A recent episode of 99% Invisible mentioned that basketball existed for 10 years before someone decided to cut the bottom out of the net so the game didn’t have to stop every time a basket was scored.
In a blog post this past week, Jon Acuff shared that even though dipping sauce containers have been around since the early 1980s it wasn’t until a year or so ago that they did the same for ketchup.
And right now KFC is advertising boneless original recipe chicken. Colonel Sanders opened his first restaurant in 1952. Did no one think of this until now?
All those ideas seem so obvious. Of course they have that. Why wouldn’t they have that.
Great design feels like that. Like it was inevitable.
And yet, as examples like these illustrate, great design — great, innovative ideas of any kind really — are elusive. It’s really, really hard to step back from what we already know to come up with ideas that are truly revolutionary.
In her book “Practical Charting Techniques,” Mary Eleanor Spear wrote in 1969 that creating excellent presentation visuals required three highly-skilled professionals: the Communicator, the Graphic Analyst, and the Draftsman.
Microsoft changed all that in 1990 by releasing PowerPoint. The implication was that now the average business-person could do what it once took three highly-trained people to do.
Unfortunately, even though business people now had the tools to create incredible visuals, they lacked the training and experience of professional graphics analysts and draftsmen. Which brings us to the current state of presentation visuals, which are really more like projected Word documents and speech outlines.
So, should we retreat to the old ways of having teams of highly trained people build slides for us? I think for some this is a good answer, but this can be expensive.
Should we instead help business people learn some of the basic design skills they lack? Should we teach design to new business students? This is certainly a less expensive route, but many business people may simply lack the desire to learn these skills.
I wonder if there’s maybe a third option. One that relies neither on completely outsourcing your slide building, nor relying completely on non-designers to do the work.
And so I sit here thinking about what that new role is. It’s a search for the next presentation design revolution. Like the basketball net, ketchup packet, or boneless original recipe, the answer’s probably so obvious it’s embarassing.
What do you think? Any slide designers out there found a niche in some third kind of arrangement? Or how about business people. Do you have an idea of how you wish things worked but no one offers it? If so, leave a comment. I’m all ears.