Chapter 6:
Format Design: Slide Frame Layout

Choosing Your Medium

Creating a Presentation Format

Creating Master Slides or Templates

Breaking the Rules

The Real World: Instant Design, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Autotemplates


Chapter 5

Chapter 7

Chapter 6:
Format Design: Slide Frame Layout

A consistent format used throughout a presentation allows the audience to forget the "environment" and focus on the information in the slides. Designing any presentation format involves manipulating three main elements: slide frame layout, color, and typography. This chapter focuses on slide frame layout, which is the arrangement of recurring elements that serve as the framework for your information. Slide frame elements include backgrounds, logos, titles, and other decorative items.

Your first consideration in the format of your presentation is how it will be produced. There are three different types of media used for most presentations: 35mm slides, overhead transparencies, and computer screen shows. Before you design your slide frame layout, you must decide which medium you will use to present your message.

Choosing Your Medium

Each presentation medium displays images in a different way. The most pleasing arrangement of the elements on your slides depends on the shape and size of the projected images, as well as the quality of their reproduction. If you haven't decided which medium to use, weigh their advantages and disadvantages, and then select the one that best suits your needs.

35mm Slides

The most popular medium for presentations is 35mm slides. A 35mm slide consists of a short piece of color transparency film (Kodak's Ektachrome is most common) mounted in a 2-inch-square cardboard or plastic frame. The actual image on the film chip measures 24mm by 36mm (Approximately 1 inch by 1-1/2 inches), although the slide mount opening will usually be smaller, cropping the image slightly.

Advantages and Disadvantages of 35mm Slides

35mm slides are small, inexpensive, and easy to project. Because slides are imaged on high-quality color film, the colors are rich and the images have a depth and realism which can't be matched by other presentation media.

Their small size makes them more manageable and portable than overhead transparencies. When kept in their trays, they are easy to handle and relatively safe from most mishaps. A case containing a slide projector and a tray of up to 140 slides can easily fit under an airplane seat, and the only other things you need to give a simple presentation are an electrical outlet and a blank wall.

However, there are some disadvantages to 35mm slides:

  • Most slide projection setups require at least a partially darkened room for maximum readability.
  • A speaker can't write on or directly affect a projected slide for emphasis (except for the limited use of a pointer).
  • Because of the imaging and processing requirements of slides, last-minute changes (less than 4 hours) can be impossible.

Formatting Considerations for 35mm Slides

The 35mm slide frame has a unique shape that sets it apart from other presentation media. The 2:3 ratio (height:width) appears wider when projected than overhead transparencies and video images. You need to design your layout to match the wider slide frame. If you don't create your slides in the proper ratio, you will usually end up with partially filled slides, wasting valuable space, as illustrated in Figure 6.1.

Figure 6.1: Improper ratio results in partially filled slide

When you start up your desktop presentation program, check the page setup to make sure that your page or frame size is set to 35mm slide. Many desktop presentation programs' default page setup is for overhead transparencies, which are narrower and higher than 35mm slides, so checking your page setup is important. If your presentation program doesn't automatically format for 35mm slides, create a custom page size in the standard slide shape. The actual size isn't important; it can be 6 by 9 inches, 7 by 10.5 inches, or any other dimensions with a 2:3 ratio.

Overhead Transparencies

Overhead transparencies are often the choice for small presentations that involve a lot of interaction between the speaker and the audience. An overhead transparency is an 8 by-10-inch or 8-1/2 by 11 inch piece of film, usually mounted in a 10-by-12-inch cardboard or plastic frame. The actual opening in the overhead frame is 7-1/2 by 9-1/2 inches.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Transparencies

The transparencies (Also called vugraphs or foils) used with an overhead projector are large enough to be written on directly. The speaker can emphasize a point on a prepared transparency or improvise graphics "on the fly" on blank transparencies.Overhead transparencies can be made using many different types of printers. Your choices range from creating inexpensive black-and-white transparencies on a laser printer, to producing high-quality, full-color transparencies on a dye-sublimation printer or through photographic processing. This wide range of output choices makes overhead transparencies affordable for any budget.However, the size of the transparencies and projection equipment make them more difficult to manage than 35mm slides. Overhead projectors are bulky and heavy compared with slide projectors- -not the sort of thing a business traveler wants to lug around an airport. The overhead transparencies themselves are also quite large and more easily damaged by scratches, dust, and fingerprints. Depending on the process used to create the transparency, a replacement may be necessary each time a speaker writes on it. As with slides, it is often difficult to revise overhead transparencies at the last minute.

