Last week, a workshop participant asked me who I hired to design my materials. At first, I thought she was joking. When she assured me that she wasn’t making fun of me, and that she loved my design, I taught the participants these simple techniques. Here’s how you use color-coding to make dense information feel less complicated:
- Outline your presentation and organize the content into sections
- Color-code the slides
- Color-code the accompanying handout
I just finished prepping for a three-hour webinar on dashboard design. It doesn’t start for a few hours so I feel ahead of the game, ha! Since that webinar is fresh on my mind, I’ll use the slides and handout as the example in today’s post. For this upcoming webinar, I want to transfer as much of my dashboard knowledge as possible to the audience. There’s a lot of content! This is where consistent color-coding comes to the rescue.
Outline Your Presentation and Organize the Content into Sections
I outline every presentation before sitting down to create any slides or handouts. Don’t skip this step!!! Your goal is to organize your jumbled thoughts into a few clear sections, or chapters. Then, choose a different color for each section. Can you spot the blue, orange, red, and green sections?
Color-Code Your Slides
I created 78 slides, added PowerPoint Sections, and color-coded each section in a different hue. Can you spot the blue, orange, red, and green sections? The chapter divider slides, the slide titles, and the slide footers have a solid filled background with white text.
Color-Code Your Handout
Finally, I created a separate handout to accompany the presentation. My handout is not just a copy of my slides, PDF’d. It’s a standalone document that captures key points from the slidedeck.
The first page contains the outline, color-coded of course:
Within each section, the Header 1 text, Header 2 text, and diagrams are all color-coded:
Consistent color-coding across materials signals that a new section is beginning, which breaks up dense content and makes it feel less complicated. You can use this technique in presentations or in reports. (And hey, you might even fool someone into thinking that you paid a professional to design your presentation!)
[…] And at the very least, we need to apply color strategically. You should use your own organization’s colors so that your table (and the rest of your publication) will reinforce your brand. Throughout the report, we talked about the differences between the three countries, so we color-coded by country. In our tables, charts, and maps, Country 1 was always blue, Country 2 was always purple, and Country 3 was always turquoise. I’ve got another example of color-coding by category here. […]
[…] like color-coding by category within a single document. I love color-coding across multiple documents and […]
[…] These colors come from TechnoServe’s style guide, but they do more than just reinforce the organization’s branding. Colors are used intentionally to guide new readers through their terminology so that the content doesn’t feel overwhelming. […]
What a great compliment to receive about your slide design! I’ve not thought of using colour-coding this way before.
I must admit, my 1st thought was that this reminds me of using colour as a categorical differentiator in a chart. And I know that many people (e.g. Cole Knaflic) advise against doing that. Here though, I suppose it’s binding together slides, diagrams and headings over several pages – rather than having multiple colours all on the same chart.
For your handout, have you ever made a PDF from your PowerPoint notes pages instead of just from your slides? I’m thinking you could even use a hidden slide for the handout’s contents page, and print that slide (rather than its notes page) separately, as the cover for your handouts. A big benefit is that then everything’s in 1 file, and all changes to your content will automatically make it into your handout.
Yeah, this wouldn’t work in, say, a bar chart. I don’t recommend using different colors for each bar.
I’ve also used categorical color-coding in client reports, like this one (http://annkemery.com/impact-report/), where the three main topics have their own colors and icons throughout the entire report and accompanying dashboard.
I haven’t even heard of the technique you mentioned! I might have to try it. Looks very promising.