Saturday, February 4, 2012

The use of clipart in presentations

The use of clipart in presentations is usually not advised. However not all clipart is bad. In this post I talk about how Silhouettes and Outlines can be good for slides.

This topic seems to be a complicated one, but it isn't. Presentations Pros are likely to advise us not to use clipart in our slides. I think we are wrong, or at least they haven't told us the whole truth. A better statement is "Bad clipart shouldn't be forbidden from presentations visuals, and good one should be used carefully". Pros use top quality clipart like in Obama's State of the Union address 2011—SOTU 2011— (click here to see it) or in The clock is ticking on Long Island design by Duarte, so saying no to all clipart can't possibly be right. It is not to say that the camera on the left is bad clipart. There are different types of clipart, but not all are appropriate for slides. So what is good and bad presentation clipart?

The camera on the left is not appropriate for scientific presentations, the one on the right might be. These two represent the abstract concept of a photo camera, the one of the left is found in museums where photographing is allowed, the one on the left may be for a children'S book or website. There is also clipart that tries to be more realistic, like this one:
Source: Wiki Commons
This is serious and could be consider aesthetic, but I wouldn't use it in a presentation. if I want to show detail, I would use a real photograph of a camera or an outline of the camera. In fact, outlines and silhouettes are good building blocks for slides, like in Obama's and Duarte's example.  In the latter, the maps are outlines and the houses are silhouettes.  Facebook's default avatars are also a example of good use of silhouettes.
Another further example is this Infinity car.
Observe how there is only one color used, just like the good camera example above,  SOTU 2011, and The clock is ticking on Long Island. Note that it follows the idea of our museum camera, abstraction with more detail.If even more detail is require we can opt for outlines like this one:
Both are cars, but the latter allows to have more detail, while removing the reality of it. Serious silhouettes and outlines of objects are just fine for visuals. They add to the toolbox of visuals.
One good thing about clipart in general is that you can modify somebody's else work (provide the license allows it) if you get access to the vector graphics file, like .ai for Adobe Illustrator or .svg. In the svg case, you can use the free multi-platform software Inkscape.

The website is a good source with bundles of high quality art, and it is free.

    Although there are many tutorials about the pen tool in Inkscape on the internet, the best reference is The Book of Inkscape by Dmitry Kirsanov. Another good source is the free online book Inkscape: Guide to a vector drawing program by Tamvjong Bah.

    Clipart should be used to graciously leverage  the visualization of general and abstract concepts.As a rule of thumb only one color, and its absence, should be used. To avoid the cliché of cheap bad cllpart, the less is more principle should be furthered enforced. This means, among other things, that the use of  cute, silly or childish art is out of order.

    The use of clipart in presentations is closer to the use of diagrams, technical drawing, i.e. blueprints, than of the use of art. Instead of thinking to use clipart think using of an object's outline or silhouette, as well as abstract symbols that represent an idea to the audience.

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