a lesson in slide design from 1967

Throughout film-making history movie title sequences are littered with examples of inventive and beautiful designs. From classics such as the Saul Bass creations for 'The Man with the Golden Arm' and 'Psycho' to more recent ones in 'Thank you for Smoking' and 'Up in the Air'. All are distinct, compelling and bring so much more than just the names of those responsible for the films - they begin the story for the audience through carefully selected aesthetics, tone and movement.

Of course, when you design a slide deck to present in a work context, you should normally be looking to avoid any elaborate animation or you risk giving your audience sea-sickness and distracting from your key messages. So what can be stolen from the world of movie titles to enhance your next visual presentation?

Well one sequence in particular has everything you need in my opinion - 1967's 'The Graduate' created by renowned American designer Wayne Fitzgerald. Far from being the the most flashy or excitable sequence, it's the sheer simplicity and adherence to basic design principles that combine to work so effectively. When I get stuck creating a new slide deck I often watch the video below for inspiration.

So what works so well about this? Here are three key principles the sequence offers us that you can easily use when building your next presentation:

Background and White Space

The background chosen for the majority of the sequence is neutral and plain. The slightly off-white colour is perfect for bringing out both the image of Dustin Hoffman and the words as they appear and disappear during the sequence. There is plenty of white space left around the composition making it easy for us to absorb the information without distraction.

Graduate White Space

Fonts and placement

The same font in black is used throughout the sequence in different sizes and stays strictly within an invisible perimeter, lending a balance and consistency to the frame. Furthermore when the background does shift and is darker (once he's collected his suitcase and is walking towards the exit) the font remains and is given a subtle white outline to ensure it retains its prominency.

Graduate Fonts

Graduate Fonts2

Composition and The Rule of Thirds

Perhaps the most important element of the entire sequence is not just the placement of Dustin Hoffman's character to the right of the frame but also the way he is facing. If he was turned more towards the camera or perhaps frequently looking behind him for seconds at a time, it would draw our attention away from the words on the screen. The fact that he is almost entirely focussed towards where the titles are appearing is not by accident - it's by very strict design. When he does take the odd glance away (as in the image below), it is for a split second and you can see how tightly he restricts his movement - keeping his body in the same position. Even when he's briefly replaced as the principle image by his suitcase the rule is still followed.

Graduate Composition

Graduate Suitcase

When using an image on a slide, its role should be to enhance and reinforce your message - if it's there for any other reason it risks becoming a distraction. When presented with any visual information our eyes naturally create an invisible grid of 9 sections and 4 intersection points - known as 'power-points'. It's crucial that any image you use helps direct your audience's attention to what it is you want them to absorb. Keeping all the information - fonts and pictures alike - in or around the power-points is a good rule to employ. Overlaying a simple 3x3 grid makes it easy to implement - try to think of the 4 power-points as 'hotspots':

Graduate Powerpoint

Although the true golden age of movie titles may have been and gone, there are still so many classic and contemporary examples out there that can be used to inspire slide design. In more recent years television has stolen a march and provided some beautiful opening sequences, such as the titles for Mad Men and True Detective. Wherever great design is involved - be it in film, television, billboards , magazines etc. - the principles can be used by all of us.

Want a different take on your slides? Why not send them through to us at slides@edisonred.com today.

Image credit: Flickr


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