Lorenzo Ramaciotti is the Head of Design for Maserati, the Italian luxury sports car manufacturer. This guy REALLY knows design. I was reading an article about him recently in which he said that the heart of Italian design is “simplicity and proportion.” That last word really caught my eye.
Even though I hadn’t thought about it much before, as a car buff, the concept immediately clicked with me – proportion is huge. While it’s not a Maserati, the Jaguar XK is a perfect example. The current model of the XK is breathtakingly beautiful, a design masterpiece – Jeremy Clarkson called it “an impossibly pretty car”.
But the previous XK was just too long in the rear. And as a result, its proportion was off, and it was ruined as a result. I don’t think anyone ever called it beautiful.
Now…how does the idea of proportion apply to presentation design? It’s CRUCIAL, yet hardly anyone really thinks about it. Designing proportion means intentionally determining how much emphasis (time and space) each element should receive, and when you get it wrong, serious presentational ugliness results. For example, introductions routinely suck up vast tracts of time.
Low value components, such as research methodology, survey findings, background, credentials and data drag on unendingly…while critical ideas like insights, conclusions and implications (and the discussion of those things) constantly get squeezed out – to the great frustration of the participants.
Typical presentation designers don’t think about proportion at all. They assign time either with no thought whatsoever(!) or based simply on what they want to say about that point. What they don’t do is think about how important the point actually is and what emphasis it actually merits.
This is SO especially evident in technical and research presentations, where the presenter seems completely enslaved to all points as equally valid…even when they’re so obviously not.
Proportion really matters in presentation design. At our workshops, we’ve always taught people to focus on a small number of big ideas.
But today we increasingly emphasize the proportion of those ideas: figuring out exactly how much space each of those ideas merits, and assigning time based on audience or customer value. (By the way, this is an ENORMOUSLY big deal in sales presentations.)
Great communicators uncannily linger where the audience wants them to linger, and they really get paid for it. There is something very, very rewarding to an audience when you gloss the trivial but dig into the meaty. And that only happens by design.
So, how do you do it?
It’s surprisingly simple, because there’s a practical tool to do it, a variation of a tool we always teach. Lay your whole argument out, either by drawing on paper or using index cards that you can move around. Then simply assign 100 total “units of attention” (we refer to them as “pennies”) across each major element.
When you’re done, you simply translate pennies back into minutes. Twenty pennies is 20% of your time, or 12 minutes of a one-hour presentation. It’s surprising how cleanly and easily this forces the right proportion, and especially how it forces you to de-emphasize secondary (particularly introductory) content.
Be sure to do the same exercise within each major content element, so that 12 minutes is also correctly proportioned.
It’s a very simple process step with a disproportionately high payback.
Lorenzo Ramaciotti closed his remarks with an interesting observation, saying something that is as true of presentations as it is of cars. He said that when you get design right, whatever you build will last. But when you don’t, whatever you build inevitably fades. Beautifully put.
I’ll stop writing here. Otherwise my proportion will be off.