I've said it a thousand times: when it comes to eLearning (and presentations in general), PowerPoint is not the problem. Bad design is the problem. That being said, I wouldn't let PowerPoint off the hook altogether. Many PowerPoint defaults serve to lead users down a path of poor design choices (starting on a slide that encourages a title followed by a bulleted list, for example).
Let's take a look at tables. When you insert a table in PowerPoint, you will probably end up with something that looks a lot like this:
The table shown above isn't deplorable, but there's a good chance that if you show it to an audience, eyes will glaze over (people will not know where to focus). To fix this table you first need to decide what message you are trying to convey. Do you want your audience to really see all of the information? Are you trying to show a progression over time? Are the totals really important? Maybe just one month is important and the other information is just supporting data? You might find that a table really isn't the solution you want after all. Maybe a simple graphic would do the trick instead.
For the sake of demonstration, let's say you are presenting the chart above and the main point you want to drive home is the 2013 totals. Here is a step-by-step guide to fixing such a table:
Remove font and fill colors
Don't worry, we'll add in some design-y elements later.
Remove Borders and Gridlines
Use your best judgment here to decide whether there should be absolutely no lines, lines in specific places, or a line after each row. Generally you will find that despite temptation to add them, few lines are really needed. This may depend on your audience, how much data you are presenting, and from what size screen your end-users will view this content.
Traditionally you may find that the trend is to bold all items in the top row and the left-most row. Think carefully about whether this is really necessary.
Left align text
Ignore the titles for now and align all of the data's text (not numbers) to the left.
Right align numbers
Still ignoring the titles, right align all of the numeric data.
Align titles with data
Now for the titles. Match the alignment of titles to the data below them.
Resize columns to data
Working within the table in PowerPoint, hover your mouse over the gridlines between each row of data. Your mouse will change to parallel lines with arrows. Double-click and the row to the left will resize to perfectly fit its data.
Use white space
In the example below the data is divided by months of a year so a logical place to add space and provide a rest for the eyes was after each quarter. Use your best judgment when deciding how you might break apart your data to make it more readable.
Round numbers and use consistent precision
There are some fields where it is truly important to show numerical data several units past a decimal point. For most of us, however, that is not the case. Decide where you want to round your numbers and be consistent throughout.
In this case, repeating 2013 for every month of the year was not necessary. Instead the title was changed to "Months of 2013."
It's easy to forget to apply the fonts you've used elsewhere to your table. Take the time to do that now, making sure you are being consistent with the rest of your content.
Now, finally, add in emphasis thoughtfully to illustrate your main point.
Great article; wouldn't it be good if more practitioners concentrated on usability rather than clunky aesthetics.
Posted by: Gary Bell | February 19, 2015 at 10:38 PM