Formatting Considerations for Transparencies

An overhead transparency is less rectangular than a 35mm slide, so you should make sure the page setup for your presentation program is set accordingly. If you are using a program that doesn't directly format for overhead transparencies, choose a custom page size of 7-1/2 by 9-1/2 inches.

A common notion is that because it is so much larger than a 35mm slide, you can put more information on an overhead transparency. The fact is that the projected image from an overhead transparency is no larger than the image from a slide. Therefore, you shouldn't put any more copy or graphics on a transparency than you would place on a 35mm slide.

Pocket Overheads

Some service bureaus have recently started offering imaging services for pocket overheads, which are 4-by-5-inch overhead transparencies. Pocket overheads are shown with a special projector that is smaller and lighter than a standard overhead projector.The media and equipment are more portable and easier to handle than the standard size versions, and the 4-by-5-inch projectable area is large enough to write on. Unfortunately, the projectors for pocket overheads are still quite expensive, and there are only a few service bureaus offering this imaging product.

Pocket overheads have the same formatting requirements as regular overhead transparencies.

Screen Shows

The computer screen is an entirely new medium for the presenter. A computer screen show can come in several forms:

  • Direct projection or display: The signal that would normally go to your computer screen is diverted to a video projection unit or large video monitor. The slides in your presentation are then displayed using your presentation program or a screen show utility.
  • Overhead flat-panel display: This device is a special display screen attached to the video output of your computer, which is placed on the projection stage of an overhead projector. The flat-panel display projects the computer's screen image as if it were an overhead transparency. Like direct displays, flat-panel displays are controlled using presentation software. When run with a laptop computer, this type of slide show is convenient and portable.
  • Prerecorded videotape or videodisc: Your presentation is recorded to tape or disk, often with a sound track added. This type of presentation is not common for business meetings, but it is frequently used in self-running point-of-purchase displays and trade show exhibits. In a videodisc presentation, you can access individual frames anywhere in the show in random order. This allows you to jump to particular images in response to audience questions.

Figure 6.2: Screen show options

Advantages and Disadvantages of Screen Shows

Computer screen shows are ideal for small- to medium-sized meetings. They offer many advantages over 35mm slides and overhead transparencies, including the flexibility for last-minute revisions, random access to any visual, and even options for animation and other special effects. Many corporate conference rooms now have equipment for computer and video projection.

The price to be paid for these benefits is low resolution, jagged text and graphics, and expensive, bulky projection equipment. If you are considering using prerecorded video, you should be aware that it is more difficult and expensive to revise and update than any other presentation medium.

Formatting Considerations for Slide Shows

The sucess of a computer screen show depends on the computer and video equipment used for the presentation. The equipment that will be used to display your show is usually different from the system you are using to create it. Before you begin creating a screen show, make sure you know how it will be displayed so that you can set up the presentation accordingly. We will cover some of the technical aspects of screen shows in Chapter 13.

The basic shape of all screen show frames is the same as your computer screen and essentially the same as an overhead transparency (Approximately 3:4 ratio). The layout is similar to the transparency format, but the low resolution of the computer screen will force you to be more conservative in the amount of text you put in each frame. Small text will be very jagged and hard to read when projected on even the best video equipment.

If your presentation is going to videotape or to a projection video system, you should allow extra background space around all your text and graphics. Keeping your copy in the "video safe area" will prevent any of the image from being cut off.

The color, sharpness, and intensity of a flat-panel display will vary significantly from the display of a standard computer monitor. Before finalizing your designs, test your output on the display you will use for the presentation.

