First impressions last, as the saying goes, whether
you’re talking about making new friends, meeting a
prospective client, or infl uencing an audience.
Every design project—from an advertisement
to a parts list—can make a potent first impression.
But the truism may be truest of all for presentations.
They’re often the first things to make people aware of
developments, problems, conditions, or needs.
Too often, people slave over the content of a
presentation, assuming it can be poured into slides
via software. Presentation graphics, however, are
more than words squeezed into a rectangular format.
Like a headline, slides must be read quickly and easily.
Some slides act like a brochure and show product
features and benefits. Others provide data or lists of
information, much like a directory or parts list.
Many things can affect the success of a slide presentation—
everything from its length, to the environment
in which it is given, to the quality of the
presentation graphics. There are four rules, however,
that ensure your slides will make good typographic
first impressions. (See slide A.)
1. Use a Sans
Most of what slides are about is typographic in
nature. Illustrations and information graphics are
clearly important, but presentation graphics are,
for the most part, driven by words set in type. Even
where most of the content is imagery, it’s usually
the words that power the presentation.
It’s an easy bet that some fonts are better than
others for the creation of slides. The best typeface
for presentation graphics is a sans serif (because it is
more legible than a serif design) in bold weight (to
enable high levels of visibility) of condensed proportions
(to obtain the maximum number of words in
the smallest space).
Sounds like Helvetica Bold Condensed, doesn’t
it? While Helvetica is a good—if somewhat boring—
choice, other sans serifs also make good selections.
Franklin Gothic, Felbridge, and Mundo Sans are all
excellent candidates. These typefaces have an ample
lowercase x-height and modulated stroke weights.
Both of these attributes help the reading process.
These are also designs distinctive enough to stand
out from the crowd, but not so distinct that they will
overpower the message. (See type samples, B.)
Geometric sans serifs like Avenir and Futura
can be ideal for other applications, but in slides they
should be considered “second team” players. Their
letterforms are not as legible as those patterned after
Roman character shapes, and their character strokes
are monotone, which impairs the reading process.
If you want to take a walk on the typographic
wild side, serif faces provide a much wider variety of
typographic choices. Pick faces that are not too decorative,
have sturdy serifs, and don’t have too much
contrast in stroke thickness. Look to examples like
Plantin, Stone Serif, or Miller Display (type samples
D). These faces—and others like them—are easily
read and will serve your presentation well.
Never, ever set slides in a script typeface. Period.
(Slide E shows why.)