Final Project – Zen Facelift for One of Our Digital Citizenship Bootcamp Presentations

This course reinforced for me the importance of visual literacy for our students as well as the importance of making visually appealing presentations. I thought for this final project I would transform a previously text-based presentation that was collectively designed by our faculty for the student One to One digital citizenship bootcamp in our high school. The presentation is used for a short meeting with HS kids where they are intended to learn about protecting themselves on the web. It’s got good content, which is a great place to start, but I thought it could use a facelift to really pack the punch we are looking for. Here’s the original version. The new version is after the break…

The new version confirmed several things I knew about creating “zen” presentations. It takes time, lots of time. The text and embedded videos in the first presentation took time to think about and create, but that is really just phase one of a “zen” presentation. Phase two is making it visually appealing. That can take as much or more time than the actual “writing” of the presentation. In this case it certainly did take more time.

What’s missing here is the real live presenter. It’s a funny thing about hosting a “presentation zen” presentation online. They don’t always make the best presentations for viewing later online. The best presentations really have to be that magical combination of the presenter and the media. If it helps please imagine a fun, charismatic presenter that makes you feel the material in your soul!

I also suggest you view this Google Presentation’s notes. It will help tremendously you to understand what the teachers will see and communicate when they present this. You can view the notes by clicking the little settings wheel, then choosing “Open Speaker Notes” or you can just view it in the editor to see the notes as well. I hope you like the “zen-ness” an are inspired to make your own amazing presentations!

The new Twitter profile page

Image Credit: davidwbeaty on Twitter

Image Credit: davidwbeaty on Twitter


Have you seen the new Twitter profile layout? It looks to me like the people at Twitter have stepped things up in the visual department. They’ve moved up from the older, more text-based profiles to a “big broad image” style profile page. This is yet one more example of how we seem images competing where it was formerly only text. I mean, this is Twitter, a simple 140 character microblog, yet they have moved up to a big bold image layout! Twitter is not alone in this trend. In fact the whole web is going visual. Some estimates even show as high as 90% of web traffic as being video. Obviously video takes up more bandwidth than static images, but if we group images in with video, really most of the web is some form of media. This is why, again, it is so important that our students are visual literacy experts!


Dying for Better Presentations

It was a large ballroom. Men were in suits, women in business blazers. Big wine glasses filled with sparkling water. Smaller wine glasses filled with actual wine. Starched white table cloths. Fresh cut flowers on the table. It was a fantastic professional environment. The perfect setting to entertain, capture attention, bring the crowd to life. Except were were all dying. You guessed it: it was “Death by PowerPoint”. (I guess the flowers had a dual use)

And here’s the murder weapon. The actual presentation we sat through:

Names have been removed to protect the innocent. And please note this was a few years back and we have all gotten better now haven’t we? Honestly I hope so.

There’s something important to note about this experience: the speaker was actually very good. He had a good style of presenting and was funny when he needed to be. He actually did a fair job of using the following elements:


But the slide design was terrible. Honestly, scroll back up there and click through those slides again, all 54 of them. Do it. They are over-filled with text. The text does not flow or even match at times. There are bulleted lists, numbered lists, bulleted lists with boxes as bullets (nothing screams the 90s more than those box-style bullets) They are Franken-slides made from years of research.

As tempting as it is to re-make that slide show I cannot bring myself to do it, and I make plenty of presentations for other events so I thought I would add one of those here. It’s not perfect but is certainly a big step from the “Death by PowerPoint” you see above. This was a presentation that I collaborated on with some of our tech coordinators here at our school. We each did a part of the presentation. My slides are nothing but images. There are other slides that are images with a few bits of text. Other than the fact that is obviously mis-matched in its design (due to the fact that it was created by three people) I feel it’s a pretty good example of what a presentation can be. (may I suggest you use the settings icon to view the speaker notes, or you can hit the “s” key while moving through the presentation)

So you have an example of a good speaker with terrible slides and good slides with an average presenter (me). What’s the lesson here? You have to be able to design an eye-catching presentation. It really has to look great, right? But the real power is in the “performance” itself. I’ve seen crappy slides and a great presenter and it “worked”. People liked it, they learned, they walked away feeling good about the experience. But even the best slides in the world will fall flat if the speaker is not skilled. Look back at the list of elements of a great presentation above. Many of them are not directly about slides, though they can be applied in that way. They are mostly about the experience. So by all means please work on those slides. Focus on design. Kill the PowerPoint stereotype. But don’t leave the human presentation and style behind, it’s the real key to bring your presentation to life.

Vine is the new Kudzo

(the above is a Vine from Tide that was used during the 2014 Superbowl as a competitor to traditional advertising)

If you have ever been to the southern United States you know what Kudzu is. Originally from Asia, the creeping choking weed has now made its mark on the US. Personally I feel like I am “home” when I see the huge sprawling vines covering the edges of the interstate each summer. It’s everywhere across the US, spreading like wild fire. Love it or hate it, kudzu is here to stay.