Creating a Presentation Format

Your overall presentation format starts with the elements shared by most slides: titles, backgrounds, and decorative elements. Then you can proceed to expand the design by devising treatments for specific slide types throughout the presentation. The following sections provide some guidelines for designing the format for the common elements of your presentation. The layout and design of specific slide types are covered in Chapters 9, 10, and 11.

Direct the Audience's Attention

Like the other components of your presentation, the format of your slides should help convey your message. You need to place your message in a strong position where it will be read.

Use Natural Patterns

When a slide is projected on the screen, the eyes of the audience members follow a pattern. The normal pattern for a plain area with no text is a zigzag across the screen, starting in the center.

Since people look there first, you might think that the best place to put your message is in the center of the slide. But this only works if your entire presentation consists of single-sentence titles. Centering doesn't leave much room for the supporting information most messages require.

Rather than trying to squeeze your title into the middle of the slide, place it at the top or top left of the frame. Then there will be ample room for the supporting information that follows. This placement takes advantage of the natural reading pattern of top left to right. Your audience will feel more comfortable and receptive when you present the information in a familiar manner.

Emphasize Important Areas

You can help the audience members understand your slides by designing a format that emphasizes areas that require their special attention. Use the format to ensure that the audience focuses on the points you want to make.

One way to draw attention to an item is to place it prominently- -at the center of top of the frame. Other ways to emphasize areas of a slide are with color, size, and graphics:

  • Color: Using bright, contrasting colors will always attract attention. You don't have to be outrageous, just different enough to distinguish the item from the rest of the slide.
  • Size: The biggest thing on a slide will demand attention. Text that is larger or bolder than that around it will always be read first. Any part of a graphic that is larger and more dominating will have a greater effect on the audience.
  • Graphics: Text associated with a graphic will stand out compared with plain text. For example, placing your title in a box or adjacent to some sort of decorative graphic will attract attention to it.

Figure 6.3 illustrates the four main ways to emphasize items on a slide and direct your audience's attention.

Figure 6.3: Directing attention to slide elements

Balance Graphic Elements

An empty slide frame is a blank canvas on which you arrange the components of your slide. Any graphic element on a slide has "weight," which draws attention to it. Too much weight in one part of the slide frame will cause the slide to appear unbalanced.

When designing a presentation format, you must juggle these graphic weights to create a balanced, stable framework for your message. The two largest pieces you will need to balance are the title for each slide and an area for the main content. Logos, rules, and other graphic devices serve as "trim weights" to help balance the relationship between the title and the content.

Your slide content (text, charts, and pictures) usually can be treated as a single unit, so you can think of your content weight as a single large box in the frame. Content placed in a slide without a title needs to be centered to look properly balanced.

Your title also is also a single unit. Centering the content block and then adding a title above it results in a top-heavy slide, with too much emphasis on the top of the frame.

Move the content block down a bit on the slide to maintain the balance. The content block has more weight than the title, so it doesn't have to move down very far to balance the slide. A small change in position, brightness, or size in a heavy element can be more effective than a large change in a smaller element.

Another way to balance the title and content blocks is to add a logo or other graphic. Placing a logo graphic at the bottom of the slide balances the weight of the title and allows you to keep the content block in the center.

Keep in mind that color can add and subtract weight from a graphic element. For example, if the type in the logo is much thicker than the type in the title, you can adjust the balance by making the logo a darker color than the title. This reduces the weight of the logo so that it is closer to that of the brighter title.

Use Space Wisely

Regardless of your presentation medium, there is only a limited amount of space to hold the message on each slide. You will need to create a format that uses the available space to the best advantage.

For readability, the text and graphics should be as large as possible in the frame. However, placing graphic elements too close to the edge of the frame will cause your slides to look overcrowded. Also, artwork near the frame borders is often cropped by the slide mount. The final cropping may not match the frame indicated in your presentation graphics program.

