt: I think very often people get, ’cause whatever, ’cause they’re busy. You know how many companies, especially a smaller company of a hundred or fewer people have a person on staff, this is what they do, is they just do the digital signage all the time. They probably have other duties and things to do, so they’re trying to get it out of their inbox, into their outbox as quickly as possible.

But you gotta keep adjusting, testing, checking, use that Slide Master to make those global changes and make sure that it’s a constantly improving communication system.

Dwayne Johnson: And don’t be afraid to look for inspiration. Google Slides, there’s other various resources you can look at online. You know, find out what’s popular. I hate to be cliché, but a lot of folks, you know, they always cater towards Apple to see, you know, as forefront leaders of presentations.

Derek DeWitt: ‘Cause they’re good!

Melissa Sartin: I was gonna say, there’s a reason for that.

Dwayne Johnson: So you know, see what the heavy hitters are doing and try to incorporate some of those techniques into your presentation.

Derek DeWitt: All right! I’d like to thank Dwayne and Melissa for coming today. Thank you, folks.

Dwayne Johnson: Thanks for having us.

Melissa Sartin: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Derek DeWitt: And thank all of you for listening.