How to design slides with visuals that sing: Haiku Deck’s Chief Inspiration Officer shares secrets
One of the best parts of my job is reviewing the amazing slides and decks produced by our creative community and being inspired by new ways to communicate meaning and tell stories. When a perfectly chosen phrase aligns with an evocative image, the results can be magical.
I have to be honest, however. When you view a lot of presentations with images, there are certain concepts that appear over and over again, and that tend to be illustrated in very similar ways. Things can feel a bit tired, instead of inspired — and I’ll be the first to admit that I have been guilty of this myself! (That picture of happy people jumping off a sand dune seemed very “fun” when I first used it, but after seeing it in probably hundreds of decks since then, less so.)
1. What says fun to me? This delighted toddler in a swing. It reminds me of the look on my daughter’s face when I used to push her at the playground — and the sensation of swinging, just for the thrill of it. I still think that is pure fun.
2. When I’m choosing images, I like to leave myself time to explore some metaphorical thinking, and I often find that the image search process can actually help my idea take shape. For example, I wanted to illustrate the best practice of limiting text on a slide to about a half-dozen words. The number six? Too literal. Eggs? Too unimaginative. But when I came upon oysters, it just clicked — I think of words on a slide like oysters. About a half dozen? Perfection. Too many more than that? You’re probably overdoing it.
Old meets new
3. I often try to select images that illustrate my point but that also have personal significance to me. If I’m giving a talk, this allows me to share a personal story and (ultimately) help me build a more authentic connection with my audience. If I were going to talk about the collision between old and new, this street scene from Bogota tells that story visually, but it has special meaning to me because I lived there for a while, and I can describe first-hand how very real a scene like this is.
4. You’ll have to take my word for it, but lots and lots and lots of decks talk about teams and teamwork, and many of the images feature hands high-fiving or stacked on top of each other in a sports-type huddle. What takes teamwork? Riding a tandem bicycle! (This also happens to remind me of my very unique honeymoon, but that’s a different story altogether). My search for “tandem” revealed this vintage gem, something I had no idea existed (but that I won’t soon forget): a tandem for 20!
5. Another frequently illustrated concept is the path — if you’re outlining your goals or your vision, this is a natural place to go, but many “path” images aren’t particularly inspiring. Although I’ve never visited Japan, when I discovered this arresting image of a bamboo-lined path in Kyoto, it really spoke to me. It looks so magical and mysterious and inviting, and it’s also very deliberately designed. That’s a path I want to go down!
6. The idea of commitment, of taking the plunge, also pops up often. I’ve seen this idea illustrated in some interesting ways, from weddings to tattoos to big rocks. But nothing says “I’m all in” to me like this joyful photo of a kid mid-jump. It’s so un-posed, and it just captures the feeling of going for it. I really love it.
7. Along the same lines, the topic of passion appears with regularity, often illustrated by an embracing couple. But taking that thematic direction always feels a little odd to me, since that’s not exactly the kind of passion most brands and companies are hoping to inspire. (I did say most.) I try to broaden my thinking to things people do get really passionate about, and this image of hard-core soccer fans captures that feeling of total identification, immersion and excitement. I can hear the crowd roaring.
Network, interconnectedness, intelligence
8. One image I see a little too frequently is this kind of swirling white tunnel adorned with the logos of web properties to represent the internet. Here, I find inspiration by going micro — I find images of computer chips and circuit boards incredibly beautiful and evocative, for example, and this semi-abstract (but real) electron microscope photograph of neurons firing totally captures the idea of network, interconnectedness and intelligence.
9. It’s tough to illustrate abstract concepts like inspiration, but even more challenging to get excited about yet another image of a light bulb to convey the point (and yes, I do still use the light bulb from time to time, but I try to make it a really good light bulb). When I’m working with this topic, I often find myself drawn to images of rainy windows, and this exercise forced me to explore why. I like to find inspiration in the everyday, to find beauty in the ordinary, and there’s something about seeing light and color through a rainy window, a fresh perspective on ordinary things, that captures “inspiration” for me. (It could also be that I’ve lived too long in Seattle.)
10. I’ve created a lot of presentations about Haiku Deck, and our philosophy of simple, beautiful, fun. What image expresses all of those qualities for me? This one!
Top 3 tips to uncover the best images
To sum it up? Here are my top three tips to find pictures that tell a story:
1. Give yourself time to explore — there’s no need to limit yourself to the first screen of search results.
2. Make an effort to find images that feel authentic and thought-provoking, not posed or cliché. This might mean expanding your thinking a bit and going beyond literal ways to illustrate your ideas.
3. Select images that have personal significance for you, so you can add your own a story to them.
What are your tips for finding amazing images? I’d to love to hear what works for you in the comments.
Editor’s note: Catherine Carr is the VP, Marketing and Chief Inspiration Officer for Haiku Deck, a free iPad app which recently partnered with Getty Images to give its users easy, legal access to stunning imagery for their presentations. See below for a Haiku Deck take on Catherine’s bio. (Delaware is one of our favorite places, too!)