Space can be either active or passive, depending on how it is used on a slide. Learn about the difference between the two types of space, and explore examples of each.
- [Instructor] At one point in your career, you might have created or seen slides that looked like this with a whole lot of text crammed onto the slide. And now you may have started to create slides or seen slides that looked more like this with full color images as the background with just a few key words on them. This particular slide style was made immensely popular thanks to Garr Reynolds, author of the books Presentation Zen and Presentation Zen Design.
That's quite the pendulum swing in the opposite direction, isn't it? I just think that it is fascinating how we've moved from cramming in so much information to putting almost nothing on our slides. Some might even argue it's an over correction. Personally, I think it depends on the situation. I argue that slides need to always be designed for your audience. The presentations and style is fantastic and beautiful if you are presenting in front of large audiences, but for small boardroom or classroom environments where the expectation of your colleagues and students is to have the PowerPoint deck travel with them as their notes or action items, it's not very helpful having only a handful of out of context words to read or reference later.
And creating a separate handout is time consuming and not always feasible. So what does all of this have to do with active and passive space? In the past, we never really had to think too much about space. We didn't have much to work with. But now that presenters are aware that too much text overwhelms viewers and that people can't read and listen at the same time and are pairing down their message, they are now faced with a new problem and that problem is "What do I do with "all of this extra slide space?" And there is not a quick and easy answer to that question.
You have to train yourself to start seeing space differently and learn how to activate space in a way that positively affects your subject and your message. So how do we do that? Well, first, we need to understand the different kinds of space, most namely, passive and active space. When you center all of your content on the slide like I've done here, you are essentially creating passive space.
And if you think of it in terms of your slide placeholders, it makes sense. With centered text, PowerPoint will push the text outward as you type so that space on either side is an after thought or not even a thought really. It's not usable space unless you limit the confines of your placeholder or the padding. As for the rest of the slide as a whole, all of the unused space is really not used purposefully.
All of our content is centered on our slide. This isn't a bad thing, not necessarily. Not especially exciting or compelling, it's very safe, predictable. Sometimes you will want to pair those adjectives with your content and your message. Other times, you won't. Asymmetrical designs on the other hand are much more interesting to look at. Here we have the same amount of words on the screen as compared to the previous slide.
But now the space pops out and creates an invisible box in the lower left hand corner. Now creating this shape on this particular slide isn't especially meaningful, but in certain context, it could be used as a very subtle metaphor. To think outside a box maybe? As for how to design or space something like this on your own, grids are your friend. I've shown you the center lines of the slide before, but if we bring up a more complex grid, you can see how these text boxes or placeholders were arranged on the slide within the grid.
For basic viewability reasons during a presentation and in large rooms and webinars and videos, I don't recommend placing any content in this space out here. People's heads, logos, play buttons, low battery messages, warnings, watermarks, and toolbars tend to block this area of the screen. That's why environment is a pillar by the way in slide design. As for the rest of the area, notice how on the diagonal here, the text is kind of balanced, almost.
On either side of that line. It's not quite perfect, mainly because I wanted to create another line here, lining the front of active space with the edge of designs. Let's look at another example. Here's a picture of a small plant. On the slide though, it doesn't look so small because the picture fills the space of the slide so much. However, if we deliberately leave space above the photograph showing the plant's potential for growth, then we have a more powerful overall picture.
And if I want to add some simple text, we can play around with the placement, finding a balance between the elements that work And so in the long journey that both PowerPoint and slide design have taken over all these years, I really hope you can take some of these principles to heart. Space is your friend. It can be used as a shape and a powerful part of your design's message.
And grids, they can really help you place and align objects within PowerPoint quickly.
- Designing as non-designers
- Key design components
- The need for hierarchy
- Hierarchy in bulleted slides
- When bullets are cognitively necessary
- Using space effectively
- Creating similarity and contrast strategically