We got everything we need right here

There’s a common narrative pattern in which a protagonist is saddled with some differentiating characteristic – big ears for example, or scissors for hands, or flatulence.

At first said characteristic causes the protagonist to be shunned by their peers, but in a different context it turns out to be an advantage, enabling them to overcome a seemingly impossible challenge and win the respect and adulation they deserve.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the coming age of digital storytelling, of e-books and mobile apps. And I’ve been wondering about the authoring tools that might be required for easy and ubiquitous content creation, whether purely digital or crossing over into print.

Based on my experiences putting together the cards and mobile web pages for 1794: A Small Story it seems the would-be e-book author needs some kind of easy templating system, adapted to page or screen…

… then an outliner to sketch out the flow of their book…

… a WYSIWYG way to insert images, links and multimedia stuff…

… and a way to sort and reorder pages in the book…

You’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this.

Slideware has been the fat kid that all the info design populars like to kick, the pariah that brought down the Space Shuttle and elevated egocentricity in business to the levels of an Olympic sport.

A couple of years ago I wrote here that it’s simply too easy to decry this software and its poisonous effect on corporate life: we need to understand what it’s really telling us. Now I think I understand.

It’s time to take a fresh look at Microsoft Powerpoint (or Apple Keynote, or OpenOffice Impress, or whatever).

The very things that make slideware so frustrating in business life…

  • its rigidity in structure but not in logic
  • its atomisation of content to the unit of the screenful
  • its author’s tendency to create stuff as if to be read not presented

… they all could turn out to be positive features of the new electronic medium. The context is what counts.

Of course there will be better, more professional tools for those who have the time and dedication to master them. Some will quickly rise above Powerpoint’s Lego-brick jerkiness.

But I reckon this ugly duckling could turn out to be a swan after all, as the good-enough platform that helps people start sharing their stories.

Maybe in the future our children will find it strange that their folk art authoring tool of choice started life making mundane business presentations.

3 thoughts on “We got everything we need right here

  1. Hear, hear.
    Slideware is a great tool, just needs using for what it is intended. It’s true that it can lead to lazy and poor performance, but it’s also true that it can be a great way of structuring and supporting a presentation.Presentation zen has some good ideas but i’m guessing that in a couple of years photos of rocks are going to start looking pretty lame.

    I gave a session last year exploring some of these ideas.
    I find i use it as a notepad to bring together and organise ideas, then throw anything from 70-100% of it away before i give the final presentation

  2. Hi James, Great to hear from you, and to see that you’ve taken the pledge on a copy of Presentation Zen :)

    I think the use of presentation tools as a notepad, as you describe, is also quite common. This is a usage that could be separated out from the presentation itself and better supported by these tools in future, I think.

  3. Cheers Matt
    Here’s the pledge we asked people to take.
    Put your left hand on the book raise your right and say:
    I {state your name},

    hereby pledge that I will do my best to reduce my crimes against the audience.

    I reject the transition and the animation

    I cast out the clip art

    And turn my back on the bullet point

    From this day forward my slides will work with me, and the B key will be my friend.

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