Over the last number of weeks, DigiKnow has covered accessibility of various elements which you will use in digital content creation. This includes:

Now we turn our attention to how we bring it all together when we design something for our audiences. Design and output will cover MS PowerPoint and MS Word. This will be over a number of weeks, starting with PowerPoint.

The plan is to look at best practices in design from an MS PowerPoint viewpoint and explain the reasons behind each design decision with design and accessibility in mind.

Starting off gently this week we look at:

  • text
  • font type
  • text space and text amount
  • alignment
  • 5/5/5 rule
  • colour and contrast
  • layout and consistency
  • visual content
  • design for output

Let’s have a look at each of these areas.


Further to our post in January about Accessibility & Text for PowerPoint slides, it is good practice to use size 36 to 44 for slide titles and 24 to 28 for body text.

The overall talk title (slide 1) can use a size of 50 to 60 points. Longer titles use smaller font sizes to fit the title in. The speakers name should also appear on the title slide and this can be size 20-30.

Slide title text should convey the topic or idea per slide. Body text needs to be large enough for all audience members to see and consistency is nice. Audiences build familiarity of what to expect with design.

Font type

Decide upon and use two or three easy to read font types. Anything from the Sans-Serif font (modern and foot free) category are good.

Serif vs Sans-serif example
Serif vs Sans-serif example

Bad practice:

  • using lots of different font types
  • many different sizes and colours
  • using colour to highlight key information

Good practice:

  • making font types, sizes and colour consistent
  • use a few fonts well and build up a brand
  • easy-to-read fonts help reading and understanding
  • use formatting to highlight key information
TitlesBody TextFootnotes
Arial Rounded MTArialArial
Century GothicArticulateArticulate Light
Open Sans SemiboldOpen SansOpen Sans Light
Font combo suggestions for slides

The table above are suggestions of font name suggestions which work well together. They are simple, clean and easy to read. When it comes to checking these out, please download the Word document to see font examples. Three is the magic number, i.e., maximum three font families. These can be formatted to show key information, i.e., bold or italics.

Text space and text amount

One of the biggest errors when creating slides is too much text squeezed on to ONE slide. Break it up!

Would you read a block of solid text? We’re sure it could give you bother. It’s not very readable. You could lose your place very easily and ususally more text also means a smaller font size.

Paragraphs help break up blocks of text and help with reading the content.

Don’t compromise.

Bad practice:

  • lots of text on-screen which makes the text size smaller and harder to read
  • this also encourages presenters to read the text verbatim and dulls the talk
Example of bad practice with too much text on slide

This slide reads:
Title: Text Space
Body: The use of text within a slide should be kept light. The bulleted points are your cues to the content and you should verbally embellish upon them. Don’t have all the text on screen to read verbatim. This is a presenters crutch and your personality and energy won’t shine through. Moreover,  you’ll lose your audience. They can read the text themselves and as a multimedia principle of learning, it’s not good practice. Then there’s the slide space versus text consideration. If you load the slide up with text, it may overwhelm your audience. It really is best to keep the slides decluttered and use relevant text and imagery to keep your audience engaged. The more text you have on screen, the smaller the text gets on the slide. This is by no means ideal. Design for output. What if your audience were reading this on the mobile phones? Can they? The proper spacing that should be used is 1.5 line spacing. This helps with the readability of the text. Bullets help break up subjects and ideas and there should be one main idea per slide.
Example of bad practice with too much text on slide

Studies show where text is on-screen and when read verbatim, you lose audiences attention. Keep the text light and hook your audience with the detail you want to convey verbally!

Good practice:

  • use less text
  • follow the 5/5/5 rule (this is further down the article)
  • 1 1/2 line spacing
  • left align text
  • min font size 24 for body text
  • if the text is important or part of a script, it’s better placed in the notes section
Good example of text and layout
Good example of text and layout

Keep text left aligned. The jaggy right edge helps when reading the content and scanning text. Audience members use the right jaggy edge to keep their place whilst reading.

Justified block text is very hard to read and follow. Consider all those times you read articles and/or journals with block text, was it hard on your eyes? Did it affect your concentration? Do you find left aligned text easier to read and follow?

With PowerPoint slides, there’s a 5/5/5 rule for text. What’s that (we hear you say)?

5/5/5 rule

The intention of the 5/5/5 rule is to use no more than:

  • 5 bullets per slides
  • 5 words per bullet
  • 5 consecutive slides of bulleted slides

Consistency is good but too much consistency can send your audience members nodding off. Spice it up a little! Less text, more talk!

Example of 5/5/5 rule in PowerPoint
Example of 5/5/5 rule in PowerPoint

Embellish those bullet points with the power and intonation of your own voice. Engage your audience verbally. Text can be a distraction. By removing distractions, audience members can focus on content. An alternative is to use relevant images over on-screen text to enliven a talk!

