Why I never ask a designer to make PowerPoint templates

Whenever I see a branding or design brief that includes PowerPoint, my heart sinks. Because professional graphic designers are pretty much always useless at PowerPoint.

It’s not so bad if they’re designing the whole presentation. In fact, getting a professional in to make your dodgy graphics look fresh and modern can be a sound investment, especially if you’re booked to present at a big conference.

But if what you need is a template for making your own presentations, then a designer is going to create a heap of problems for you.

A good template doesn’t need much design

Without your content, a good PowerPoint template should look empty and dull. You want your audience to be looking at your presentation, not the fancy graphics around the edges.

That leaves your designer with nothing to do. Pick a font, choose a colour palette, decide if the slide titles should be left aligned or centred…that’s about it. They already did that when they started working on your brand.

So, faced with a blank presentation template, they can’t resist flexing their design muscles. An elegant border. A nice graphic for the footer. A cleverly placed logo.

That all reduces the space for your stuff.

Their graphics will clash with your graphics

Even if they leave room for you to add an image or two, your options will be limited.

Because while the graphics and logos your designer added will be perfectly on brand for your business, most of your graphics and logos won’t be.

Diagrams from suppliers, screenshots of Gantt charts, or mockups of your client's website - all colourful and lovely in their own way. But they’re going to clash horribly with that impressive background that your designer created for your PowerPoint template.

Yes, you could redraw that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs diagram that your friend sent over so that it matches your sweet new template. But frankly, who has the time for that?

The fonts will be unusable

Graphic designers love a fancy typeface. They know that a classy font can really make a brand stand out.

And that’s fine, in print or on the web. But not in PowerPoint, where your presentation has to work on whatever random laptop you end up projecting your slides from.

Seasoned presenters know that Arial and Times New Roman are the only truly safe typefaces for presenting. Even Helvetica can be a risk. So when your presentation template turns up with Lubalin or Gotham all over it, you have a problem.

They probably won’t even design it in PowerPoint

Designers can operate PowerPoint perfectly well, but they seem to avoid actually designing in it. They go off and work in InDesign or Sketch and then transfer what they’ve done to Powerpoint.

This means they often do things in really odd ways. Text boxes where you’d use a table, or text overlaid on a shape instead of typed into it. They won’t set your slide masters up correctly, and they will almost certainly have used inline formatting instead of themes and styles.

So when you come to use the beautiful template they created, everything will be Really Hard

My tip? Design your own PowerPoint

If you have a style guide for your new brand, you have the raw ingredients of a smashing template.

A style guide is a document that specifies how a brand should look. It includes colours, fonts, logos, graphic styles and sometimes photography styles too. Whenever you get a brand refresh, ask your designer to do you a style guide. Then…

Use the colour codes to set your theme colours. In PowerPoint, go to the Themes tab of your ribbon toolbar. Click the Colors button, and go right to the bottom to Create Theme Colors. You can then use that new palette in any presentation.

Use the font specification to pick a similar font for your template. If you don’t choose Arial or Times, at least pick one that’s widely available in standard Mac and Windows installations. Then follow your style guide to choose the right size and weight for headings, body text, etc.

Use the logo file or another suitable graphic to create a cover. Here are some options for placing the logo on your title slide.

Title slide options for a small logo
Title slide options for a large logo

Make a few boldly coloured plain slides for section headings or to showcase quotes and other short pieces of text. Refer back to your colour palette for ideas.

If you’re new to PowerPoint, you might like to sign up for my free course at the end of this post. This includes PowerPoint design for non-designers, as well as loads of other tips for structuring your presentation and creating your slides.

Where designers really help is the tricky graphics

If you have some leftover budget, ask your designer to do just the cover and the title slides. These are places where a bold graphic can really lift your presentation.

You might also get them to design any diagrams that you use a lot - maybe an overview of your customer journey, or icons that represent your different products or services. Ask them to provide the graphics in a range of sizes that you can use in presentations, brochures, and on your website.

Get your designer to do what they’re good at. Just don’t let them anywhere near your actual templates!