Powerpoint, presentations and design

There has always been something difficult about PowerPoint. Blank slides just seem so desparately blank; surely cheery, colourful, dramatic slides would be perfect to hang words on: a source of inspiration should one dry up mid-spiel.

Well, whilst they may help, I think Edward Tufte has identified some of the key issues in his paper on the Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. I’m a great fan of Tufte and devoured his books on long commutes: the only time a fellow commuter has ever taken an interest in what I have been reading was after they had been admiring his rich pagination over my shoulder – I was too engrossed to notice.

Having bought the books through Amazon, their alogrithm suggested that, based on my spending patterns, I might enjoy certain other of their offerings. Two spring to mind as having been pushed relentlessly through “Amazon’s recommendations for you” pages: Information Dashboard Design and Presentation Zen. Neither was in the same league, nor did they aim to be. IDD was interesting, had some neat ideas and a cunning new graphical scheme for displaying a lot of information densely; coming from Tufte’s work, I found Presentation Zen attractive but very shallow. This disappointing performance has turned me off Amazon’s recommendations.

But is this fair?

I suppose I imagine reading as a journey, with each step taking me ever upwards. The problem is that if great books are distributed on a power law basis and you read one of the very best, then there is likely to be a lot of (relative) dross in the foothills, and I wonder whether this exposes a problem with Amazon’s analytics: whether they take into account the sequencing of purchases (a reading vector), or just correlations between purchases. (Of course, I’m assuming that my estimation of the relative merit of these books is absolute, which may be very far from the case!)

I took a route to Tufte via Jon Moon’s books; perhaps other people have travelled via Presentation Zen, and Amazon is simpy showing me the footsteps around Mount Tufte. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who knows more about how Amazon works: do they have someone interested in BI and Performance Improvement?

… talk of which, brings me neatly to Tammi Kay George: I was inspired to write this after reading her recent blog post in which she mentions Presentation Zen. I couldn’t help wondering if she had been bludgenoned into buying it by Amazon, too: I suspect there may be an overlap between her library shelves and mine, and if there is, my decision to buy Presentation Zen undoubtedly will have increased the likelihood of Amazon recommending it to her! It’s all my fault!

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  1. [...] posting about charting a route through a rolling biblioscape yesterday, my mind turned to the route I’m treading at work. Is SAS® the high-point? I [...]

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