In this week’s DigiKnow blog, we cover design and best practice in MS PowerPoint. Many of the things regards accessibility were previously covered and do apply here. Instead of re-writing it, here’s a list of links to the previous blogs:

So how does PowerPoint differ from Word?

MS Word creates documents, letters, assignments, etc.  PowerPoint can be considered a set of slides or slide deck for presenting information to audiences, either face-to-face or digitally.

Who uses slides?

Many people use slides to give presentations:

  • The most common use of slides is for teaching students or presenting research and/or results to different stakeholders
  • Students use slides to present work for assessment
  • Manager use slides to present figures
  • Start-up businesses use slides to communicate their ideas and business plans to the relevant audiences
How do I get started using slides?

If you are creating slides as part of an organisation, remember to follow in-house brand guidelines.

PowerPoint comes with a number of template formats and colour designs. It’s a matter of choosing one to suit your purpose.

MS PowerPoint - examples of slide templates
MS PowerPoint – examples of slide templates

When a template is chosen, note the different layouts of slides available for titles, content, two box content, etc., and the number of holders/boxes within those slides.

MS PowerPoint - examples of slide layout
MS PowerPoint – examples of slide layout

Please use these boxes to type in to and to insert/hold content such as tables, smart art, images and video. Whatever your presentation needs to contain.

It is tempting but don’t go off template. Don’t! Adding your own text boxes, floating objects are being created which excludes users of assistive technologies.

What are the common design errors using PowerPoint?

There are a number of design errors:

  • Too many slides – studies show that 1 to 2 slides per minute is sufficient (unless using the Pecha Kucha presentation method)
  • Poor choice of fonts/sizes/colour and unrelated design themes
  • Overloading information on to the slide
  • Inconsistent layout, formatting and image sizes
  • Poor use of images and poor quality content
  • Too few/many images/media which are decorative or irrelevant

Our advice: Keep is simple. Be consistent in terms of layout, fonts/colours used, logo/image placement and use the 5/5/5 rule (explained below).


Previously, we mentioned good fonts (sans-serif) that help reading ability, i.e., helvectica, courier and verdana. It was suggested Arial be avoided as it reduces the reading ability for those living with dyslexia.

Not only does font make an impact. So does its size and colour and how well it contrasts with the background. As mentioned in previous blogs, white as a background can be very bright and glaringtry off-white or pastel colours to reduce this.

The size of text in MS PowerPoint should be larger. In MS Word, the minimum font size to be used was 12. In PowerPoint, a good rule of thumb for text on slides is size 28 for the first level of text and size 44 for titles (i.e., the PowerPoint standard).

If you typically overload information on the slide, try using the 5/5/5 rule.

This is maximum of 5 bullet points per slide. Each bullet point has a maximum of 5 words. There should be no more than 5 slides (in a row) of bulleted points. The 5/5/5 rule is good practice and as a presenter, you should talk around the bullet points, not read text straight from the slide.

If the 5/5/5 rule is followed, there is plenty of space for text on the slide without it becoming cluttered. It’s still good practice to apply 1.5 line spacing.

Slide aspect ratio

Previously in PowerPoint, the standard slide was 4:3 in aspect ratio but this has fallen out of vogue. It’s heading toward a square format, similar to the analogue televisions. New digital televisions are wide screen (16:9) and this is the new size of slide that should be used in PowerPoint. Why?

As technology as has moved along, new standards have come to the fore. Nowadays, television and computer screens are typically wide screen (16:9), as are mobile phones. Evidently, 16:9 sized PowerPoint slides provides more space to place content and makes use of the whole screen display, not just part of it.

Colour, contrast and design

Colour is a powerful tool in design. Many of us are not designers and use many colours. Let’s look at a few examples.

In the example below, the coloured slide on the left has contrast issues between background and foreground colours (when compared to the right). This could be avoided by using brighter coloured text, thus increasing contrast.

Example of low contrasted colour
Example of low contrasted colour

Who does this impact? People living with visual impairments such as achromatopsia (total colour blindness) and dyslexia. People with lower vision need higher contrast to make objects/text more visible.

In the following example below, the colours used are plentiful and very vibrant. All the colours shout for attention. Not only is this distracting.

Colours affect us, our senses, mind, bodily function and emotions. We make associations with colour. Try looking at your university surroundings, you might notice colours are muted in lecture theatres to help promote learning.

Example of inaccessible colour
Example of inaccessible colour

This example impacts people living with tritanopia (blue/yellow colour deficiency). A more accurate description of tritanopia is: blue is confused with green and yellow is confused with violet. The example below is closer to what people living with tritanopia would see. Again, contrast is not the best, this also affects the previously mentioned groups: achromatopsia and dyslexia.

Example of inaccessible colour
Example of inaccessible colour
What helps with design?

Use the 3/3/3 rule to decide on fonts, colour and layout. That’s no more than three colours, three fonts or three layouts per presentation.

Then apply the 60, 30, 10 rule.

Primary colourc should occupy 60% of the presentation, followed by 30% secondary colour and 10% accents. Also consider colour combinations that work in design.

This involves the colour wheel. We refer to it here for the creation of digital content but it equally apples to anything being designed: fashion, cars, buildings, interior design, etc. Application of colour theory and the colour wheel is limitless.

Now when you create a PowerPoint, consider the slide design alongside colour. In PowerPoint and under the Design Tab, you can access the custom colours.

MS PowerPoint - Custom Colours
MS PowerPoint – Custom Colours

When you decide on a slide design, the fonts are pre-chosen. Typically there is a different font and size for the title than for main slide content. When adding fonts, you can use a maximum of three but two is OK.

Regarding slide layout, the most commonly used layouts are Title slide, Title and Content and Two Content slides (for text and imagery).

 MS PowerPoint - examples of slide layout
MS PowerPoint – examples of slide layout

Sticking to fewer layouts increases the consistency of layout. Other things that should be consistent include image placement and size. If you place images on the right hand side, always place them there and ensure they’re around the same size. As humans, we like consistency.

With regards to permissions for using images and where they are sourced from, you can read previous blog posts on Copyright, Copyright in Education, Creative Commons and Wikipedia.

There is an accessibility checker within PowerPoint. You can add this as per the MS Word Accessibility Checker blog post.

In this post, we didn’t mention how to insert tables, images, videos and other media. This will be covered in next weeks blog post and we’ll show you the Accessibility Checker for MS PowerPoint too.


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