Creativity vs. Consistency: What works best for Presentation Design?

Those in the creative industry are bound to produce stunning work, right?The reason you hire a creative director, storyteller or presentation designer is because they can execute such sleek and visually appealing concepts and solutions that you are incapable of making.

But is the “wow” factor all there is to effectively drive your message across?Among all mediums, presentations are one where creative people and managers struggle to keep the messages on point (I’ve tackled some of these issues on a separate blog). All the while, it is assumed that adding flair and embellishments to a presentation will make it stand out, but you might be surprised at how it doesn’t always achieve the desired effect.

Let’s say you obtained a stunning portfolio from a presentation designer - a couple of mind-blowing slides for one winning project, a couple of interesting deck for another, and decide to hire him to bring your project to the next level. But then the result is suddenly strangely disappointing: you get a bunch of nice slides which are powerful on its own BUT it just doesn’t flow well enough to enhance the whole story. Yes, the infographic is eye-catching but it complicates rather than simplifies, the colors are inappropriate, animations aren’t exactly the best fit and the rhythm is off.

The above scenario is a tendency of some designers, possibly trained on polygraphy who are sticklers for rules, and perfectionists who in extreme cases, pay meticulous attention to the design yet fail to capture the bigger picture which is to maintain a cohesive narrative throughout the entire presentation.

“Your message is not simply conveyed by your words, but also by your pauses”

A pause, when used strategically allows your listeners some adequate time to reflect or anticipate your message, thus getting the audience involved in your presentation. Knowledge of delivery tactics like this is borne out of my experience as a presenter and a corporate strategist since the fundamental aim of most presentations is to influence decision making.

On a personal note, I have encountered some of these pitfalls, thus I’ve learned to devote time on really structuring a presentation because in some cases, there would be two separate (but connected) structures/hierarchies that would be a bit complex to integrate into the story content and visual content of the presentation.

What I do to ensure a proper visual hierarchy is to start by designing the key visual concepts such as color, alignment, and fonts (preferably, not more than 2-4 of them for a presentation). Thereafter, I build my core slides- around 5 slides, which forms the visual basis for the entire presentation. You can read more about the structuring techniques here.

Truthfully speaking, intentionally limiting myself with these consistency constraints makes my job more difficult as compared to relying on pure creativity in presentation design. The resulting slides might appear less flashy yet, a consistent presentation delivers a sense of polish since it is aimed at enhancing the audience's comprehension.

Yet the question remains, are creativity and consistency mutually exclusive in presentation design?By the way, Edvard Tufte wrote an interesting work on how the beautiful appearance of a presentation distorts its essence. You can find it here The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint

When you are still deciding one over the other, think about what has been working well for you so far and if you’re still unsure, I’d love to hear how you would like to do it better.