Design on the Grid

Good photos and good slides have a lot in common. I’ve thrown together a simple slide theme that I will explore in several ways below to show various approaches to what can be included and how.

Think In Thirds

As you create a visual, mentally draw four lines on your slide, dividing it into thirds both horizontally and vertically. For an image to be especially satisfying, make sure that key elements are aligned on the intersections of the grid. It actually looks better to have the focus of the photo be framed well to the side, rather than front and center, or taking up most of the image.

Use Negative Space

The image here of the bee works well for slide creation because the bee is already nicely positioned so that there is plenty of additional room in the slide for another element. More on that below.

Contrasting Examples

I’m going to share several possible versions of a common slide to show why some things work better than others.

This is not what I consider the greatest all-time example, but rather something I could put together quickly, typical of the normal grind of preparing for a Sunday.

Above is a bad example. The problems are numerous.

  • The colors don’t contrast enough, making the font hard to read
  • The colors have nothing to do with the image
  • There isn’t any attempt to align things on a grid of thirds
  • The text is unimaginative
  • The photo has no breathing room

This one is better than the one above, though still not as good as it could be. Some differences:

  • There is at least an arrangement involving the grid
  • The colors of the font and background contrast more sharply so as to be legible
  • The background color at least feels thematically relevant since yellow is a bee-associated color

This one is better than the first two.

  • Notice that I utilize a line in the arrangement of the font and image. When possible, use elements to create a sense of flow or direction, especially if it points to something key. The lengths of the lines of text sort of point toward the bee.
  • All is set on the grid.
  • I utilized a different photo. This one was of a bee on a white background. When there are strongly contrasting images on solid backgrounds, you can use the instant alpha feature in Keynote to remove the background. So now the bee looks as if it is standing on the slide itself.
  • The fonts are a bit more varied and fun. Never use more than three fonts on a single slide. But to use a couple that compliment each other can be nice.

I would not say the rest of the images are necessarily “better” than the previous one. I just want to demonstrate there are multiple ways to approach the same idea.

Here, rather than using the slide for negative space, I am using a higher quality image with good space built in.

Likewise, I am using a color matching tool. When you are setting the color in Keynote for text, element, or for a background of a text box, there is a little dropper icon that you can click. It brings up a magnifying glass tool that lets you match colors to a specific pixel. So the text above draws from the image itself.

The first line is matched to the color of the flower. The bottom lines are matched to the bee’s leg. The background of the text is also matched to a light part of the flower, but I adjusted the opacity of the color. Opacity is whether something is solid or see-through.

By matching the color, then also setting the opacity level to mostly see-through, you can see how it blends in well with the background. It is often necessary to put some sort of color beneath your text if it is over a photo so that it is more legible.

See the opacity setting at 100% here. See also the dropper at the bottom of the color selection tool. Currently, the magnified section would be the pixel to which my color would now match if I selected it.

Here’s a different take on the same theme. This time I found a high quality image of several bees on a honeycomb.

  • The upper text is matched to a bee’s back in color. I also used a spacing technique. Rather than just type your words normally, if you want them to take up more space on the screen, consider adding one space between letters and three spaces between words. L i k e t h i s.
  • The lower text is matched to the white in the honeycomb. The background is matched to a bee.
  • This time, I am using a horizontal line. Lines are key in photography. Rather than have the text in the middle, I put it on the lower third of the grid.
  • If you wanted people to think of many active bees, rather than on the activity of a single bee, this might be a better approach.

A Little Goes A Long Way

As you can see above, there isn’t always a perfect or ideal way to design a slide. But with the thoughtful arrangement of items on a grid, along with a well-matched set of colors for fonts and other elements, it makes a big difference.

For more satisfying slides, design on the grid.

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  1. This was another great post, Mark. I don’t know if you knew this or not but I volunteer at Spohn South and one of the things that I do is prepare a media board for the volunteers with pictures and slides. I began doing this with zero training. Even though I frequently did presentations at work for the engineers when I was working it was basically me standing up there talking and at best I had an overhead projector or something. I will definitely be looking into Keynote. Right now I use a collage maker that’s free online to do most of my slides. Thanks again!

    1. Very cool, Kathi! Glad if you find this helpful. Another tool you can consider utilizing is Canva. It’s a great website with both free and paid versions. You can design absolutely anything there, and they have tons of wonderful templates you can start with. Keynote is the default slide program that comes with Mac computers. It’s way better than Power Point, in my opinion.

      We use Canva to create much of our social media imagery as well as announcement slides. Carolina and I also used it to create cards and things we’ve sent out relative to Xoaquin. They have great tutorials to help you become proficient at Canva on their website:

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