MS Powerpoint is a beast of a powerful tool, and immensely popular for giving people the ability to make presentations without making them think much. You know something is popular when it’s name becomes synonymously used with the adjective it helps accomplish, for example, searching with “Googling”, presentations with “Powerpoints”, tissues with “Kleenex”, etc. But despite much success of this feature rich tool, designers tend to hate Powerpoint. They instead settle with Keynote, InDesign, image slideshows, or sometimes even prefer to hand-draw live instead of relying on this toolset. So you ask, why?
Recently, I was forced to use the software, and realized that there were inherent features of its usability, and not the way people abused it, that turned design-centric individuals off. Here are 5 very concrete reasons I discovered during this process:
- Text-boxes and presumptuous decision making
Powerpoint is notorious for making decisions on presentation aspects on your behalf. It begins with the most fundamental aspect of just about anyone’s presentation: text and text-boxes. The default text-boxes on a Powerpoint slide make some presumptuous formatting decisions for you – whether you like it or not. The most painful of all of them being resizing font size to fit all bleeding container text the slide view. I know I can access your 3 million settings options, but why would you do that in the first place, Powerpoint? This is just one example of a feature that promotes insensitive and unconscious decisions on behalf of the non-designer user, and people blame the entire software suite for that. Also, designers hate such decisions being made for them, and so they are turned off on every single occasion Powerpoint starts acting like their under-qualified personal assistant.
- Disregard for aspect ratios
Remember sitting through that hideous business presentation and wondering why the presenter couldn’t have any decency in respecting the aspect ratios of the rather shamelessly stolen Google Image search results? Well, I’d like to pass a motion transferring the blame partly to MS Powerpoint, and not blame the design illiterate presenter entirely. By not discouraging changing aspect ratio behavior by user interaction techniques and emphasis on cropping over damaged scaling, MS Powerpoint gladly allows one to make a 50kg woman look like she were obese. This is a tricky one, but I would have taken back the blame on MS Powerpoint had they not encouraged good user design principles across other aspects of their software suite (like LibreOffice does) by merely providing the barebones – but that is clearly not the case.
- Hate-able defaults
MS Office products have a bragging right over their ability to nail trend-setting defaults, like the infamous Times New Roman back in the day and the Calibri today on 95% of print documents. Like the user interaction and F2 controllable cells in a spreadsheet. But with this power has come responsibility, which they have wilfully abused. MS Powerpoint is full of presentation defaults that are just plain hate-able. The popular disinteresting defaults themes for presentations are the epitome of ill-produced designs. MS Powerpoint is the canonical product in presenting anything and everything, and so it is the responsibility of the people making this software to think deeply about how they impact the experience of their end customers, the audience watching the presentations, as much as they think about their users. Such ridiculous defaults, such as the default 1.5-2 line spacing in MS Word, start becoming commonplace in everyone’s lives, and so MS needs to have much more accountability in thinking about the trends they set.
- No love for typography
Probably the single biggest difference between artifacts produced by designers and non-designers who have a thing for well designed stuff is the difference in understanding and appreciation of typography. Designers are picky, and sometimes even big jerks about the pristine representation of characters, symbols and glyphs. Kerning and leading controls give them relief from internal struggles in the process of creating beautiful experiences. They envision such presentations to create value beyond face value; they see the representation of the topic/company/product on the slides to a moving brand – whether in a presentation mode, in print or on something like Slideshare. MS Powerpoint’s lack of easy and complete control on typography, in an attempt to create a product for all, continues to disappoint control freaks who eagerly await and hope the next release of MS Office might have taken their interests into consideration. But often these expectations are met with disillusionment when the company’s standards are poor compromises between all worlds, like Calibri, an out-of-place typeface that neither looks good on screen nor on print.
- Battles for control
All of the above and more would have been excusable had MS Office been considerate to the design community (that they have long lost) and given them the ability to control what they see. But MS Office, as a whole, has been persistent about being ready exclusively for the other 98%, and happily sacrificing the community who will in the long run make the most outcry about their products. From lack of pixel-level control in placing and moving objects to 7 levels of settings and unnecessary preference menus, a user begins to fight battles of control with MS Powerpoint to get that perfect look that they need and deserve. The intuitive UX promotes creation of more slides, and more content, and more charts. A serious renaissance in thinking about control is needed to change this to approach to creation of better slides, and better content, and better charts.
None of these are going to affect the software suite’s reputation, and ideally, they shouldn’t, as that’s really not what I intended. Call me a dreamer for utopia, but my genuine hope is that MS Powerpoint and other MS Office products put inclusion of the design community on their agenda, as they have done with Windows 8 products, not just for the sake of getting this niche community on board, but for massive overall success with their “design thinking” approach.