More is Less: Powerpoint is Great and So Is Minimalism

After looking back on March and taking a good look at my older work and design school projects, I realized two things: One, that I have a very big problem with my design process. It's a glaringly obvious flaw that I cannot unsee now that I've taken notice. In fact, I would relate it to a plague that reigns terror upon designers alike. Just to test my theory that I couldn't be the only person with this issue, I scoured design blogs and Behance profiles to see if it was just me. And it wasn't just me.

The Problem?

The problem I speak of is the fact that I cannot keep things simple. I physically cannot stop myself from trying to fill up a page with content or graphics. I cannot make something with less than three colors without feeling it isn't enough. Even when tackling a project where a simple line art illustration is the perfect solution, I will attempt to make it just a little bit more ornate, add just one more little detail. I don't feel complete unless I have ten rough drafts. I don't feel I'm a real designer without have seven layers with different color schemes and treatments for a single design.

Maybe this doesn't affect you. Maybe you can make minimalism happen without batting an eyelash and that's great! Go you! You keep doing that while I continue to spend an extra hour trying to finesse a project that was already done! I don't know why me and so many others of all skill levels are spending more precious time and resources on finished projects, but we are!

And yes, it is so visually satisfying when you see a poster that has 1.5 million little details that you can 'ooo' and 'ahh' over, but that's just one solution. One solution that solves only a few problems. I feel that it's an embedded trait of creatives that we must work more and really showcase all our skills in a single project for us to label it a success. That if we do not incessantly nitpick and fawn over every one of our design solutions before coming to a conclusion, it's a bad conclusion.

I have physically stopped projects and left them for the next day because I had spent the past four hours fine tuning every detail and the output was...not what I was going for in the slightest. Like an artist with a perfect sketch that ruins it upon inking, we keep pushing forward in an attempt to better and test ourselves and instead we fall into a pattern of believing this crazy process is the best course of action.

Milton Glaser’s I Love New York logo to promote New York tourism. So simple and yet so effective.

Milton Glaser’s I Love New York logo to promote New York tourism. So simple and yet so effective.

Sometimes the simple route works. Not every job requires you to jump through hoops. In fact, some of the most impactful and recognizable designs of our era are simplistic. Minimal. And yet taking the simple route is one we rarely take, or one we save as a last resort. I'm not saying we should all abandon our detailed, well-trained eyes for quick fixes, but just take a chance on that first sketch or that first idea for once! Sometimes it's just that simple.

Another Problem?

The second thing I realized this month is on a less self-critical scale. I did not realize how much someone can do with Powerpoint. Or even how imperative it is for the modern business world. I have vague memories of Powerpoint templates used by teachers to explain that week's topic and using really bad transitions and clip art to do so. The fact that it was easy to use and accessible made it obviously very popular with those who weren't all too tech savvy and students that were not about to buy some extravagant software to make a three-minute presentation.

In design school we never touched Powerpoint. We opened up InDesign to make a presentation and that was it. We felt we had more control and more creativity, and I actually believed that only companies without good designers used Powerpoint because why, why, why would you bother with that when InDesign existed? When Keynote existed? That was an actual belief I had. Of course, then I started working.

It kills me how many Powerpoints I am being put to edit. It makes complete sense now that I realize that someone else (usually one that is not tech savvy) in the company puts in the content they need to explain and images from Google and half-baked concepts of graphs that need to be fleshed out better, would be the ones using Powerpoint.

In a design firm, I can see them ditching Powerpoint and doing everything in fancy design programs, being all cool and creative. But in business, real business (where I'm sure a lot of our revenue comes from as freelancers), people need to be able to work with your design, edit your design. It's no longer yours to create and show off happily. It's for someone else to use and add new content to as they go along. And that person knows nothing about InDesign. Or Illustrator. Or Photoshop.

I couldn't wrap my head around why it was such a necessary evil to be able to make Powerpoint templates, but the templates made by the designers already at the company makes everything so much easier. Easier for those technologically challenged employees and their clients and people like me who come in just to help occasionally.

On top of all that, there's so much a single person can do in Powerpoint that I never even heard of. You can edit points on a shape like in Illustrator; that absolutely blew my mind. I should have had more faith in Microsoft for adding clever little tools like that, but I honestly did not believe it was possible. For someone who once overlooked Microsoft Office products as archaic tools of the past, I'm very honored to say I use them more now than I ever did before.

Honestly, if you are not on the Powerpoint train, jump on board. It's so remarkably marketable as a skill and truly easy to explore and learn how to maneuver. It's the easiest and cheapest program to begin a steady course to design and even get your foot in the door. Do you know how many job postings I see every day for Powerpoint Presentation Specialist specifically? A quick search on LinkedIn and I have a flood of them at my fingertips (I don't know how it is in your area but come up North to get some of these sweet, sweet Powerpoint gigs).

In Conclusion

Moving forward, don't stress yourself out with that project you've been working on. Wing it for just a second. Let it be, breathe and see what happens. Not everything requires five layers of edits and seven rough drafts. And while you're letting your designs breathe like a finely aged wine, go ahead and blow that dust off Powerpoint and check it out if you're not already a whiz with it. Just for a minute. Make that bullet point on your resume that says 'fluent in Microsoft Office' actually accurate.