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.

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) ┬áthe 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