Review of “slideology” by Nancy Duarte, O'Reilly Media

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Back in college I enjoyed reading Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds, which provided a wealth of solid design and philosophical principles about making better presentations. With this initial foundation, Nancy Duarte’s slide:ology is a great complement, picking up where Presentation Zen left off and diving into the minutiae of what makes for a great presentation.

As one would expect from a book about being a better communicator, each page is deliberately laid out and the infographics are exquisite (the Presentation Ecosystem diagram on page 11 is my favorite). Much of the book is about avoiding the computer (and its presentation software) for as long as possible and instead focusing on your audience, message, and overall design by using analog tools like sketchpads.

Unfortunately, there are times where the book makes assumptions that are a bit, shall we say, unrealistic. Early on, Duarte skims over one of the biggest obstacles to creating an effective presentation: time. Her time estimate for developing a presentation, while quite useful, shows why quality talks are so rare. What company would allow a full-time employee to spend 1-2 weeks just on a presentation? In the real world of small businesses, nonprofits, and local governments, there’s simply not enough time in the day to be adjusting the ligatures or kerning on your fonts (and certainly not enough budget to hire a designer to do it for you, as Duarte casually recommends). While the book can be a great resource, I wish it would have focused a bit more on how to make a presentation in the real world where time is always in short supply.

Cynicism aside, if one can find the time to read through the book and take notes, it’s possible to apply some of the design principles even under a tight deadline. Tidbits like the taxonomy of diagram styles and how they work together, how to format data slides, and even things like color-matching all seem quite valuable once one starts practicing them.

Overall, I can recommend the book due to its usefulness as a reference in the long-run. While I may not have the time to internalize the wealth of design advice all at once, I have a feeling I’ll be thumbing through the book for some inspiration and tips each time I have to create an important slide deck.

Note: I received this book for free through the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program