In the Internet age, we’ve been conditioned to prefer information delivered in tightly packed visual chunks. That’s why both snoozy slideshow presentations and dense business documents have become so reviled as mediums of communication.

Luckily, Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Design, decided to redesign business communication with an ingenious new concept, Slidedocs, which she defines as “a visual document, developed in presentation software, that is intended to be read and referenced instead of projected.”

Think of it as a kind of a hybrid between slideshow presentations and prose documents--but it eliminates the most annoying qualities of each.

Duarte’s new book on Slidedocs, which she wrote entirely in PowerPoint, has just been released as a free download on her website.

Book Written Entirely In PowerPoint Aims To Reinvent How Businesses Communicate

Reading business documents and attending presentations might actually be fun with Slidedocs, Nancy Duarte's new concept for communicating ideas.

Raise your hand if you like sitting through slide-show presentations. How about reading dense, jargony business documents? These are the staples of modern business communication, and yet they're enjoyed by precisely no one.

Enter Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Design. Duarte thinks she can redesign business communication with Slidedocs, a new concept she defines as "a visual document, developed in presentation software, that is intended to be read and referenced instead of projected." Think of it as a kind of a hybrid between slide-show presentations and prose documents—but one that eliminates the most annoying qualities of each. Duarte’s new book on Slidedocs, which she wrote entirely in PowerPoint, has just been released as a free download on her website.

"The inspiration came from being sick of presentations," Duarte tells Co.Design. An estimated 350 presentations are given every second of a day, according to Duarte—and far too many of them waste attendees' time, she says. "Often, presenters are basically hosting a readalong, not doing a presentation," she says of text-heavy slide shows. "But if you present information in chunks with a Slidedoc, readers can breeze through it and get at the heart of the ideas much more efficiently." Supplemented with visual content and broken up like this, engaging ideas don’t get lost in a sea of text.

Duarte imagines a world in which a Slidedoc would be passed around an organization and read before a presentation, and then the speaker wouldn’t waste his time reiterating what it has already covered. Instead, presentations could function more as conversations, with the presenter generating new ideas through collaboration instead of simply voicing old ones.

A Slidedoc uses a handful of design tricks to make information as visually pleasing and as easy to digest as possible. Each page of a Slidedoc has a heading that expresses the slide's main idea, and concise text in full sentences that's presented in chunks with lots of white space in between, so the page isn't smothered with words. It also makes use of color, graphs, images, and charts, offering users a visual way to consume the information.

Duarte is offering webinars on how to use Slidedocs. "Anyone can design a Slidedoc," she says. The format could be important in education, too, she says—imagine the reviled textbook and lecture format redesigned according to Slidedoc principles. "I've gotten tons of emails asking me to please transform education," Duarte says.

While banning boring presentations is a great idea, implementing the Slidedocs system could be tricky. Do people in business always want to take active roles in a presentation? Users might come to see it as just another form of homework. But Slidedocs can also serve as a way of supplying colleagues with convenient, coherent takeaways after a presentation—they certainly beat printouts of slide shows or endless PDFs of mostly irrelevant information. In some instances, circulating a Slidedoc could be enough to communicate a given idea on its own, making a presentation unnecessary.

"Too many people are hiding in dark rooms flipping through too many words on big screens," Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group, once said of the loathed boardroom meeting. Maybe, with Duarte's new tool, that will soon change.

[Painting by Paul Corio]

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4 Comments

  • Hmph.

    Awesome concept and design, but this is another symptom-fixer. The root of the matter is there are non-designers doing design. It's not that the presentation content authors aren't intelligent, it's that they don't think visually.

    There is no amount of pre-formed templates and widgets that can can be created which will accommodate the very specific information business people need in order to convey their ideas. If there was a super-massive library of widgets, they wouldn't know which ones to pick for the right context.

    This is an age-old struggle that really needs to be solved in the makeup of how collaborative teams work together to author these presentations.

  • That's a great comment. We agree that visual design – and clear design thinking – play huge roles in creating effective presentations. We also feel that non-designers can learn many of the design basics to improve most presentations by leaps and bounds – principles like including more white space, understanding how readers scan a slide, applying the rule of thirds to photographic placement, and using less text in general to convey messages. We also advocate brainstorming and planning presentation content in analog mode before creating actual slides in software, much like professional designers do in exploring different aesthetics and concepts.To take presentations to the next level (or if one is giving a particularly high-stakes talk), we advise readers on page 113 of the Slidedocs presentation to have a professional designer work on the project. - Duarte

  • Tom Manzione

    Well said Darrell. As I read through the Slidedocs material I couldn't stop thinking about all the decks I've "prettied up" for my clients over the years. Brilliant folks but do not think visually. Interesting idea though and well designed.