Design Tips for the Classroom

We’ve all been there. The meeting with he dreaded “death by PowerPoint” presentation. The monotonous slide by slide scrolling that has you looking outside for escape. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By using some simple yet effective design principles, you can avoid falling culprit to the aforementioned demonstration. Here’s a humorous interpretation of Death by PowerPoint or any presentation.


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So, as soon as you read the title, did you think of the famous rock group or Gene Simmons’ tongue? Did you conjure up images of those delicious chocolate treats? Well, that’s not what this is about. KISS, an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid. A term coined by the US Navy in 1961 to reverse the trend of complex equipment. Let’s apply that philosophy to presentations.

What follows are some thoughts and tips of mine in regards to the development of presentations for meetings, lessons, and other settings. Hopefully these will help keep your audience intrigued and interested in the content.

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One of the first things I’d like to share is the idea of Cognitive Load Theory. Educational psychologist, John Sweller, postulated that overloading the learners working memory with information may actually hinder their learning. Basically, information presented to the brain must be at a minimum during the learning process. Recall the video above.

Looking back at the years when I taught, I had the benefit of building upon previous schema and background knowledge because I was the teacher. Now that I train adults, I cannot assume that each one comes with a specific set of skills. When introducing new concepts, it’s imperative to make a conscious effort to not bombard them with information. People simply can’t read and listen at the same time, thus making it useless to offer your information as full sentences (bullet points) on the screen if you are going to repeat those sentences. It is not only uninteresting but also nearly impossible to remember.

This is the first of a four part blog series on design tips for presentations; layout, images, colors, and fonts.  The aim of this series is to help improve presentations for both the presenter and the audience. Today we will be discussing layout.

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One of the simplest yet misunderstood parts of slide or page design is layout. No worries though, you do not have to be a graphic designer to get this part. With some basic understanding of layout principals you will be off on your way designing effective presentations, slides, etc.

There are three commonly used design layouts, the Gutenberg diagram, the z-pattern layout, and the f-pattern layout. These design layouts take advantage of how people read or scan through a designs (webpages, magazines, presentations).

The Gutenberg Diagram

The Gutenberg Diagram describes how the eye tracts in the diagonal direction from upper left to lower right. Both fallow areas (week, strong) basically get bypassed, getting little attention. This pattern suggests any important elements be placed in the path of the reading gravity. So if you are designing an interactive lesson or self-directed websites, try to place vital information as this pattern recommends.


The Z-Pattern

As you would guess, the Z-pattern follows the path of the letter Z. Think Zorro! The basic difference between the Gutenberg diagram and the z-pattern is the viewers will pass through the fallow areas. Readers start and end in the same places and still pass through the middle. So as the designer, you want to place important elements along the z path.


The F-Pattern

You would guess that the f-pattern layout follows the pattern of the letter f and you would be correct! As we’ve seen with the other layouts, all start on upper left area. But difference is the as it moves horizontally to the right, the eye moves back to the left edge and again moves horizontally to the right, and returns to the left edge. But each successive movement to the right does not extend as far as the previous sweep.



So what do all these pattern do?  If you want your audience, in many cases students, to grasp the content, make it more manageable for their brains.  Take advantage of eye movement.  Place content judiciously and strategically.  Ask yourself when you create a presentation, will the placement of content detract or enhance learning?  Will I overload their cognition?

Stay tuned for Design Tips for Presentations Part 2: Images!


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Presentation-Tips-PA.pdf.&#8221; (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 8 June 2014.

Sweller, J., Instructional Design in Technical Areas, (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research (1999).

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“Typotheque: The Science of Typography by Ellen Lupton.” Typotheque: The Science of Typography by Ellen Lupton. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2014. <;.

Sweller, J., Van Merriënboer, J., & Paas, F. (1998). “Cognitive architecture and instructional design”. Educational Psychology Review 10 (3): 251–296.

Cooper, Graham. “Cognitive Load Theory & Instructional Design at UNSW.” Cognitive Load Theory & Instructional Design at UNSW. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 June 2014. <;.

“3M Meeting Network – Polishing Your Presentation.” 3M Meeting Network – Polishing Your Presentation. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2016.

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Osha. (1996). Retrieved from


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