Presentation Design and Instagram

As challenging as it is to design slides as illustrations for presentations and, more recently, for virtual presentations, the design challenge is even greater for Instagram where viewers see graphic images as single screens without the benefit of a presenter’s narrative. Helen Atkinson, a professional visual data journalist for The Economist, meets the latter challenge with five guidelines to “optimise the content in our feed” for the magazine’s Instagram posts.

To help you optimize your presentation design, we can look at Ms. Atkinson’s approach as a point of departure for you to extend to your slide decks. In the following paragraphs, you’ll see each of her guidelines (including her British spelling) and then how you can apply them to design your next presentation.

1. Keeping colours consistent

Ms. Atkinson consistently uses the color red throughout her charts—despite its universal negative associations: loss, stop, danger—because it is also the color of The Economist’s logo. “We want our charts to be recognisable,” she says. For her, the brand message trumps custom. She does, however, make “exceptions such as political charts which use party colours.”

The lesson for you is to design your slide deck with a consistent look and feel using your company’s established logo color scheme. However, some presenters forfeit consistency when they copy images from external references, or they beg, borrow, or steal charts, studies, images, or slides from colleagues. The simple solution is to create a company-wide design template with consistent fonts and colors and then, using that as a consistent background, embed any and all graphic information within that template.

2. Rethinking the presentation

Ms. Atkinson always thinks about “what the main takeaway of the chart is … I then focus on pulling out the elements of the chart which show it in the clearest way.”

Avoid the all-too common presentation practice of putting multiple messages or multiple visual elements onto an individual slide, e.g., bullets and bars, or icons or images and text. Each slide should contain only one message. And then, taking it up a notch, be sure that each slide relates to the next slide to create a continuous flow of your story.

3. Knowing the audience

The reason Ms. Atkinson focuses on Instagram is because she sees it as “our opportunity to engage with a different audience who might not be aware of the breadth of our coverage.”

Your focus must be on every audience, new and existing, and to look at your slides from their point of view. If you can understand a slide @ Glance, they will too. If you have to stop and work to figure it out, your audience will too, and they will stop listening to you.

4. Letting people “find themselves” in the data

Aware that Instagram users “like to see where their city or country lies within the data,” Ms. Atkinson often includes maps and rankings.

You can become even more granular in customizing your slide shows by adding references and information unique to each audience, say a case study of a company related to your target audience’s company. At the very least, insert the logo of your audience’s company on the first slide; or, if it is an audience composed of people from diverse companies, use the logo of the event.

5. Sometimes the best chart is no chart…

“As much as we want all of our charts and maps to be seen,” Ms. Atkinson admits, “sometimes forcing them into a format they’re not suited for just ends up filling our feed with clutter.”

Consider each slide as a headline and your narrative as the discussion. Resist the common dysfunctional business practice known as a Twofer: using a slide deck for the presentation and as a handout—which results in loading the slides with enough detail for them to stand on their own. By using the headline approach, your spoken narrative provides the details and delivers the message. 

But now you also have a positive Twofer: You can optimize the graphic design of two visual applications, Instagram and presentations, with one set of universal presentation design principles.