inDesign for presentations

InDesign: It’s For Presentations, Too!

When it comes to creating presentation decks for meetings and pitches, we all know that PowerPoint and Keynote are king. However, most graphic designers live and breathe exclusively in the Adobe realm, where a familiar set of tools allows us complete control over the realization of our vision. The idea of a serious designer laying out a print piece in Microsoft Word is laughable, so why is it so common for designers to suffer through the clunky, limiting PowerPoint interface to create the decks that will likely be the first representation of our work and abilities that prospective clients will see? To address this paradox, I’ve adopted Adobe InDesign for building decks and presentations–and I never have to leave the comfort of my tried-and-true graphic designer’s wheelhouse.

While it’s true that InDesign was not built with presentations as the primary intended use, you may be surprised to learn how effective a simple, InDesign-produced PDF file can be for that purpose. Because designers tend to gravitate to InDesign for print design tasks exclusively, they may be overlooking the bevy of robust interactive tools that are contained within it. And before I go any further—yes, you can add transitions.

In fact, a simple PDF created with InDesign can contain a range of different and customizable page transitions, hyperlinks and buttons with hover states, and even embedded audio and video players with customizable controls. You can even create a fully animated interactive experience that can be played as a flash movie (SFW) or an e-book (EPUB). However, I find that for 99.9% of presentations the interactive elements that can be baked into a good ol’ PDF work just fine. The only caveat here is that interactive and animated elements work best in a professional PDF reader like Adobe Acrobat, and so advanced features may not display well in the stock readers such as Preview or Microsoft Edge. But in my opinion, that’s a pretty low bar for entry given the other advantages.

Without getting into a technical how-to, here are a few high-level reasons to ditch Powerpoint and buy what I’m selling you:

Brand Integrity: Maintaining a consistent look is everything in the world of branding. Your onscreen presentations should follow the exact same design standards as the rest of your brand collateral, otherwise you weaken your brand. You probably designed the business cards and project briefs that are being passed out at the meeting with InDesign, and maintaining that exact look and feel for your presentation solidifies a strong brand identity. Furthermore, you can set up character and paragraph styles just like you would for a print piece to make sure that you are achieving exact consistency.

Design Control: When you give up the control of design-focused software applications and move over to the dummy-proof software intended for the masses, you’ll have to accept things like awkward line spacing, unfixable kerning issues, and giant bullet points. With InDesign, you can draw vector shapes, eyedropper colors and type styles, and use all the other bells and whistles that designers love like Pantone swatches, blending modes, master pages, smart guides and keyboard shortcuts. Sometimes, you really do need to get down to half pixels or that third decimal point to make sure things are perfect. Just because you’re designing a presentation and not a brochure, doesn’t mean that you should have to give up all of these tools.

Compatibility: The mechanical file at the end of building a Powerpoint or Keynote presentation is generally just your working file with live type pulling in fonts from your hard drive. This can cause a huge headache if you are loading it up on someone else’s machine. In order to avoid these font compatibility issues, we often have no choice but to ditch our sacred brand typefaces for universal system fonts, which is an unspeakable sin in terms of branding and design. If you are presenting from a PDF, however, everything is locked in exactly as it appeared on your screen, no matter whose computer is opening the file.

Design Seriousness: Checkerboard wipes, bouncing animations and breaking glass sound effects are for clowns. Yes, InDesign actually offers most of these effects–just please don’t use them.

So, the next time you have to design a slideshow presentation, don’t settle for PowerPoint. Use InDesign and make it look nice!