Colour and contrast

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Level AAA standard requires a contrast ratio of at least 7:1 for normal text, i.e., size 12.

This ratio changes to 4.5:1 for large text with large text defined as size 14 and bold or bigger (i.e., size 18).

The contrast ratio can be defined as the measure of difference in perceived luminance (or brightness) between two colors or tones. This difference in brightness is expressed as a ratio. White text on a white background would be a 1:1 ratio (not viewable with no contrast between the elements) compared to black text on a white background as a 21:1 ratio. 

You may feel the WCAG guidelines don’t apply to PowerPoint. Realistically, anything your create digitally is distributed (to staff / students or different audiences). The WCAG guidelines are a good standard to apply for anything digital, no matter where the content is used.

The WCAG guidelines help promote best practices in all things digital!

Layout and consistency

When it comes to using the PowerPoint slides, there are slide templates built in to the application. It’s VERY IMPORTANT you use these. Why? These templates are maximised for screen readers.

Those content holders can be picked up by assistive technology and as long as ALT Text and other details are available, MORE audience members with disabilities can use and engage with your content.

Similar to fonts, keep layout consistent.

Bad practice:

  • using every layout available. It’s disorientating. Titles and text should appear in the same location per slide
  • text appearing in different locations per slide (with no consistency), is disorientating

Good practice:

  • use Title/End slides as standard and a max of three other layouts. For example: Title/Content, Title /2 content and Title only
  • for screen reader purposes, it’s important all slides have titles and all visual content have ALT text completed
PowerPoint Slide Layouts
PowerPoint Slide Layouts

The Title/Content slides can be a title and text or a title and visual content. If you need text and visual content on the same slide, use a Title/2 content slide and keep the text and visual content consistently placed, i.e., text in the left content holder and visual content in the right.

Don’t build your own layouts

The saying “Built it and they will come” doesn’t work here. The content holders of self-built slides are NOT accessible. Those items won’t be picked up by assistive technology. Essentially, you’re blindfolding your audience. Don’t do it!

Use the slide templates provided by MS PowerPoint.

Visual content

Think about copyright. Can you use it? Should you use it? Is it relevant?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, it might be you don’t have permission to use the image OR the image is irrelevant to the content and adds no value.

If the answer was yes to these questions, consider whether the visual content is displayed at it’s best.

Bad practice:

  • adding visual content and not completing the ALT text descriptions
  • using irrelevant visual content which add no value
  • using visual content with poor or no colour contrast
  • not displaying information using alternatives to colour

Good practice:

  • providing ALT Text descriptions for visual content
  • ensuring images are relevant to the subject
  • using alternatives to colour to highlight key information

All visual content needs ALT Text (alternative text) with a one or two line description to detail the content. The description needs to be long enough and relevant to convey the image meaning to include audience members with visual impairment.

If ALT Text is not applied, you leave gaps in a persons learning. You blindfold them. This can impact their learning experience, their grades and future opportunities.

To apply ALT Text to visual content in MS PowerPoint, simply right-click the visual you have inserted and choose Format Picture (1). Go to the Layout and Properties (2) option in the panel that appears on the right hand side, then enter the ALT Text (3).

PowerPoint 2016 has Title and Description, updated versions of PowerPoint only have the Description box. Fill in Description.

Applying ALT Text to visual content
Applying ALT Text to visual content
Design for output

Think about where your slides could end up. Will it be in a conference hall? Could it be on a computer screen and what size? Are your slides likely to be displayed on a mobile phone?

Credit: Balazs Ketyi
Credit: Balazs Ketyi

Why is this important? It affects the amount of text per slide and the size of images that could or should be used. Designers should not assume audiences will be using larger screened devices.

Do you know what device(s) your audiences are using to access your talks? It might be time to do a tech survey to find out.

Bad practice:

  • cramming slides with too much text. Whilst more readable in conference scenarios, it’s not suitable for display on mobile phones.

Good practice:

  • design for the output
  • less is more (text)

This weeks post shows how to improve best practices and assists with accessibility with the audience in mind. By providing less text, spacing it well and using easy-to-read fonts, this helps people living with dyslexia, cognitive and autism. Having less on screen reduces distraction and stress for these audience members.

The colour and contrast of the text against the background helps people with contrast and visual issues. This includes audience members living with dyslexia and visual impairment.

Also, the slides have been designed and consideration given to assistive technology by using built-in slide templates. People with visual impairment can have the text on screen read to them using text to speech technology.

Finally, the slides you design will look more professional and everyone using them benefits. Applying these best practices will help widen your audience reach and improve user experience.

Next week

Our blog post next Monday will look at the second week of designing digital content using MS PowerPoint. This will include improving practices regards tables, video and audio.

Remember, the DigiKnow blog posts are now released at noon on a Monday.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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