At IF, we use slide decks to share ideas with the team, present our work to clients and speak to all kinds of different audiences about what we’re doing to build a more ethical information society. Even “the coolest designer right now” (quotation marks intended) Virgil Abloh uses slide decks, and so do we.

Everyone at IF is part of creating decks. This often has to happen quickly. And not all of us are professional-level graphic designers. (Yet.)

At the same time, decks are one of the main ways we communicate IF’s brand. Our expertise and attention to detail need to come across every time, while being flexible enough to be used in a lot of different contexts.

The decks we use are not completely custom-made, and they’re not cookie cutter either; they’re something in between. Here are some of the things I was thinking about when I made IF’s current deck template.

Design for flexibility

Keeping it simple is the first step. Everyone in the team needs to be able to use what you’ve made.

The second thing to do is look back at all the previous decks. Identify the types of slides and content that your team uses the most. Design for them. It’s likely that you’ll have your title slide, index slide, regular left-aligned text slide, your “this is important” centre-aligned text slide, half-text and half-image, fullscreen image, text over image, ending slide, etc. But everyone tells their stories in different ways; see what works for your team.

From left to right: deck title slide, index slide, regular left-aligned text slide, half text / half image slide, fullscreen image slide, centre aligned “this is important” text slide, text over image slide, end slide. IF: CC-BY.

The third step is to cater templates to the ways they’re going to be used. You can either create a slide deck to present or to send. When presenting, you want to keep the text short in length and big in size: what you say will add the detail and nuance that’s missing from the slide. Because people need to be able to see these from across a big room, it’s much more like designing a poster layout template than a book layout template. If the deck is just for sending, the context needs to be in the slides, so allow for more and smaller text.

Slide “to present” vs slide “to send”. IF: CC-BY.

Use colour to structure your deck

IF’s decks begin with a title slide, followed by an index slide. We divide our decks by sections and the index slide is where you give the audience an overview of those sections: nobody likes surprises. (You also don’t want to give away the big finale, so a helpfully vague title or description is enough.)

You can then reuse the index slide in the middle of the deck to introduce each new section (or just stick with a title slide: I’m happy about the fact that IF’s current template allows for both). These “high-level” slides (title and index) use the IF orange. That’s so the audience subconsciously knows that they mark the end and beginning of each section. It also gives the person presenting a gentle reminder of where they are in the presentation, which helps if they’re nervous.

Between the high-level orange slides we have the “meat” of the deck. This is a mix of text and image slides. Our default colour palette is an almost black on white for text. Text-only slides work well on their own and when paired with images, the text allows them to take the spotlight. Plus, they’re tasteful.

We use coloured backgrounds for sub-sections. For example, a section sometimes shows 3 or 4 scenarios, illustrated by prototypes. We want to tell a different story with each of them and found that using a different background colour helps with this.

Prototypes on coloured backgrounds. IF: CC-BY.

And use coloured backgrounds for important takeaways. Make it easy for your audience to know what to care the most about.

Every slide by itself

You are doing a talk and someone takes a picture. Or a client wants to share a great idea on a slide with their colleague. That’s why each slide should work by itself and out of context.

One part is making sure the copy is tight.

When it comes to the layout, it’s about being able to trace the slide back to the source. At least one of these is essential on each slide:

  • the title of the presentation
  • the name of the speaker
  • a website address
  • a hashtag
  • a logo
Data Ethics Practices in poster form. IF: CC-BY.

Have a how-to guide

If you’re the designer who is making a standard deck template, writing and illustrating a how-to with instructions and examples takes a long time (ours is still only about 10% complete). It’s also kind of a boring thing to do. But it’ll save you time in the future. Your colleagues can refer back to it, instead of referring back to you.

A how-to guide works harder than a style guide: it helps educate your colleagues on the tools and the process of designing a deck. And it is a way of sharing what you know about design, and why it matters, with the rest of the team, in a way that’s relevant to their daily jobs.

Also, store it in a few places that are easy to find. Pin it to the top of relevant slack channels, have the templates in shared folders, remind people of where they are. Don’t make yourself a bottleneck if you don’t have to be.

How to crop an image on Google Slides. IF: CC-BY.

Breaking your own rules can make things better

The team are constantly improving and changing how we show and communicate our work, and new things come up that don’t fit the existing template.

I think about these changes in the context of the rest of IF’s branding. Do they feel right? If they do, these new changes end up being added to the template. Others are one-offs, specific to a project. Some things just don’t fit the mould at all (and that’s also fine). They are allowed as long as they make sense within the project and our brand. (And, of course, look good.)

‘Impact of working with IF’ in a layout we don’t use that often. IF: CC-BY.

It will never be perfect

Having a how-to helps, but following the recipe doesn’t mean you’ll end up with a beautiful soufflé. Humans, designers and non-designers, make mistakes, interpret things differently and that’s ok.

It’s almost always worth having a look in the end to guarantee everything is in the right place.

The time I spend tidying up a deck depends on the final audience and context. If it’s a talk for a large audience or a final presentation deck for a client that is going to be shared inside the organisation, I make sure it is as near to perfect as possible.

An index gone wrong. Where did that Arial come from? IF: CC-BY.

In the end, our deck template and how-to exists to help us (myself especially) spend less time filtering out mistakes and tidying up slides. It means we can focus more time and energy on communicating the complexity and nuances of our work and thinking through words, prototypes and illustrations.

Edited by Grace Annan-Callcott and Ella Fitzsimmons.