Friday, October 8, 2010

Enhancing the Cognitive Style of PowerPoint with Interactivity

If you went to a dinner party where all guests were to present their stories in PPT format - it might be informative but also a bore. The unfortunate price of simplification is over-simplification, and the additional tax paid out is in the form of pedantry - says Youngme Moon, the author of Different, a recent book on marketing.

Edward R. Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale University, presents a scholarly criticism of PowerPoint in two of his essays:  PowerPoint is Evil  (Wired, 11(9), 2003) and The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint  (Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press. ISBN 0961392169).

According to Wikipedia, here are Tufte’s arguments against the overuse of PowerPoint: 
  1. It is used to guide and to reassure a presenter, rather than to enlighten the audience;
  2. It has unhelpfully simplistic tables and charts, resulting from the low resolution of early computer displays;
  3. The outliner causes ideas to be arranged in an unnecessarily deep hierarchy, itself subverted by the need to restate the hierarchy on each slide;
  4. Enforcement of the audience's linear progression through that hierarchy (whereas with handouts, readers could browse and relate items at their leisure);
  5. Poor typography and chart layout, from presenters who are poor designers and who use poorly designed templates and default
  6. Simplistic thinking, from ideas being squashed into bulleted lists, and stories with beginning, middle, and end being turned into a collection of disparate, loosely disguised points. 
We believe that these limitations of PowerPoint are overcome by interactivity, as is evident when you consider interactivity tools such as Raptivity Presenter.  Let me explain how the combination of Raptivity Presenter and PowerPoint alleviates some of the concerns outlined above.
  1.  By its very nature, Raptivity Presenter’s  output objects are interactive. A presentation may be sent in email to a user, who can experience the interactive elements at their own pace – thus reassuring the audience, not just the presenter.
  2. With the use of Flash, the content displayed by Raptivity Presenter presumes high resolution and is rich.
  3.  There is no compulsion to arrange material hierarchically, because Raptivity Presenter provides a  variety of presentation alternatives (accordion panels, page flip books, rotating 3D cubes, panning cards, flash cards, magnifiers, tabs, etc.)
  4. Due to this, audience can progress non-linearly through the presentation material. Consider the selective displays or business visuals in Raptivity Presenter. They are perfect for drilling down by audience.
  5. The beauty of professionally designed interaction models is that you get ready-made graphics and text types – you simply change the content. 
  6. Language shapes the way you think. With Raptivity Presenter, the controlling metaphor is not the bullet list – instead you have story builders, selective displays, business visuals, brainteasers and such other rich interaction metaphors.
We agree with Prof Tufte that the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates and trivializes content. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year.  Majority of these slides do not do a good job of educating the audience. 

We however believe that instead of doing away with PowerPoint, it is better to add interactivity to it – so that we reap the benefits of both ubiquity and interactivity.