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slide:ology by Nancy Duarte

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106 slide:ology
The visible elements of a slide often receive the most
focus. But you need to pay equal attention to how
much space you leave open. This is often referred to as
whitespace, negative space, or clear space.
Whitespace isn’t necessarily white; it refers to the areas
of the slide left unused. It could be the empty areas that
separate elements from one another or the drama cre-
ated when an element is set in vast amounts of space.
The book so far has discussed the role of hierarchy, flow,
and proximity, but until now, the role of whitespace has
been merely implied.
Inexperienced presenters often think whitespace is
expendable—especially when they need to incorporate
unwieldy amounts of content that’s “too important” to
be distilled or simplified despite its cumbersome density.
After all, whitespace by definition carries no informa-
tion, so what’s the harm in filling it up? The harm is that
audiences find these slides difficult to comprehend.
Whitespace is as much an element of a slide as titles,
bullets, and diagrams. In large part, the use or misuse of
whitespace determines a slide’s effectiveness.
Whitespace: Getting Visual Breathing Room
Generally, any slide that needs to sacrifice whitespace to
make room for content is packed too tightly. When a slide
is expected to present more information than it can com-
fortably hold, it is no longer the right tool for the job.
Ask yourself, “What can I take away that won’t change
the meaning?” or “Where can I split the content into more
than one slide?” Keep in mind that a slide’s value is deter-
mined not by the amount of information it contains, but
by how clearly it communicates its message.
It’s okay to have clear space—clutter is
a failure of design.
Arranging Elements 107
Breaking the content into three slides is much more effective for audiences
than being thrown into a one slide mess, and expecting them to interpret the
data all at once. Spreading the information across three slides doesn’t solve
the density problem alone. Displaying the elements sequentially guides the
audience through the information.
BEFORE: The slide contains dense infor-
mation that requires effort to process.
The lack of whitespace between various
elements makes it hard to derive meaning
from content. We divided the content on
this slide into three slides shown bellow.
AFTER: By distributing the elements across multiple slides, each receives the attention it deserves—and the audience benefits from
a better understanding of the concepts.
108 slide:ology
By far one of the most significant influencers of great presentation design,
Garr Reynolds is transforming presenters through his blog and book, both
titled Presentation Zen. Reynolds’ insights and clever wit systematically
cover sound principles for content, design, and delivery.
He believes that “design isn’t about decoration or about ornamentation.
Design is about making communication as easy and clear for the viewer
as possible.” Reynolds has his own signature style of large, striking images
and enormous amounts of empty space that lead the eye.
Case Study: Garr Reynolds
A Lesson on Space
Here Garr’s blog spoofs the presentation styles of Darth
Vader and Yoda. Even though this is a quote from Reynolds’
book, you can probably picture Yoda saying: “Empty space
is not nothing; it is a powerful something. Learn to see it.”
© 1980 and 1997 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Used under authorization.
A Zen garden is also a lesson in simplicity.
Open space without ornamentation, a few
rocks carefully selected and placed, raked
gravel. Beautiful. Simple. The Zen garden is
very different from gardens in the West that
are absolutely filled with beauty, so much
beauty, in fact, that we miss much of it.
Presentations are a bit like this. Sometimes,
we’re presented with so much visual and
auditory stimulation in such a short time
that we end up understanding very little
and remembering even less.
Garr Reynolds
Author, Presentation Zen
garden photo © Markuz Wernli Saito

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