Design Tip of the Day: 5 Fonts To Stop Using Immediately


After reading “Fonts To Avoid” by Rudolph Musngi last night, and after seeing a few particularly hideous ESL assignment sheets in our office copy room this afternoon, I was inspired to create my own font “no no” list.  You should stop using these fonts immediately.


Comic Sans is a font everybody loves to hate.  There’s even a website called “Comic Sans Criminal” with a mission to cure the world of inappropriate Comic Sans usage.  I must admit, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about when I first heard snobby designers talk bad about it.  Then, I opened my eyes to the reality of Comic Sans and my long history with the font.

My mother has used it since the early 1990s for her classroom lessons, and she is a high school foreign language teacher.  At work, I’ve seen it posted on refrigerator doors asking co-workers not to eat labeled food inside and taped near sinks explaining, “Your mother isn’t here.  Do your own dishes.”  Most recently, this very afternoon, instructors in the ESL department at my university used Comic Sans on their own handouts.  Overused and seen in just about every single setting from college handouts to the sides of ambulances, Comic Sans Criminal explains that the font is juvenile and should be relegated to elementary school or to comic books.  As my colleague Chiara Ojeda says, Comic Sans belongs on a lemonade stand.


Like Comic Sans, Papyrus is overused.  Like Comic Sans, Papyrus has a website.  Called “Papyrus Watch,” the site shows examples of Papyrus all over the place – from a restaurant sign to a CAPTCHA.  The website’s author asks for users to send in sightings of the overused font and explains that Papyrus was great for a 5th grade paper about Egypt.  The truth is, Papyrus is tacky.  Just ask designer Mat Carpenter whose friend Tweeted this quote:

“Kitschy, cheap and vile, Papyrus has no place in your designs.” thanks for the laugh @matcarpenter #wisdom


Curlz was my favorite font when I was 13 years old.  Keep in mind that I was one of the the most feminine, girly children in all of the land.  And that’s where Curlz should stay – on signs for Barbie’s Dream House and on fourth grade princess-themed birthday party invitations.

“Worst Fonts Ever” says of Curlz: “The only time you should ever print something in Curlz is if you’re making invitations for a 6-year-old girl’s birthday party—and even then, you owe it to that little girl to use a more creative font.  Curlz gives decorative fonts a terrible reputation with its overly-whimsical, overly-saccharine curlicues, which are very problematic for imprint methods that can’t handle fine detail. Worst of all, Curlz has an association with immaturity, and it can give off an impression of cheap gaudiness” (Source).


Oh, you are soooooooo clever.  You opened the “Blackboard” template and you had the genius idea to put all of your text in Chalkduster.  No one has EVER thought of that before…



I know, I know.  Garr Reynolds uses Gill Sans.  He is the king of presentation design and, in fact, the person who introduced me to the world of effective slide design.  How can this be a no-no font?

Consider this.  When you open “Keynote” and click to add a new text box, the standard font used is Gill Sans.  I tell my students that this is the most off-limits font of them all because it tells me that you literally put zero thought into your typeface selection.  At least SOME thought, however misguided, had to happen for a person to settle on Papyrus or Curlz… No thoughts occur for Keynote users who add text boxes.  Come on, y’all.  Scroll up or down your font book a notch or two.  Other great “G” fonts await you.

Do you hate a specific font?  What overused, hideous typeface would you add to this list?  Why?


Design Tip of the Day: Read Butterick’s Practical Typography


This week, the thoughtful and talented Andrew Dlugan shared a design resource with me: Butterick’s Practical Typography.  I’d never heard of this online book before, but I quickly dove in and got lost in the information.  The simplicity and elegance of the website drew me in, but the information kept me engaged for longer than I’d care to admit.  If you’re interested in learning more about typography and becoming a stronger designer in the area of type, this is a must-read.  The best part?  It’s free online!


I started with “Typography in Ten Minutes” which guaranteed that if I read the information, I’d be a typography superstar.  I moved onto “Summary of Key Rules” and an enlightening chapter called “Why Typography Matters.”  (I especially enjoyed the compare these two resumes activity here.)  My favorite part was “Font Recommendations” including alternatives to fonts we know and overuse.  If you’re into font hating, check out “Bad Fonts” for a laugh.  This is such an information-rich resource that I will definitely be turning to again and again.

Are you into type?  What is your favorite typeface?

Design Tip of the Day: Stop With The Faceless Alien Creatures


Dear Presenters,

It has come to my attention that a horror worse than 1990s clip art lurks among presenters today.  This horror appears in over 90% of slideshows that I see, and it is not only hideous but also terrifying and just plain weird.  That horror, Dear Presenter, is…




You can find the faceless alien creature doing almost any task: teaching, jumping, writing, skydiving… As you can see from the images above and below, you can also find the faceless alien creature joining with others to hold gigantic puzzle pieces and putting them together AND joining hands around the globe and enormous arrows to promote recycling.  Yeah… I just threw up.

