Sunday, February 26, 2006

Yes, It's Evil!

Reflections on "PowerPoint is Evil" by Edward Tufte

Though I'm aware Mr. Tufte's article is poking fun at the popular "slideware" technology, I can't help but agree with some of his more salient and less red herring comments. Here's a couple of beefs with PowerPoint that this article assisted me in putting into words.

1) Enforced Brevity

I'll admit it--I'm not a man of few words. I like to indulge in the plethora of possibilities that language offers. In this light, PowerPoint stifles creativity in the potential writer. Sure it's supposed to be a tool to assist the speaker in a spoken presentation, but too often its flashiness and features, in essence, steal the (slide) show and supplant the individuality of the speaker. And so, even if I have tons to say on the topic of the devastation that urban renewal wrought on American cities in the latter half of the twentieth century, I'll merely get X number of blank faces, staring happily at my bullet points that read
  • Mill Creek Valley
  • Gateway Mall
  • McRee Town.

Will they even hear that 20,000 low income residents were forced out of Mill Creek Valley simply because it was a poor, black, somewhat down-at-the-heels neighborhood near Union Station, where tourists arrived and formulated lasting first impressions of the city? Hah! Their eyes, much like the bullets, are static and do not touch the adjacent text.

So why can't I just write what I want to say on the slide--or not do slides at all? Call me old-fashioned, but I'd much rather grab a pack of notecards and begin presenting!

2) Pictures? Animations? Hyperlinks?

PowerPoint has too many features. All the bells and whistles distract from the writing and ultimately from the presentation. How do you pay attention to the speaker when you don't even know where the text will be flying in from on the next slide? And the pictures--who can see them? What ever happened to imagination and descriptive, poetic language that could convey more than a photograph ever could?

Okay, so Mr. Tufte and I are being a bit unfair on PowerPoint. It is efficient and, I'll admit it, the pictures and the animations can keep me interested rather than distracting me from the speaker. But you have to admit, he's on to something with the commercialism PowerPoint imposes upon presenters. When we have to "sell" information through a sales pitch rather than persuading the audience to value the knowledge you're imparting without the aid of colorful graphs, there's a problem.

I guess the caveat suggested in the article is a simple, yet important one. Design should never trump content. Still, a world without slideware would be, to most, PowerPointless.