There’s another “plant” that seems to be spreading like kudzu: Vine. It’s the “new” (new-ish? middle aged? old?) short video sharing platform from Twitter. The concept is simple, you can record and share a short set of video frames that make a unique-looking video. 6 seconds, that’s all you get. Everyone wants in on the game. Instagram/Facebook, Whatsapp. They all have some kind of quick video option. So why is Vine on top right now? Why is the most emulated quick video? Why are advertisers jumping on this new form of media? Is it because it is different and trendy for now? Honestly I think only time will tell if it will really stay on top. Instagram has more users, but Vine still has the “shiny new cool thing” factor!

In its present state Vine looks a lot like YouTube. The popular videos are mostly people doing stupid things, saying ridiculous things, etc. Sure, there are the classy editor’s pics and the artsy “short film” genre Vines, but for some reason the highest view counts always go to the ridiculous clips. I’m not sure if that is more a statement on the tool as it is on our culture really. But Vine has a lot of potential. You can see that advertisers are already picking up on this new style of video. Lowes did a “Fix in Six” campaign last year which was the first of its kind. They challenged customers to create a 6-second Vine video of a way to fix something in their home. Look out for more and more of these kinds of ads that use cheaper, potentially “free” advertising methods.

I also see Vine’s influence on the rest of the web. It reminds me of the old days when animated gifs were new and popular. It’s funny, but the Vine movement for that reason makes me feel like I am taking a step back in time. So if animated GIFs faded away long ago, why are they making a comeback with Vine? Because it’s new and fun and trending, for this year. But will it stand the test of time, like the original vine, the old American kudzu?

I’d be interested in your opinion. Give a shout out via the comments below!

"kudzu" by Flickr user Kitten Wants

“kudzu” by Flickr user Kitten Wants

The overhaul

The web moves fast, very fast. Websites that were fresh a few years ago now look like they are from the ’90s. (in case you were not sure, in web years that is around the time the pyramids where built) I have a theory that a website lasts about as long as an iPhone. Sure you can make that old iPhone 3GS keep running, but it has started to feel pretty old hasn’t it? What? Your iPhone does not handle LTE? Time for an upgrade! I admit there is a delicate balance between a complete overhaul and a redesign. Google cannot completely redesign their search page every year or two or they will lose the consistency they need to maintain their customer base. But for schools things are different. I think a “new look” every 5 years or so (okay so that is a little longer than the lifespan of an iPhone) is a necessity and here at AES our website is overdue for an upgrade.

The Plan

Even though my first instinct is to start working on the look of the website, I know we need to first tackle its purpose. It seems like the current website was “designed by committee”. Sure there are lots of advantages to that. The workload is shared. People all feel heard and get their needs met. But in the end sometimes the “designed by committee” concept fails to pack the punch that a simpler, targeted website can provide. Our new website will not meet the same set of needs in the same ways. The current website was designed to be an all-in-one portal but our new goal is to simplify things. The first step for us was to identify the audience. We have decided at this point that this is primarily prospective families and faculty. This will be somewhat of a shift for us since the old/current website seeks to be everything for everyone. The new site will be simple in design and in it’s purpose. Yes, we will have to deal with a lot of that old content in some way and that will be a part of this overhaul.

Simple design is King

I truly want the new website to make everyone sees it say, “Wow”! Part of this, for me is to make the website simple with good hierarchy in mind. I am fascinated by the research out there on eye tracking and design. Specifically I am interested to see that people’s eyes are drawn not only to images, which is what I would have assumed, but also to text. Even the subtle differences in text styles, spacing etc. make a difference. I have to say, honestly I am struggling with the work of designing of our new website. In particular I am deciding whether to hire an outside designer or “go it alone” and handle the design internally. Many of the professional designs I see are not that appealing. They look like the same old designs just recycled, recolored, and reordered. I don’t mind using my previous school as an example. The new design is fantastic, but the basics are the same. New photos, a little shifting of links, etc. but the design is not radically different. I want radical and I am not sure the average professional web designer will be willing to take the risk to design what I want.

My plan is to fill the home screen with a nice bold image, with some “thrilling” elements as well. Some of my favorite inspiration comes from Apple’s “30 years” site and a BRCK. I love the simple design, with nearly zero clicking required for the primary content. You just scroll and things are revealed. You’ve heard that all the content on a website should be no more than two clicks away. My goal is zero clicks, just a scroll or hover for the primary content.

An evolution of the AES website

To get an idea of where you are headed, it’s always nice to take a look at where you have come from. I thought it might be nice to see what the AES website has looked like over the years. Below you’ll see snapshots of four different AES websites since 2000. I’ve have to say the design has been changed for the better over the years. Personally I cannot wait to see where we end up in this evolution!

So the process has just begun, but I think things will move along nicely once we get the basic purpose and design agreed upon. Our current timeline has the content and design issues solved before the end of May, then gives us a semester (until Dec. 2014) to get the actual site designed and built. Keep your eyes out for in Jan 2015. Let’s hope you take a look and say, “Wow”!