Join John McWade for an in-depth discussion in this video A simple background, part of Learning Graphic Design: Presentations.
- [Voiceover] Your background is your stage. I recommend keeping it plain and your contrast high. That's for clarity. The highest contrast is black against white, or white against black, which makes 100% difference between foreground and background. Type on a colored field can be very attractive, but will generally be harder to read. If you have a mood to set, know that black tends to be formal and white informal. Otherwise, when it's possible, choose your background for the room you'll be in.
The rule of thumb is, light room, light background, dark room, dark background. I prefer a light room for interaction with the audience, which means my background needs to be bright and my contrast high. A dark screen in a light room will often wash out, at least somewhat, unless you have a very powerful projector, which is fairly rare, so your slides will be harder to read, and not as pretty.
On the other hand, a white screen in a dark room is like headlights in your eyes, like blinding, colors. For a light room, white is great and it's my default. You can use light gray, very light neutrals, whatever suits your topic, start about 10% value, just a hint, and see how that looks. One note here, the average projector is not very color accurate, and light colors are the ones that are most affected, so fine-tuning your color on the light end may not be worth the time.
For a dark room, black is great. It'll practically disappear and just leave your white words floating up there. Dark navy blue is almost black and just as good. A very dark gray, I'd want at least 70%, will work. Any super deep color really. Charcoal, navy, burgundies, forest greens, will make strong backgrounds. In the mid-range, I favor bright, fresh colors that lean toward the light side.
Lime green, yellow, orange, denim blue, violet is darker and offers a good contrast. In every case though, I recommend using colors sparingly. Unlike black, white, and gray, which are true neutrals, a lot of color, especially a lot of one color, can get tiring fast. That's because color communicates at an emotional level. That is very demanding.
You almost can't go wrong with a plain flat background. That's my default. Real life is never quite flat though. There's always variation in light. You can mimic that with a graduated fill. Your background color on one end like this, and a slightly lighter version of that color on the other end, like this. Pretty. You can also get away with a very light texture, and by light I'm thinking of Photoshop noise, like this, or paper, like this.
Anything more assertive, a heavier texture or a pattern, is very cloying. Generally speaking, I recommend avoiding any kind of repeating elements, header, footers, logos. There are exceptions but most often they just look boilerplate, like you pulled a template out of the drawer. The problem is that, that feels impersonal which is the opposite of what you really are, and they get boring. Anything that we see a lot of gets boring.
Here's the wrap up. Default to a plain background, light for a light room, dark for a dark room, and make that your show. Before you add anything to it, color, texture, pattern, header, footer, logo, ask yourself, how will this advance my story? And try to explain how. It'll help set you on a good decision making path for everything else.
Good presentations take time and thought. Design is too important to leave to a computer! Use these techniques to make personalized, thoughtful presentations that both educate and inspire.
- Putting data in a story form
- Using a simple background
- Choosing the right typeface
- Incorporating charts, photos, and illustrations
- Connecting emotionally with your audience