Despite the faceless alien creature’s activity, one thing is always the same.  The faceless alien creature is completely nude, appears in one color from head-to-toe, and, of course, does not have a face.  If you are presenting to people with clothes on, with natural human pigmentation, and with faces, I’m not sure how faceless alien creatures connect…  But you probably didn’t think about connection, Dear Presenter, because faceless alien creatures come from a hasty Google search of things like “collaboration” and “academic integrity.”  If you’re too busy to create an audience-centered slideshow with audience-centered images, I’m not sure why you were asked to present in the first place.  You sound pretty selfish.



Dear Presenter, I’m sure you might argue that there aren’t enough hours in the day to find good images or that you’re too busy to care about pretty slides.  I’d ask you to count the number of people in your audience and to ask how much overall time those people will be spending with you and your terrible presentation.  If you have 30 people in the audience listening to you for 30 minutes, that’s 900 total minutes you’re wasting with your hideous slides.  And if you don’t care after doing the math, I’d strongly suggest you find someone who DOES care to present instead of you.

If you do care, Dear Presenter, I have two simple tips for you: 1) Stop using tacky faceless alien creatures in your slideshow.  2)  Find images of real people.  Try Compfight.  It’s a winner.

I will leave you with one final thought, Dear Presenter.  Every time you use a faceless alien creature in your slides, a real faceless alien creature from outer space begins his journey to Earth to kill you.  You may be able to take on one or two, but if your number at this point is nearing 50, you might as well call it a day.


Alex Rister

Design Tip of the Day: Create Your Own Template


Earlier this week, a reader asked a great question:

“I bought into the presentation revolution concept and looking to create a series of presentations soon. I completely agree with the advice ‘don’t use a pre-loaded template,’ but I also know I need unified design elements for a cohesive look… Where are these ‘presentation revolution 2.0’ templates that leave out the worst of the old-school PPT flaws but help me as a non-designer to create a unified look?”

When you are designing a visual presentation in Keynote or PowerPoint, you definitely want to avoid selecting a premade template.  Why?  First, everyone else is using one, so you won’t be able to stand out in a positive way.  Second, those premade templates lead to death-by-PowerPoint.  Garr Reynolds explains that many people “assume that using PowerPoint […] means using it the way the Microsoft templates suggest (title, bullets, small charts and graphs, etc.) rather than as a simple digital storytelling tool that can amplify a person’s live message with full screen video clips, easy to see quantitative displays, high quality photography, good type, and so on” (Source).  In order to join the presentation revolution, we must actually stop thinking about PowerPoint the way we currently do.

So what do we do?  Where are the “Presentation Revolution” templates?  The point is, as I explained to the reader question in a follow-up email, to create your own template.  For non-designers, this is really, really hard because we’re so used to relying on Sedona, Craft, and Industrial.  Where in the world do you begin?

Most presentation designers suggest first “going analog” to brainstorm slide design ideas.  Instead of pulling up Keynote, close your computer and think about what you’re trying to convey with your slides.  Do you even need slides?  If not, distribute a handout to your audience and speak without that crutch.  If so, it’s time to think about your own template.

Let’s say that I’m giving a presentation about dogs.  I obviously don’t want to take this approach:

Instead, I want to create my own template.  I decide on black-and-white images with black and white text.  The repeated elements (all black-and-white pictures; the same font/typeface; the same color text) work together to unify each slide.  Slide 1 will flow into 2 and 3 all the way to 25.  In Keynote, I select a “black” template and remove all premade elements such as text boxes.  I am in control of my template – not Keynote.

After considering what “template” I want to create, I search for images of dogs in Compfight, the only place I use to find high-quality images.  I make sure I’m searching “all text” (not just “tags” from the image’s owner) as well as “Commercial” images (research what type of license you need to be using).


I save some great images for my slideshow and get to work applying the template I decided upon.  Click on the video below to see me work on breaking up the slideument (above) into four separate slides:


If you’re interested in going above and beyond the standard fonts in Keynote or PowerPoint, check out DaFont.  Two great resources to help you select a color palettes to unify your slides are Design Seeds and Kuler.

What is your burning presentation design question?  What can I help you with this week?

Design Tip of the Day: Stock Photos Are Corny


Unless you’re living in a parallel universe forever stuck in 1991, you’re aware that clip art sucks.  Clip art certainly should never be used in a slideshow presentation.  Nancy Duarte said it best in “Cliche of the Week: Clip Art” when she wrote, “Remember how stores used to sell CDs full of ‘15,000 pieces of clip art’? Well, there was a reason it only cost you twenty bucks.” (Source).  So since we can all agree that clip art should never be used for any reason whatsoever, can we please talk about stock photos?

Shutterstock is an example of a stock photography website.  Try searching through the “Animals & Wildlife” category.  Do you notice anything?  Most of the pictures are staged.  A large percentage of them have a plain white background.  How many dogs have you seen in your life clumped together and posing photoshoot style?  Even the animals in their natural habitat look too staged and phony.  Shutterstock and similar stock photography websites just don’t look authentic.  Since one of our presentation goals is authenticity and naturalness, our visual presentation should look real.

First, consider this image of an elephant.  When I look at this image, I don’t feel anything.  I feel no emotional connection, and I definitely don’t connect in any way.