On the other hand, don't waste the space in your slides by leaving a wide margin around your content. Desktop publishers who are fond of white space in their designs for print should resist the temptation to go for that "elegant" look in presentations. You sacrifice readability of your type and graphics when you frame your slides loosely. An empty frame with small type in the center will just strain the eyesight of the people in your audience.

To achieve a reasonable balance of sensible margins and readability, create a margin on all four sides of your slide frame that is at least 5 percent of the total width of the frame. For example, if your slide frame size is 10 inches wide by 6-2/3 inches high, any graphics or text that the audience must see clearly should be placed at least ~h inch away from the edge of the frame. Figure 6.4 shows the 5 percent margin versus too tight or loose framing. You can ignore the margin when formatting backgrounds, rules, photos, or other graphics that you intend to run off the edge of the slide (called a bleed).

Figure 6.4: Formatting the space on a slide

Use as much of the space within your margins as possible for the title and content blocks of your slides. As illustrated in Figure 6.4, placing your information in a small area in the center wastes valuable space. Use the full slide area for all your content, not just text. Charts and graphs should be expanded to fill the area (unless changing the graph would distort your data). Photos and illustrations should be prominent so they are effective.

Slide Title Treatment

The main message of your slides should be in the slide title. So to make sure your audience gets the message, your title needs to be prominent, easy to read, and consistently positioned from slide to slide.Normal slide titles should be positioned in the strongest possible position in the frame, usually the upper left or upper center. The text justification should match the title position: center-aligned text for centered titles, flush-left text for upper-left titles.

Use a larger type size or a different type style to highlight the title. A good rule-of-thumb is to make your title size approximately 25 to 50 percent larger than your body copy. For example, if your body copy is in 24-point type, use 36-point type for your title. A bolder typeface will also make the title appear larger, even if you're using the same size for title and body text. Color is another way to highlight the title (see Chapter 7 for details on using color).

A plain title floating at the top of the slide may seem a bit lonely and insignificant, especially if it is only one or two words. There are several ways that you can enhance the impact of the title and help it stand out from the rest of the slide content:

  • A graphic rule will divide the slide frame into distinct title and content areas, helping to give equal status to short and long titles.
  • A box or some other type of frame strengthens short titles. However, a box treatment is often inappropriate for long titles, because the bulk of the box can overpower the actual content of the slide.
  • A distinctive graphic can help anchor and enhance a title by drawing attention to it. Use simple graphics, such as geometric shapes, that do not compete with the title.

Figure 6.5 illustrates each of these treatments for titles. When deciding how to format your titles, consider their average length. If you have any titles that are likely to carry over into two lines of text, make sure your title design will look as good with two lines as it does with one.

Title formats

Fixed-Format Graphics

A consistently placed graphic can contribute to the balance and organization of your slide frames. The most common fixed graphic element in slides is a rule associated with the slide title. You can also add other rules, borders, shadow boxes, logos, and other decorative elements to create attractive, distinctive slides.

Format Rules and Borders

Format rules are additional lines placed within the slide frame. They are usually used at the bottom of the frame to help balance the weight of a title with its accompanying rule. Format rules help the audience focus on the contents of the frame.

Frame borders are thin lines that surround all or part of the slide frame. Full-frame borders, which surround the entire slide area, can become inconsistent in the final slide-mounting process. Most slide-mounting systems allow the film to shift slightly in the slide mount. This shift will cause the area between the border and the slide-mount opening to vary slightly in width, especially from left to right. The only way to eliminate this shift is to place your slides in special pin-registered slide mounts, which use the sprocket holes in the film to align the frame precisely in the mount opening.

Drop Shadow Boxes

A drop shadow box is a more sophisticated version of a border. It consists of a box to hold the content of your slide and a simulated shadow that gives the appearance of depth.

Some presentation software packages include a selection of drop shadow boxes that you can place on slides. You can create a drop shadow box by placing a box, copying it, offsetting the copy slightly, and sending the copy behind the original.

When choosing shadow colors, try to make the shadow look as natural as possible. Imagine that there is a bright light shining above your background. On dark backgrounds, use a darker version of the background color or black for the shadow. If the shadow is lighter than the original box, it will draw attention away from the top box. On overhead transparencies with light backgrounds, the shadow should be a slightly darker version of the background color.

