7 Deadly Sins of Visual Design: Sloth


To help my students learn important visual design concepts, they were assigned to read slide:ology.  To accompany the text, we spent time studying the 7 Deadly Sins of Visual Design.  The first three deadly sins are envy, pride, and wrath.  Today, we will examine sloth.

Sloth is the mortal enemy of thinking like a designer.  Sloth is the “habitual disinclination to exertion; indolence; laziness” (Source).  For my students, sloth is a way of life.  They procrastinate; they don’t listen in class because they’re too busy texting; and they’d rather be on Facebook than learning.  For a Type-A workaholic like me, I’ll never understand sloth, especially since students are paying so much money to attend school.

Unfortunately, laziness is a way of life for the majority of people.  For example, my students aren’t the only ones too lazy to create effective slides.  Many of my co-workers pretty regularly produce worthless visual design and refuse to listen to reason.  They protest because it takes too much time to learn the design principles and to practice those principles.  Each month, Chiara Ojeda and I invite everyone in our English Department to attend our Visual Design workshop.  So far, no takers.

Sloth is the most disgusting and deadly of all of the visual design sins.  And most presenters are slide sloths.  Here are 4 quickest ways to spot a slide sloth.

A sloth loves premade templates.  It only takes 5 minutes to put together one of these bad boys!

For a sloth, the best way to put together a visual presentation is as fast as possible.  No thought goes into visual design choices.  A sloth cannot think like a designer because a sloth doesn’t have time to think at all.  A premade template requires 0 thinking, 0 effort, and 0 time.

Audiences see that a slide sloth hasn’t put in time or effort preparing.  A great rule of thumb is this: an audience will spend as much time paying attention to your presentation as you spent preparing.  If you immediately hit them with death-by-PowerPoint, they’ll be on their iPhones playing Words With Friends in about 30 seconds.

To avoid this lazy behavior, create your own template.  Consider a color palette, a font, a set of similar images, a unifying style or theme… For example, when working on my new visual resume, I chose my own template.  I was inspired by the colors on Kate Spade’s website (colors have since changed).  Look around you for inspiration.  Design is everywhere.

A sloth picks the first image he finds.  He doesn’t care about image quality or size.  A Keynote slide is 1024×768.  A sloth will pick a 500×500 image and stretch it out so that it becomes pixellated, blurry, and impossible to see.  A sloth doesn’t care!

The only people who use images with watermarks are sloths.  A watermark says, “Don’t use me!”  A sloth doesn’t even see the watermark.  He’s too busy eating Cheese Whiz straight out of the jar.

To avoid this lazy behavior, use Compfight.  It’s a search engine for Flickr.  You’ll have to change your settings to find useable images.  I know, I know, Sloths!  You have to spend 30 seconds setting this up!  Try to find the time in your day somehow.  On the left-hand menu bar, select “All Text” so that you widen your search.  Then select “Commercial” so you can filter your images to only those with the proper license.

A sloth uses a combination of terrible images such as clip art and cheesy stock photos.  A sloth is a really big fan of the two hands shaking in front of a globe picture.  You can spot a sloth because by his overuse of the creepy pictures of alien creatures with no faces in his slides.

You can spot a sloth because images are secondary.  Text is the most important part of a sloth’s slides.  In fact, a sloth’s slides look very much like the three “Craft” slides above and the one below.

To avoid this lazy behavior, please revisit envy, pride, and wrath to learn how to think like a designer.  Yes, sloths, I said “think.”  You actually have to think to create a visual presentation that works for audiences.  Try not to pull a muscle.

A sloth especially loves Google images.  A sloth can’t be bothered to actually search for quality photos… That takes too long!  Who cares about sifting through quality images taken by real photographers when a sloth can pick the very first image he sees on a Google image search?

To avoid this lazy behavior, please try to take some time to understand what your audience’s needs are.  A strong presentation isn’t speaker-centered; it’s focused on the audience and their needs.  Audiences are sick of seeing the same boring presentation over and over and over again.  Shake that sloth off and put in the effort to give your audience what they need.


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