PowerPoint / IDT 507 / 28 Apr 2005 Graphic: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/powerpoint
A critique of Powerpoint • Is PowerPoint an effective tool? • Is PowerPoint Stalinistic? • Is PowerPoint evil? • What are its strengths? • What are its weaknesses? • What should we be wary of?
Recognition of absurdity • Using PowerPoint to illustrate PowerPoint • Circularity of logic • Meta-analytic • Self-reflective
The Tufte Critique • Reference: • Edward Tufte, “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.” • 28 pages. Available: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/powerpoint
The Tufte Critique • “Alas, slideware often reduces the analytic quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates ready-made designs usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis”
The Tufte Critique: General View • PowerPoint has a particular cognitive style • The software encourages a style of presenting arguments and information • The style encouraged by the software obfuscates complexities
The Tufte Critique: Technical Limitations • Most data projectors have low resolution • Require larger fonts for text • Leads presenters to favor bulleted isolated phrases and sentence fragments • Most arguments are too complex for a single slide • Complex arguments cannot be compressed into bulleted lists that fit onto a single slide • May require elaboration and detailed development
The Tufte Critique: Serving the Presenter or the Audience? • Primarily designed for convenience of presenter • Focuses on speaker’s needs • Getting information across to an audience • Staying in a “hierarchical single-path structure”
The Tufte Critique: Framing organizational thought • NASA and the Space Shuttle
Using PowerPoint at NASA From “Columbia’s Last Flight,” Atlantic Monthly, November 2003, by William Langewiesche • “At 7:00 a.m. on the ninth day, January 24, which was one week before the Columbia's scheduled re-entry, the engineers from the Debris Assessment Team formally presented the results of their numerical analysis to Linda Ham's intermediary, Don McCormack. The room was so crowded with concerned observers that some people stood in the hall, peering in. The fundamental purpose of the meeting would have been better served had the engineers been able to project a photograph of a damaged wing onto the screen, but, tragically, that was not to be….
Using PowerPoint at NASA From “Columbia’s Last Flight,” Atlantic Monthly, November 2003, by William Langewiesche • “…Instead they projected a typically crude PowerPoint summary, based on the results from the Crater model, with which they attempted to explain a nuanced position: first, that if the tile had been damaged, it had probably endured well enough to allow the Columbia to come home; and second, that for lack of information they had needed to make assumptions to reach that conclusion, and that troubling unknowns therefore limited the meaning of the results. The latter message seems to have been lost….”
Using PowerPoint at NASA From “Columbia’s Last Flight,” Atlantic Monthly, November 2003, by William Langewiesche • Indeed, this particular PowerPoint presentation became a case study for Edward Tufte, the brilliant communications specialist from Yale, who in a subsequent booklet, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, tore into it for its dampening effect on clear expression and thought. The caib later joined in, describing the widespread use of PowerPoint within NASA as one of the obstacles to internal communication, and criticizing the Debris Assessment presentation for mechanically underplaying the uncertainties that remained.”
Is PowerPoint Effective? • Oral presentations are not written documents • Different purpose • Slides viewed while presenter is speaking • PowerPoint can be effective if used correctly • Like all information technologies….
Differences between written documents and oral presentations • Written documents convince with detailed evidence • Readers choose order and pace • Oral presentations slower but richer • Convince with key messages, selected evidence, nonverbal communication
Is PowerPoint Effective? • Typically, presentation is not a stand-alone document • If it is, it shouldn’t be the “same” as the companion-to-oral-presentation document
Is PowerPoint Stalinistic? Does it force presenters to present information in a specific way? Are bullet points required? Do we have freedom as presenters?
Is PowerPoint Evil? • Does it edit ideas? • Does it force an organization onto information? • Is the presenter “shepherded toward a staccato, summarizing frame of mind?” • Dedicate portion of field - fitting!
What are its strengths? • Providing redundancy for speaker’s presentation • Providing visual illustration of presentation • Providing stand-alone presentation
What are its weaknesses? • Redundant • Hierarchical • Easy to produce • Linear • Phluffy
What should we be wary of? • PowerPointPhluff • Excess ink • Wordiness • Dependencies
References • Parker, Ian. “Absolute Powerpoint.” New Yorker, May 28, 2001. • Keller, Julia. “Is PowerPoint the devil?” Chicago Tribune, Jan 22, 2003. • Farkas, David K. “Understanding and Using PowerPoint.” STC 2005. • Dumont, Jean-Luc. “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Slides Are Not All Evil.” Technical Communication 52:1, February 2005.