Workshop: Make Visually Stunning PowerPoints

I’ve been using PowerPoint since I was in middle school; I was kind of a weird kid and thought it was fun to make presentations. After so many years of using PowerPoint, I’ve learned a few tricks. My current company is pretty big on internal training so I developed this course to teach my colleagues how to use PowerPoint as an expert. I start with some examples to get them excited about the possibilities and then I take them through step-by-step demos with the slide master, text, autoshapes, images, animations, and action buttons. After each topic I gave attendees time to play around with the feature and ask questions. I’ve taught the workshop 4 times, and my colleagues all had super positive feedback about the experience. The course had a 3.7 out of 4 rating.

I’ve uploaded all of the materials to

  • Lecture presentation, including demo slides that are distributed to workshop attendees so they can follow along (embedded below)
  • Training companion that summarizes the workshop content (embedded below)
  • PowerPoint cheat sheet, shows the different ribbons in PowerPoint 2010 and highlights different features




Workshop: Image Editing for Beginners

My current company is pretty big on internal training. I developed this course on Gimp to teach my colleagues about the differences in file formats, and basic image editing. It also includes a teaser for Inkscape and vector graphics. I’ve taught the course 4 times with attendees from all different roles, from software developer to chef. I received rave reviews for my teaching style and the course content, with an average rating for 3.8 out of 4.
The workshop is about 2 hours long. I start with a lecture on image file types, including color, transparency, and image quality due to compression method. Then I lead step-by-step demos using Gimp and provide time for attendees to practice the techniques on their own images. I wrap it up by discussing resolution as it related to images viewed on screen and images that will be printed.

I’ve uploaded all the class materials on

Mock-up tools for user interface design

We’re celebrating World Usability Day (IEEE – November 8th) all this week at work, so I’ve got usability on my mind. It got me thinking about how I go about generating mock-ups for websites and user interfaces. Here are a few options and my opinions of them.


Mockups is an excellent tool for designing user interfaces. It’s fast and easy to use. However, if it’s not something you do all the time you might have trouble justifying the $79 price tag for a single user license. (That’s a seriously reasonable price by-the-way, but as someone who does design mostly as a hobby I still don’t want to pay for something specialized when I can get by with other tools.) If I got a job in design and was working on interfaces on a daily basis I would definitely purchase the desktop version of Balsalmiq Mockups. If you’re interested in trying it out their web version has a free trial; you can use most of the features, but you get a pop-up every five minutes reminding you that it’s a trial.


You didn’t think about using PowerPoint to make mock-ups did you? It’s been a go-to standard for many designers over the years. It’s not as specialized as a tool like Balsalmiq, but you can use action buttons and multiple slides to build in some minimal interactivity. If you use macros you can make it even fancier. If you’re going to do a lot of mock-ups you should build a “library” of components; just save a few slides with some of the basic shapes and buttons that you can edit for your needs. The main reason I like PowerPoint is that I already have it and know how to use it. I don’t have to learn a new piece of software to do mockups a couple times a year.


Depending on your comfort level with Inkscape, it would be a great tool for mock-ups. You could create a pattern library with the basic components that you use most often to make your work easier. (Maybe? I’ve never done this, it just seems like a good idea.) Inkscape may not be the best for interface design, but the nice thing about using it for web design is you can export pieces of the design for use in the final product. So half of your final work is done already.

Paper and Pen

Hopefully this is the most obvious answer, it’s also the one I do first before any of the options listed above. Doodling a quick sketch is the best way to get your ideas down and see if they make sense. You can talk them over with coworkers before investing hours making a better looking mock-up with one of the above tools.

Those are my suggestions. Which tools do you use most for mock-ups?

