This is What Alignment Looks Like

Ideal alignment is when everything on a page or slide lines up with something else. This sounds pretty simple, right? But there are a lot of implications to consider.

First, let’s examine a weak layout. I drew in some red lines, based on the start and end of the title, down the page in order to illustrate how the rest of the content does not line up well.

page with misaligned text

You can see that the red line on the left doesn’t touch the byline or the main body text or the graph. The red line on the right cuts across the main body text and doesn’t touch the page number at the bottom. Now, some audience members *will* easily detect that this is the result of unintentional formatting. Others, who are less nerdy than me, tend to just get a general sense that the work is sloppy, without being able to put a finger on why. And that should be scary. No evaluator wants to give off the impression of doing sloppy work.

Below is an improved layout with better alignment.

page with consistent alignment

You’ll see here that content all lines up on the left, as it should. I simply adjusted the tabs and margins on the byline and body text to align under the left side of the header. I nudged the graph title’s text box to the left, and the axis as well, so it similarly aligned. On the right side, I shrunk the margin of the body text to get it to line up with the end of the title line (this is especially important if using full justification on body text). I even moved the tab on the page number to get it in line with the right side. Now the page looks more crisp, thoughtful, and professional (just as an evaluator should).

Of course, all this is made more complicated in slideshows, where content is presented via text boxes. Also, I’m really only addressing vertical alignment here. In slides, with text and pictures side-by-side, there’s horizontal alignment to think about too. But once you start looking specifically for alignment, you’ll see it everywhere. Make sure everything lines up with something else.

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Bleeding your Presentation

It’s time to talk about bleeding. Bleeding is a technique used by graphic designers in which the image extends all the way to (or even beyond)  the edges of a page or slide.

In the slide below, the image is not bleeding. The picture of the tractor is smaller than the entire slide, leaving a white border around the image that is essentially wasted, unusable space.

Slide with picture that doesn't fill screen

In this version, we have the same elements as the slide above, but now the image bleeds. The picture was expanded to fill the slide. Compare the two. What do you think about the differences? Research in graphic design says that a bleeding picture has a larger impact on the audience and communicates that the topic at hand extends out into the real world.

Slide with picture that fills screen

To bleed an image, click on it and drag a corner handle so that the picture increases in size. See the picture below – notice the circles that activate around the edges of the picture when I clicked on it? Those are the handles I’m referring to here. It’s super important to drag a corner handle, as this keeps the image’s height and width proportionate. Otherwise, the image becomes distorted and makes the speaker look like an amateur. If, for some reason, corner-handle-dragging isn’t keeping the proportion in check, right-click on the image and choose Size and Position. In the dialogue box that opens, make sure Lock aspect ratio is checked (I’m working in PowerPoint 2010 here, folks).

Expand picture by dragging corner handle

As my friend Ann Emery pointed out, sometimes the picture isn’t proportioned the same as a slide and thus can’t fill it up in a full bleed. What then? Use a partial bleed. The slides below show two possible options. In these cases, the picture still touches three of the slide edges. The bottom line is that touching an edge almost always looks more professional and makes a stronger impact than not touching an edge, even if the picture can only touch one. In other words, bleed at least a little, somewhere.

Picture fills top two-thirds of slide

Picture fills right half of slide

Solving Font Substitutions

Ever start your eval presentation, peek behind you at the screen, and notice it doesn’t look anything like what you designed back in your office? Or open a report from an email attachment and wonder how your colleague PDFd it looking that way? The issue is typically due to a font substitution.

Font substitution occurs when the computer you are using doesn’t recognize whatever font is the in the file you are trying to view. Each computer houses its own set of font files which means the set of recognizable fonts varies from computer to computer. If the computer isn’t friendly with the font used in the document, it subs in something else and this font substitution is what throws all formatting out of whack in your evaluation report. You’ve probably also realized that PDFing does not always take care of this problem, particularly in Mac-PC translations.

To solution to this headache is font embedding. Here’s how it works on my computer (a PC running Windows 7). When I click to save my document, this dialogue box appears:

See the dropdown arrow next to Tools, to the left of the Save button? Click it and pick Save Options. That’ll open up this dialogue box.

Check the box at the bottom next to Embed fonts in the file and give yourself a high five. Note that this process will increase the file’s size. Checking the first subbox is a lighter weight option I use for slideshows that are going to be uploaded to a webinar or projected from a conference session room laptop, because in those situations no one is going to attempt to edit the document – thus I only need the characters that are in the file.

Either way, the receiving computer will not be able to download the fonts from the document and keep them. Nope. The font file just travels with the document so that it ends up looking the way you intend when you send your report to your client or plug your flash drive into someone else’s computer.

In older versions of Office on PCs, it looks like you can take this path: Tools > Options > Save. Macs, believe it or not, don’t yet have this capability. It’s a cruel world.

Why I’m Not In Love with Prezi

It’s time to write this post. This may be the most frequently asked question in my workshops on evaluation reporting, data visualization, and graphic design.  What do I think about Prezi?

Most people’s first reaction to being in the audience of a Prezi presentation is “Wow, that is so cool. This is going to change my whole life.”

But that’s not what we want people thinking when they are in our audiences.

We want them listening to us. Digesting our words. Relating our message to their own experiences. Getting activated to go make changes in the world. We don’t want them distracted by our dizzying presentation software. This, sorry folks, is probably the same reaction audiences had to the introduction of those clever fly-in animation tools in PowerPoint.

I understand Prezi is working to provide more control over the quick zooming in and out, after early reports that some audience members were getting motion sickness. That’s a good development and a smart response to user feedback.

Even still, I find Prezi vastly too limiting. While all manners of media can be embedded in the show, the predetermined font choices are insufficient in that they’d threaten an organization’s existing identity and branding system.

Prezi also crashed around May 9. A desktop version is available, but for those who had relied on the online version of Prezi so they only had to be concerned about an internet connection, there may be a bit of a false sense of security in the platform. Prezi crashes seem rare and the company offered free 1 year trials of their Pro version for all who were affected. Nice handling of a tricky situation. But I’m not in love.