Now, consider the image below:

Image Credit

This image makes me feel feelings.  There’s a story here.  Not only is it realistic, but it’s raw.  When I see the image above, I think about it.  I’m drawn in.  I connect.

Fuel Your Photography‘s insightful article “What Makes a Good Photograph?” lists 10 elements of a photograph that works.  Those elements include depth, lines (to lead the viewer’s eye), movement and motion, perspective, composition, lighting, capturing the unexpected, emotions, and location (Source).  How many elements of a good photograph are included in the stock image of the elephant?  How many elements of a good photograph can be seen in the chained elephant image above?

Since I teach a class on public speaking and presentation, I see a lot of presentations.  I’ve counted that during the last 2 and a half years, I’ve watched between 3,000 and 5,000 presentations.  If a presenter is using Google images, clip art, and stock photography, I make assumptions about that presenter: he’s unoriginal, tired, and stale.  He put in about 10 minutes of effort into his visual presentation.  He doesn’t care about me as an audience member.  He’s making a presentation just like everyone else.  He’s stereotypical; he doesn’t stand out.  Why do I make these judgments?  First, stock photography by its very definition is stereotypical (Source).  It’s unoriginal and just as corny as clip art.  Second, it takes little to no effort to create a visual presentation comprised of stock photography.  There isn’t much consideration of the elements of a good photograph, and most of the images used don’t include the elements of a good photograph.

Let’s say you’re delivering a presentation on bullying.  If you search “bullying” in Google images, the first 10 pages include cliched clip art and corny stock photos.  You’ll also find a lot of repeated design (some kind of image or word in a red circle with a red line across the middle) as well as repeated themes (large, scary clip art boy menacing a smaller, scared clip art boy).  Since I’ve seen at least two dozen presentations on bullying, I have seen most of these Google image search results many times before.  When I see yet another slideshow like this, I shut down, and I make negative assumptions about the presenter.

Image Credit

Again, consider Shutterstock.  Let’s look at a sample of “bullying” photos here.  Do you notice the similarities between the stock photographs?  Images of people appear artificial, posed, and unnatural.  Most photos are staged against a white background like the corny photograph above.  I don’t feel anything when I see a stock photo.  I don’t feel anything when I see the photo above.  Again, since the goal of visual presentation is to support the presenter’s message/content, leaving an audience apathetic, uncaring, and emotionless certainly is never a good thing…

Image Credit

Image selection is the most important part of visual presentation.  Since your visuals should be truly visual (think movie scene instead of PowerPoint document), selecting an image that is meaningful is the essential first step.  My suggestion is to use Compfight.  Compfight is a Flickr search engine.  What, exactly, is Flickr?  Flickr is a community comprised of 70 million photographers sharing their life stories.  And since the images found on Flickr are taken and posted by photographers, they clearly know what they’re doing, and their images embody the elements of a good photograph.

Learn how to use Compfight here.  Don’t forget to respect all licenses!

Imagine a world where visual presentation is actually visual, where images are meaningful.  Visual presentation could actually connect and move audiences instead of boring them into a comatose state.  Consider Duarte’s 5 rules for creating an effective visual presentation:


Remember when developing your visual presentation that you have a choice.  Choosing to use Google images or stock photography websites such as Shutterstock makes you corny and lame.  Remember Duarte’s 5 theses and the elements of a strong photograph so that you can spread your ideas in a way that moves people.

Design Tip of the Day: 7 Deadly Sins of Visual Design


Last month, I developed the 7 Deadly Sins of Visual Design for our visual design lecture. Here they are in one succinct place for our Design Tip of the Day.

The first deadly sin is envy.  Design envy occurs when you covet the slides of others.  Slide envy can easily be treated.  How?  Click here to learn three primary principles to treat your slide envy.

The second deadly sin is pride.  Many people feel their slides are amazing and refuse to see the light from Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte.  Their pride stands in the way of creating truly effective slides.  So how can someone correct this deadly sin?  Click here to find out how to overcome slide pride and how to create meaningful visual design.

The third deadly sin is wrath.  Please stop killing your audiences with slides filled with bullet points.  Bullets kill.  Learn how to correct your deadly obsession with bullets here.

The fourth deadly sin is sloth.  Slide sloth is the sin my students most frequently suffer from.  A slide sloth’s visual presentation took 5 minutes because a slide sloth doesn’t care about an audience’s needs; the sloth would rather eat Cheetos and watch The Jersey Shore.  To avoid slide sloth, click here.

The fifth deadly sin is lust.  Sometimes, to grab the audience’s attention, presenters rely on racy images or multimedia that have little or nothing to do with their topic.  Scantily clad bodies are never a good idea as an attention-getter if those scantily clad bodies have nothing to do with your thesis.  Instead, develop strong content and avoid lusty slides.  Learn more about lust here.

The sixth deadly sin is gluttony.  More is never better when it comes to slides.  Garr Reynolds teaches us with his Presentation Zen philosophy that simplicity in design is essential.  Avoiding slide gluttony is important, so click here to learn more.

The seventh deadly sin is greed.  If you use images without properly citing the image’s owner, you are being a greedy thief because you are stealing those images.  Click here to learn how to properly show attribution.