Corporate Logos

Corporate logos are often included as part of the basic presentation format. Usually, placing the company logo on every slide is overdoing it. No matter how much you love it, by the hundredth slide, your audience may actually be tired of looking at the thing. Use your logo sparingly, perhaps only on the main title slide for your presentation and then on just a few others.

If you do need your corporate logo on every slide, keep it small and unobtrusive. Don't compete with what you have to say on a slide just to tell your audience who you are. Include your logo either alone or as part of some other decorative graphic on the slide. Here are some ideas for logo treatment:

  • Use a logo in the lower-right corner of the frame to help balance an upper-left title.
  • Create a decorative graphic that incorporates your logo. Making your logo part of a larger graphic de-emphasizes it and makes it less intrusive.
  • "Watermark" your logo in a color very close to that of your background. It will still be present on every slide, but unobtrusively as part of the background.

Figure 6.6: Logo treatments

Other Decorative Graphics

You can add to the appearance of your presentation with almost any sort of decorative scheme, but beware of getting carried away. If your format becomes too cluttered with graphic "gingerbread," your design will begin to compete with the content, and your message will become unclear.

Avoid placing graphics in the central areas of your format, where most of your information will go. Keep your backgrounds simple and uncluttered. Remember, in presentation graphics, the message is the medium.

Creating Master Slides or Templates

Once you've determined positions and design for your title, logo, and any other decorative elements in your presentation design, the remaining area of your slide frame is left for your text, charts, graphics, and photos. To maintain consistency and style, create a sample of each type of slide to serve as a model for the slides in your presentation. Your model slides are called masters or templates.

You will need to create from two to ten format samples depending on the size and complexity of your presentation. Create formats for only the slide types that are repeated throughout your presentation. If you have a single pie chart, for example, it isn't worthwhile to set up a master and then have to do it all over again to create the actual slide.

Figure 6.7: Setting Up Master Slides

If you have several slides throughout your presentation which defy categorization, create a generic slide format consisting of just a title and background. Use this generic format for those one-of-a-kind slides.

How you go about creating your master slides or templates depends a great deal on your software. Many presentation graphics programs (such as Microsoft PowerPoint and Aldus Persuasion) support some form of templates that allow you to predesign and then quickly format your text and charts. Most drawing and illustration programs require you to create individual sample files and save them on disk.

Text Slide Templates

Set up templates for two basic sizes of text:

  • A template for text slides with one or two lines of larger text
  • A template for slides with seven to eight lines of smaller type

If you have special text slides, such as those with quotations, block text, or tables, create a template for each type.

For your templates, define the colors for your text and bullets and choose type styles and sizes. Keep in mind that your templates are not the place for worst-case scenarios. They should represent typical slides. For example, do not select a text size based on the slide with the most text, or your presentation might have many slides with only one or two lines floating in white space. If you have one or two "megatext" slides, don't create templates for them; create them from scratch later.

Chart and Graph Templates

Like text slides, chart and graph slides should have a consistent format throughout the presentation. Set up templates for each type of chart and graph that is used several times in the presentation. Your templates will establish the formatting for chart and graph elements:

  • Decide whether your charts will be flat or have some depth (two-dimensional or three-dimensional).
  • Select a series of colors to be used for lines, bars, columns, and pie slices.
  • Choose grid, scale, and tick mark conventions.
  • Decide how and where data labels will be used.

Before you create any diagrams, organization charts, or flow charts, give some thought to how they will fit into your content area. For example, if you need to create a flow chart of a process, format it to fit in a horizontal area, as illustrated in Figure 6.8. If you place a standard vertical flow chart on a slide, it will be too small to read. See Chapter 10 for details on designing charts and graphs.

Figure 6.8: Format a flow chart horizontally

Illustration and Photo Templates

You probably will not have to do much work preparing templates for illustrations. Most drawings have their own shape and scale. Usually, you will just drop them into the center of your content area.

