The NSA is Terrible with PowerPoint. They Should Call Us.

No matter how fired up you might be about this whole business with the NSA, we think you’re going to enjoy our post today. But we’re not going to talk about all of the serious implications this scandal has on our national security and personal privacy. Nope. We’re going to talk about how absolutely abysmal the NSA’s PowerPoint presentation on the PRISM data-collection program was. In response to the nationwide outrage, the NSA should have produced a few clear and well-designed PowerPoint slides to explain their operation. But they did not, and their failure has served to further undermine their powerful image. There are lessons to be learned here.

But first, if you haven’t seen the slides, go over to The Washington Post to see them.

Are they not complicated and confusing GLAD WORKS friends?

We think so, and we’re not the only ones who noticed how poorly designed the slides were. After they were released, the Internet was buzzing with criticism for both the content of the presentation and for the actual design of the slides!  The presentation made the eyes of designers everywhere bleed. It was a mess. And it was gross. So, a presentation designer named Emiland De Cubber took some time to redesign them. You can see what a marvelous job he did right here.  After the redesign, the PRISM program is much easier to understand. You still might not like the information you got from it, but at least it was presented in a clear and uncomplicated way. Of course, De Cubber took it upon himself to design the slides. The NSA had nothing to do with that.

This whole kerfuffle is a perfect example of what a huge impact design has on people. Good design can make a very big difference in the way information is received and understood. The folks at the NSA who created that PowerPoint presentation were clearly not experienced in information architecture and it shows.  The presentation only served to provide even more fuel to an already raging fire. It’s pretty embarrassing when you think about it. It may even be more embarrassing than all the naughty stuff we caught them doing!

While PowerPoint is a great tool to use when you need to explain something, there are ways to rock it so that your audience gets a good grasp of the information you’re trying to convey. You should probably also make sure they won’t fall asleep or ask a bazillion questions while you’re showing it, too.

Here’s a quick and dirty list of tips for designing good PowerPoint presentations:

  • Choose your fonts wisely. Even though a certain font might look fun and different, is it really or is it unprofessional and hard to read?  You can still use fun ones in your headlines and titles, but then revert back to a simpler one for most of the text on your page.
  • Ditto for the theme. Pick great one, or if you’re feeling adventurous, design your own!  Even something really plain can make a killer presentation, so don’t feel like it has to be super fancy to be nice. Just make sure it works with what you’re trying to get across and that you use the same one consistently.
  • Avoid using cliché images, poor quality or boring photos.
  • Make sure that if you use infographics, they’re clear and easy to understand (we are talking to you, NSA). If you’re in over your head on this one, give us a ring. We do these a lot.
  • Avoid using terms that only people in your industry would understand (unless of course your presentation is FOR people in your industry. In that case, have at it cowboy!)
  • Don’t try to cram a ton of information on one slide. Make sure things are broken up into small, digestible pieces.

Honestly, we could go on and on about this topic, but we won’t. If you need any help getting a PowerPoint together, you know who to call!

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