Saturday, July 21, 2012

How to make better LaTeX/Beamer slides. Part 1.

I still hate Beamer. But that won't stop people from using it to give the worse-than-powerpoint scientific talks. Instead, I give a concrete example on how to improve an existing stack.
Two weeks ago a good friend gave a presentation on the status of this research in applied math, and obviously he used LaTeX's s Beamer package. His use of Beamer is rather decent but I think it can be pushed  a nudge further. Here is how.

The fundamental problem of Beamer is that it forces the user to use templates.

The problem with most Beamer templates is that their have so much noise, that the message is generally lost in the midst of that noise. Here is the list of irrelevant things  in this slide:
  • A "progress bar" on the top right. 
  • The affiliation's logo on the bottom left.
  • A date, the name of of speaker, the name of the presentation and the slide name on the bottom.
Neither does your audience need that nor does it care about it! So get rid of it.

The message of this slide is clear. This is my favorite slide. My friend says I'm a minimalist, but in fact it  I'm not. I like atomic slides: One slide, one idea. This slide is an example of an atomic slide.  If you take all that slide-junk away, you are left with this.

As much as I think Beamer is a really bad tool, I understand that people use it to display their math in a high quality way. The problem is the way people use it. And one of those problems is that poeple create none atom slides. Here is what I mean.

This slide shows research results, but what is the most relevant one? Where should the audience focus? There are a lot of things happening here, 3 to be exact.  No atom slide, sniff.

The first one is the experiment's parameters, which comes on the top because logically, because without naming the parameters the results make no sense. However the top is strongest part of the page. Parameters are important, but not the focus, some they can (and should ) be put on the bottom. However this doesn't make the slide atomic. I would do it like this.

Why black? Because I want the audience's attention, and by dramatic contrast I get it.

The second and third are the results. Judging for the placement of the table and the graph, they seem to be the focus. Only this part has a lot of noise. First, all the graph needs is an axis, not a box. This is chat-junk. Second, the text on the chat isn't readable for the audience. Make it readable, otherwise drop them.

I praise the author for the slick table. That's minimalism! There is however one thing that can be improve. Your audience doesn't need all of those significant digit. In this case, one will do it. My version. I removed all but one additional line in the chat. This serves as a reference point of the residuum.

You know what's coming.

Beautiful. Quiet. I love the fact that just by removing the unwanted and breaking slides to the atomic level, the message becomes clearer. All of this using Beamer…

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