If you are using a series of photo inserts, plan how they will be treated. Decisions about drop shadows, rules, and other design elements associated with photos should be made in advance.

Preformatted Templates

Many presentation graphics programs come with preformatted templates, which are designed to allow the user to create attractive presentations without having to do a lot of formatting. You can use the templates as they are or modify them to suit your needs. They are a valuable resource when you are in a hurry, as well as a good tool for learning how to design slides. Review the templates that come with your presentation program to get ideas for your own designs.

The main problem with using the templates that come with your software is that everyone else who bought the program has the same ones. If a package comes with 12 preformatted designs and 100,000 copies of it are sold, more than 8000 people are using the same slide design. If they all show up at the same conference, there will be a lot of sleepy audiences, no matter how good that one design is. If you must use a preformatted template straight from the box, try to at least add a company logo to the design to personalize it.

Breaking the Rules

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." Even the most attractive and efficient format cannot solve every design problem you encounter when creating your slides. Formatting a problem slide may require that you break your own rules.

The best example of breaking the rules is to get rid of a few, as shown in Figure 6.9. If your design has format rules at the bottom of the frame and they get in the way of a large, important graphic that can't be reduced, eliminate the bottom rules on that slide.

Figure 6.9: Breaking the rules

Here are some other instances where you may have to bend your own rules:

  • Special text colors in tables
  • Photos with unusual shapes or cropping
  • Scientific charts and graphs that require specially shaped grids Special effects and graphics that look better when they bleed off the frame margins

Remember that what you are doing is an exception, and that even these exceptions should retain most of your original design. Don't just stray from your design in an attempt to relieve monotony. A good presentation will have enough variety from text, charts, and illustrations to maintain audience interest. Don't break your rules unless you have a good graphic reason to do so.

The Real World:
Instant Design, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Autotemplates

Tuesday, October 2, 10:00 am: Jim Gonzalez sits down at his computer and starts to think about the sort of design he wants to use for the presentations to be given by George, Alan, and Victoria.

2:00 pm: Four hours and a half-eaten sandwich later, Jim is still trying to figure out what to do for a basic slide design, so he decides to modify one that came with his presentation package.

It is an attractive format, although the purple background has to go. Jim changes the background to a more conservative blue and the graduated fill from top/bottom to left/right, and then rearranges some of the format graphics. He decides to keep the row of boxes on the bottom and use them as a graphic device to display the company name (George insists!). He deletes the top row of boxes, which he considers a little too flashy, and uses a single box as an anchor graphic for a flush-left title. He also eliminates the decorative box under the original title because it uses up too much space (Victoria needs room for her financial charts). He now has the beginnings of a distinctive presentation design.

With the basic design established, it's easy to create the format samples. Jim prepares a few text treatments, two charts, and a photo insert, and the samples are ready to go to the service bureau for imaging.


The first part of creating an effective, exciting design for your presentation is to arrange the basic elements that are common to all of your slides. The arrangement of repeated elements, such as titles, backgrounds, and rules, forms the slide frame layout. In formatting the slide frame layout, use the following design guidelines:

  • Choose the appropriate medium for your presentation (35mm slides, overhead transparencies, or screen show) and make sure your presentation program page setup matches that medium.
  • Use natural reading patterns, color, size, and graphics to direct the audience's attention to the important parts of your slides.
  • Balance the graphic elements on your slides to serve as a stable framework for your message.
  • Create a series of format samples to define your graphic decisions for as many slides as possible in your presentation.
  • Allow a 5 percent margin on all sides of the frame to prevent cropping and overcrowding. Then use the full amount of frame space for your text and graphics.
  • Use rules, frames, or anchor graphics when designing your title treatment. If necessary, allow for two lines of title text in your design.
  • Use corporate logos judiciously. If you must use a logo on every slide, treat it as part of the overall design. Don't overemphasize it at the expense of your message.
  • Don't be afraid to break your own rules when the slide design calls for it.
  • When using preformatted autotemplates, try to customize them to suit your own personality.