Diagrammer Enlivens Crappy PowerPoint Presentations, With 4,000 Fresh Charts

A new PowerPoint visualization tool offers a database of diagrams that can be downloaded for just 99 cents each.

The only thing worse than sitting through a bad PowerPoint presentation is being the one responsible for a bad PowerPoint presentation. Standing up there alone before dozens of strangers (or, even scarier, people you actually know), you have to face the fact that your crappy bullet points put a whole room to sleep.

Click to zoom.

Diagrammer, a new PowerPoint visualization tool by the Mountain View-based communications firm Duarte Design, provides a cheap, simple way to spice up slideshows. Would-be PowerPointers scan an e-library of some 4,000 diagrams—including everything from bar graphs to flow charts—pick ones that fit their presentation, then download PowerPoint-ready files for 99 cents each.

Diagrammer targets PowerPoint users who don’t have a design background. Since the site launched earlier this month, clients have poured in from industries as varied as aerospace, biotech, health care, education, and finance.

The idea is to correct for common design mistakes—using too much text, say, or too many bullet points. "If you put bullet points on a slide, they’re probably related in some way," Duarte Design’s Nancy Duarte says. "So you can turn those bullet points into pictures, and there’s more meaning."

Meaning, of course, is everything. Imagine you’re announcing a merger to employees and you call up a slide full of vague figures about overlapping departments. Suddenly jaws drop to the floor: They all think they’re about to lose their jobs. Transfer that information to a Venn diagram, though, and you provide a clear visual of the transaction: of what departments will get folded into other departments, of where and how many jobs will be cut, and so on. "Not every slide needs to become a diagram, but if you can visualize bullet points in some meaningful way, you should," Duarte says.

Click to zoom.

The tool was years in the making. "We’ve been doing presentations for best brands in the world for 22 years," Duarte says. "There was a pattern to how we kept solving visual business problems. So I took photocopies of employees’ sketchbooks, cut them up, then crawled around on the floor in a hotel in Las Vegas hotel and tried to sort them into patterns [for the website]."

The result is a unique navigational system that might seem confusing at first. Charts are organized into five categories that "virtually all business concepts" fall under: "flow," "join," "network," "segment," and "stack." Users then explore the category that fits the theme of their presentation. If you’re talking about a merger, for instance, you’d peruse "join," which features interconnected shapes. From there, you can search for additional layers of specificity: You can select "nodes" (how many pieces of data you’re talking about) and "styles" to suit your brand and message (angular v. curved, 2-D v. 3-D).

It’s a lot to sort through. And there are so many options, you could easily waste two hours of your day poking around for the perfect diagram, as one executive did recently. So why not just make your own visuals? You could, Duarte says, but it’d take forever. Each of the 4,000 charts on Diagrammer took three to four hours to create—and these are professional designers.

Besides, scanning the website is part of the challenge, Duarte says. To find the right visuals, you have to fully understand the ideas you want to share, which ultimately makes you a better communicator. "You have to actually spend some time thinking," she says. "Yes, it’s easier to crash out bullet points. But if it’s a really high-stakes situation, you want to diagram it. And this forces you to be clearer about what you want to say." Your audience will thank you, by opening their eyelids.

[Images courtesy of Duarte Design]

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