Stop waiting for that mandate from heaven

Project Management

Project Management (Photo credit: Cappellmeister)

I tend to get myself involved in a lot of projects at work, most of them done by a small group or committee. One thing that drives me bonkers is when people spend more time talking about their plan for the project than implementing it. Don’t misunderstand me, I think planning is a critical part of the success of a project and design should always be considered up front. (Most people relegate design to an afterthought, but that’s a different rant for a different day.) I’m talking about those projects that you hear announced over and over again but they never seem to result in anything. After pondering it I decided this situation must arise from three possible causes:

  1. The planners are so enamored with their ideas that they continuously announce them in hopes that someone will pat them on the back and inform them of just how brilliant they are.
  2. The planners are unsure whether their ideas are the best approach to the project and are looking for someone to give them a nod of approval (that mandate from heaven) to go forward and pursue their plan.
  3. The planners think their idea is crap and instead of admitting it, they slyly ask for feedback (repeatedly) in the hopes that enough negative feedback will give them permission to can the project or take it in a new direction.

I admit that over various projects I’ve landed in each of these buckets, at least momentarily. However, I’m of the opinion that it’s better to actually implement your idea (even a rough version of it) and get feedback on that than to continuously ask for feedback on the plan itself. After all, at the planning stage it’s difficult for people to envision it’s actual implementation.

How many of you have worked on projects where too much time was spent talking and not enough doing?

Open Clip Art Library (OCAL)


buildings at night by tmjbearyI mentioned in an earlier post that OCAL is a great place to find vectors in the public domain. If you don’t know how to work with vector images, you can also download the image as a .png with any size you specify. I frequently use clip art from the site, and now I’m trying to do my part by contributing some of my work. Granted, I’m still a beginner with Inkscape, so my graphics aren’t incredible. Still, I hope that someone might find them useful and that the quality will improve over time. My latest upload is shown at right. Check out my tmjbeary OCAL profile to see all my uploads and the clipart I have collected from other users.

Most of what I have is science-related from posters I made in grad school (I haven’t uploaded all of that work yet). I’m not sure how relevant that work is since it’s very specialized to the research I was doing. Any other suggestions for drawings I could attempt to make?


An idealistic view of presentations


Audience (Photo credit: thinkmedialabs)

I’ve always had a romantic view of education. Not the force-you-to-sit-down-and-follow-the-rules formal education system, but the idea of education at all levels of society. The informal education that happens through a conversation with a friend or coworker, or the knowledge gained from a presentation at a conference or meeting. That’s why I take presentations very seriously, whether it’s at a conference to hundreds of attendees, an internal company class with 15 coworkers, or an email response to someone curious about my work.

Presentations are a chance to educate and inspire your audience, and it’s worth it to invest your time into making a quality experience. Continue reading

Image websites

When  you need images for a design project where do you look? The easiest thing to do is search Google Images and take whatever you find; but what about copyright and the original artist? As an aspiring designer I want to make sure I give credit where credit is due so hopefully others will give me the same respect. So here are the sites I like best for free images:

Open Clip Art Library

All images uploaded to the Open Clip Art Library are released to the public domain, so they are free for personal or commercial use. All images can be downloaded in .png or .svg format, so they are easily scalable to any size you might need. The quality is somewhat variable since it’s all volunteer contributions, but a lot of the images are incredible.

Free source of volunteer-contributed photography, released to the public domain so you can use it for any of your projects. You can’t redistribute the images, but they are free for use.

Flickr: Creative Commons

Flickr provides a way to easily browse images based on the Creative Commons license they were released under. They explain what the different licenses mean, so you can find attribution only images for all your projects, or some of the more restrictive licenses, like attribution, no derivatives, non-commercial. There are millions of images available, although the quality does vary somewhat since they are user-contributed. If you have some patience for browsing and trying a variety of keywords, you can typically find images that will work for your needs.

Icon Archive

I absolutely love icons and iconography. I think there’s genius in taking a complex idea and distilling it down to the simplest representation. I use icons any time I’m trying to convey a complex or abstract idea, but I’ll probably devote a whole post (or several) to this subject. Icon Archive has some wonderful, high quality icon sets, typically available in .png format. You should look closely at the icon set for the licensing though, as it varies depending on what the artist has specified. All images are free to download, but you should still check the licensing to make sure you’re respecting the rights of the creator.

I admit I’m not totally versed in intellectual copyright law, do any of you know some good resources to learn more? What are your favorite sites for images? I highlighted free sites here since I’m mostly a hobbyist, if you frequently use commercial stock images, what are the best sites for that?