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PowerPoint is Evil: is there an alternative?

An evaluation of the Prezi presentation tool
by

David Smillie

on 3 October 2012

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Transcript of PowerPoint is Evil: is there an alternative?

PowerPoint is Evil: is there an alternative? Edward R Tufte Books Eye-tracking software highlights the tendency for readers to focus on the first point. The further down the list, the less likely they are to be read.
They mainly serve as prompts for the presenter.
They encourage clipped sentences and use of the passive voice. "Tufte is an expert in the presentation of informational graphics such as charts and diagrams" - Wikipedia "noted for his writings on information design and as a pioneer in the field of data visualization" - Wikipedia ON JANUARY 16th 2003, 82 seconds after the space shuttle Columbia lifted off, a piece of foam insulation weighing less than a kilogram broke off its fuel tank and hit the left wing. Bosses at America's space agency, NASA, were largely reassured by a subsequent presentation delivered by the “debris assessment” team. They did not request that a military spy satellite photograph the wing, in orbit, before re-entry. But its thermal protection was, in fact, badly damaged. As it re-entered the atmosphere 13 days later, the shuttle, and its crew of seven, burned up.

In a report eight months later, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board cast considerable blame on the debris-assessment team's presentation to higher-ups during the shuttle's flight, prepared using PowerPoint software. Zoomable User Interface
(ZUI) With ZUIs (pronounced zoo-ees), information need not be chopped up to fit on uniformly sized slides. Instead, text, images and even video sit on a single, limitless surface and can be viewed at whatever size makes most sense—up close for details, or zoomed out for the big picture. Low Resolution Slide ware necessitates low resolution display. This has lead to the proliferation of clipped sentences and passive tense. Chartjunk & PP Phluff Average number of data points in a PP chart; 12. In comparison, the average New York Times chart has 120 data points. Foreshortening of evidence and thought.
Low spatial resolution
Intensely hierarchical single-path structure as the model for organising every type of content.
Breaking up narratives and data into slides and minimal fragments
Rapid temporal sequencing of thin information rather than focused spatial analysis
Conspicuous chartjunk and PP Phluff
Branding of slides with logotypes
Preoccupation with format not content
Incompetent designs for data graphics and tables
Smirky commercialism that turns information into a sales pitch and presenters into marketeers "Cognitive style or "thinking style" is a term used in cognitive psychology to describe the way individuals think, perceive and remember information." - Wikipedia "PowerPoint comes with big attitude. Other than video games, not many computer programs have attitudes. Effective tools such as web browsers, Word, Excel, Photoshop, and Illustrator are not accompanied by distinctive cognitive styles that reduce the intellectual level of the content passing through the program." Tufte estimates that PP's cognitive style is damaging to 80% of users: the bottom 10% of all presenters will benefit as it forces them to at least "have points, some points, any points", the top 10% of all presenters are not affected as they can neutralise the PP style with their own. Information stacked in time makes it difficult to understand context and evaluate relationships. Visual reasoning usually works more effectively when the relevant evidence is shown adjacent in space within our eye span. This is especially the case for statistical data, where the fundamental analytical task is to make comparisons. Not all content lends itself to hierarchical representation. Hierarchical representation frequently breaks down when content is valid under more than one heading. In his essay "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint", Tufte criticizes many properties and uses of the software. "The Leonardo da Vinci of data" - The New York Times "It is thoughtless and arrogant to replace the sentence as the basic unit for explaining something." "Sentences are smarter than the grunts of bullet lists." Galilieo's 38 hand-drawn images of sunspots.

"delight both by the wonder of the spectacle and the accuracy of the expression" - Francesco Cesi, colleague of Galileo. Beautiful Evidence? The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint Foreshortening of evidence and thought.Low spatial resolutionIntensely hierarchical single-path structure as the model for organising every type of content. Breaking up narratives and data into slides and minimal fragmentsRapid temporal sequencing of thin information rather than focused spatial analysisConspicuous chartjunk and PP PhluffBranding of slides with logotypesPreoccupation with format not contentIncompetent designs for data graphics and tablesSmirky commercialism that turns information into a sales pitch and presenters into marketeers PowerPoint: The faults From a random sample of PP presentations found on the internet, the average number of words per slide is 40. 100-160 spoken words/minute is not an especially high resolution for data transmission. People can read 300-1000 printed words/min. Standard templates encourage this usage. Hierarchical Content Bullet Lists The Columbia Debris Assessment presentation delivered to NASA officials featured 6 layers of hierarchy on one single slide. PP slides uses 40-60% of available space to show unique content, the remainder is devoted to Phluff, bullets, frames, and branding. Resolution is not an issue! "Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint produce, ineptly, many of the data graphics and tables used in presentations today. Filled with chartjunk, the default graph templates in these programs are useful for constructing deceptive investment and weight-loss pitches. Excel chartjunk can sometimes be finessed by skilled users; PowerPoint graph templates are broken beyond repair." "Chartjunk flows from the premise that audiences can be charmed, distracted, or fooled by means of content-free misdirection: garish colours, deigner colours, corny clip-art, generic decoration, phony dimensionality." Tendency to focus on format over content Lends itself well to non-hierarchical data. Information remains stacked in time, but not to the same degree Bullet lists are supported, but neither encouraged or discouraged Very easy to get distracted by format. No "corny clip-art". Some common symbols/icons that are neither encouraged or discouraged. Use of standard templates is encouraged. No inbuilt chartjunk generation. Very easy to get distracted by format. Tufte's Recommendation "For serious presentations, replace PP with word-processing or page-layout software. Making this transition in large organizations requires a straightforward executive order: From now on your presentation software is Microsoft Word, not PowerPoint. Get used to it." "At a minimum, we should choose presentation tools that do no harm to content." "At a talk, paper handouts of a technical report effectively show text, data graphics, images ... an excellent size for paper handouts is A3 ... that one piece of paper can show images with 1200dpi, 60,000 characters of words and numbers ... that one piece of paper shows the content equivalent of 50 to 250 typical PP slides." An evaluation of the Prezi presentation tool. Conclusion Tufte's major issue with PP is its use as a means of presenting evidence or serious data. Ultimately, I don't think Prezi is what he has in mind as a solution. It has no tools for serious data/statistical analysis. Prezi is an impressive tool, there is surprisingly little to learn, and its cognitive style is not harmful. It is an improvement on PowerPoint. BUT
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