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Design Principles

5 Dos and Don’ts of Presentation Design

Check list - dos and don'ts of designing presentations
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Three out of every 5 people are visual learners. The human brain processes visuals 60,000X faster than any amount of text. And we remember 80% of what we see, compared to 20% of what we read and only 10% of what we hear. That’s why presentation design – from the intentional stringing together of text into a compelling narrative to the precise selection of relevant and attention-grabbing visuals – should be an essential aspect to any presenter’s agenda. There is a science, an art, a simple list of best practices to designing a presentation with impact. Below are five Do’s and Don’ts of presentation design that every presenter needs to know:



1. Do use the Rule of Thirds

The effective employment of this design tactic doesn’t involve experience with design software, much less a background in design.

Envision an image or slide as a grid, which is split up into three chunks of equal size horizontally and vertically. If you want to elevate yourself from amateur to professional presenter, utilize the vertical Rule of Thirds and place the object of an image to the left or right side. With an image of an animal or a person, always put the eyes in the horizontal upper third of the imaginary grid.

This design principle helps a presenter effectively harness the influence of their deck’s visuals, while creating opportunity for more white space.


2. Do include visuals

Minimal text, more images – every presenter’s new design mantra. Rightly so, considering that images increase retention by 42%.

To enhance whatever message you are trying to get across to an audience, always incorporate a relevant visual. Research has determined that if you present a piece of information with just text or in a verbal manner, your audience will only remember 10% of it three days later. However, include a relevant image and members will remember 65% of the information a few days after the presentation.


3. Do choose stock photography wisely

Have you ever witnessed a presentation where most every slide looked like the designer was trying to choose an even stockier photo than the one before it? Selecting the most appropriate stock image for each slide can seem like a daunting task. The ability to spot the differences between an insanely hokey stock image and a professional and alluring one separates the savvy from the lazy.

When searching for a stock image, you will likely have to revise your search terms until you receive a solid search query. Instead of searching for office desk, try office desk black and white or office desk modern.

To find stock images, check out iStock and Fotolia and purchase photos for under $10 per image. Or, make a compromise on library size and image options for free resources such as Pexel or Flickr.


4. Do continue learning

Just because you may not have adequate presentation design skills now, doesn’t mean you can’t ever obtain them. Take advantage of low-cost online education opportunities like those offered through and enhance your design software capabilities.

Start small by learning how to precisely crop an image in Photoshop. Or start big and learn how to design a data visualization in Illustrator. Virtually anything you desire to know is literally at your fingertips.


5. Do update old presentations

Busy professionals and presenters likely don’t have gobs of time to devote to producing embellished, wholly unique content for every media channel that exists today. The good thing is, all of the time spent on one deck isn’t in vain if you continue to revisit it in the months and years following a presentation. Update the design to reflect current trends. Then, use the deck and elements of it to distribute quality content on social media and LinkedIn.



1. Don’t overload slides with text

Take a cue from human psychology and minimize the amount of text you put on any one slide. According to Cognitive Load Theory, the more complex information a presenter places on a slide, the more easily our brains will become overloaded as we try to process the information chunk.

A simple way to cut down the extraneous load of content starts with providing an overview of what your audience can expect to hear throughout your talk. According to Matt Abrahams of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, audiences can retain structured presentations 40% easier than freeform presentations. Other strategies include presenting one idea per slide, eliminating jargon from your deck, and of course, utilizing visuals.


2. Don’t use bullet points

The whole premise of bullet points is that an individual is attempting to display more than one piece of information on each slide. Therefore, if you are adhering to the guidelines outlined in Don’t #1, you should have no use for the dreaded bullet points at all. If that isn’t enough to persuade you away from those little dots, take into account this 2014 study, which discovered that audience members experience enhanced difficulty paying attention to bulleted lists, as well as agreeing with and recalling them.

A relevant, high-quality visual will relay whatever point you want to make more effectively and efficiently than any bulleted list could even dream of accomplishing. Friends don’t let friends use bulleted lists…and we consider you our friend.


3. Don’t rely on templates

Presentation templates are tempting. But don’t give in to their ease and conveniency. Once you get started working within one, you’ll swirl into a rabbit hole of bullet points and lackluster slide designs.

On top of that, templates convey one ugly truth to your audience. That you don’t care about the presentation you are giving. That you didn’t even try. Swap the restriction of a template for a bold background image and a little bit of large text.


4. Don’t use low-resolution images

Spreading low-resolution images and subpar photography throughout your presentation will only set a negative tone. Primarily, it will project unprofessionalism, a lack of expertise, and an altogether lack of enthusiasm in your own ideas and thoughts.

All of that to say… Put the time and effort into selecting high-resolution images and well-intentioned photography. Because the majority of your audience will be visually-driven, the clarity and quality of your images is paramount to the ultimate success of your presentation and message.


5. Don’t abuse charts and graphs

You’ve seen it before. Some presenter has shown you an atrocity of bar and line graphs and pie charts (oh my!). Despite their best intentions, you probably didn’t retain the message they hoped you would from that slide. According to a recent study conducted by Harvard and MIT researchers, people prefer unique data visualizations over traditional formats. Consider displaying information with a clean, crisp, creative data visualization.


You can design an engaging, professional, and elegant presentation – whether you graduated with a degree in graphic design or have never opened up an Adobe Creative Suites program. If you keep these 10 tips and tricks in mind, you will be one step closer to delivering a compelling, creative, and timeless deck. 

Gabrielle Reed

Gabrielle Reed

Content Strategist at Ethos3
Gabrielle Reed is a Content Strategist at Ethos 3, a company specialising in presentation design and training. She posts thoroughly researched, highly useful content frequently to the Ethos3 blog, which offers presentation tips geared toward a variety of professions. Gabrielle works with some of today’s most-admired brands, helping them create creative narratives that make a lasting impact.
Gabrielle Reed
Gabrielle Reed


  1. Rob

    18th June 2016 at 7:08 pm

    Good basic tips that anyone can put into practice. Taking charts out of ppt and into illustrator is a sure way to improve the quality of them and having a limited colour palette immediately makes them look more professional…oh and not too many different type sizes.

  2. Oliver

    27th July 2016 at 11:57 pm

    Just keep the context and audience of the presentation in mind. While overloaded graphics are bad either way, simply putting one number on the screen will have an academic audience ask “Where’s the data?” and unique visualizations have to be finely tuned so as not to generate the impression as to be an effort to distract with high quality visuals from low quality data… Us scientists are a suspicious lot 😉

  3. Mulesoft Course

    10th August 2021 at 4:24 pm

    Hello, this post has valuable information. Appreciate the efforts you put into writing this, and sharing with us.

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