Slide show expert Emiland De Cubber transforms the NSA’S clunky prism deck with minimalist cool.
When news of the NSA’s classified Prism program broke in, revealing that the U.S. government had ordered the collection of all Americans’ online activities, many cried foul over the Obama administration’s abuses of power. The op-ed machine churned out everything you could imagine, each piece more grave, impassioned, and seemingly “consequential” than the next. Some called for the imprisonment of Prism leaker Edward Snowden, while others offered sympathetic portraits of the young whistleblower.
But when the Prism slide show was circulated around the web, Emiland De Cubber’s first reaction was not a feeling of personal violation on the part of the state, nor worry about its unchecked powers, but rather one of disdain for the document’s presentation sins. He has revamped the NSA’s slide show, replacing its daft graphics with minimalist ones that are unnervingly cool.
“I thought it was a joke at the beginning, like a caricature of an overly corporate slide template,” De Cubber tells Co.Design. “Huge logos, massive gradients, default fonts, poor charts.”
De Cubber, a visual communication designer, stumbled across data-viz jedi Edward Tufte’s mocking tweets, in which he reserved his ire for Prism’s egregious graphic sense. Tufte’s sneering critique–“Dreadful spy-PRISM deck sets new record for most header logos per slide: 13”–prompted De Cubber’s own response. He updated every aspect of the top-secret Powerpoint presentation, including the program’s terribly ’70s-“Dark Side of the Moon logo,” which De Cubber renders in skeletal, glow-green lines.
Where the Prism slides each employ different graphic strategies, linked together only by a top banner laden with logos of the partnering companies, de Cubber devised a much more uniform system. His new Powerpoint features flat, pared-down icons that supplant the original’s cumbersome text boxes and jarring logos, and which seamlessly carry across the entire deck. In place of the gobs of text that cluttered the original, for example, De Cubber plots a field of web icons that clearly convey what kind of data can be extracted from online users. For the concluding slide–the one trolled ‘round the (micro-blogging) world–he vertically arrays the logos in tidy columns, each labeled with the year Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and others signed onto the program.
The reinterpreted deck economizes the information and privileges empty space. “People are afraid of an empty slide,” De Cubber explains. “They say, ‘I definitely need this gradient frame around my title,’ and then occupy 30% of their slides with stuff that doesn’t convey any information. That’s why I tried to draw a lot of contrast by keeping my slides as minimalistic as possible. Each element must earn its space on the slide.”
There was one element of the NSA overview that, like many similar redesigns that have popped up online, De Cubber kept. He slightly modified “International Internet Bandwidth” graphic, featured on slide 2, tweaking certain aspects of its composition. He highlighted the U.S./North America circle and rearranged some bits of text to improve legibility. Asked why he left it intact, De Cubber says that he “liked the analogy between the graphic lines and the actual cables that convey data,” adding that the graphic accurately reflected how “nearly everything flows through the U.S.”
In addition to his wholesale changes to Prism’s visual language, De Cubber excised all of the presentation’s text and inserted his own in its place. In most cases, his thin lines of text delete redundancies and complications found in the original. Now and then, however, he does slip in some subtle digs that make plain the NSA’s intentions. “How can we monitor everything?” reads the heading of one slide; another touting the laundry list of collectable data assures the reader that “many more data sources [are] available upon request.” De Cubber’s cavalier approach to the entire project comes through in his concluding lines of the slide show: “Even if you are not a government agency, I would be happy to help you with your next presentation.”
Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.
Podium is a PowerPoint add-in which enables you to do quite a bit with your slide content.
You can manage your PowerPoint presentations, and you can use provided tools to enhance your presentations. You can also create a new presentation from scratch. Podium provides a huge library of media elements such as images, vector drawings, ready-to-use backgrounds, 3D clip art and shapes, embellishments, etc. All these elements are royalty free, and most of these can also be individually customized to match the look of your slides. Once installed, Podium creates a new tab on PowerPoint’s Ribbon.
Podium is by BrightSlides.com, a company based in Omaha, Nebraska. You can learn more about Podium from their site. My contact at BrightSlides for this review was Adam Shah — thank you, Adam.
Download the installer from the link given above, and run the setup routine. Even if you do not download and install Podium, you can follow this walkthrough to understand Podium better:
Launch PowerPoint. Most of the time, PowerPoint opens a new presentation with a single slide — you can change the slide layout to Blank or Title Only by selectingHome tab | Layout | Blank or Title Only. This provides a nice blank slide to work on.
Now, access the Podium tab of the Ribbon, highlighted in red in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Options within Podium tab of the Ribbon
The options within the Podium tab are explained below, as marked in Figure 1above:
- Launch Podium: Click this button to launch the Podium interface, as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Podium interface
The Podium interface provides six tabs — these tabs are highlighted in red in Figure 2, above. Each individual tab has a particular reason for existence, and their purposes are explained later in this review.
- Create 3DText: This option takes you to the 3D Text Rendering engine — refer to the 3D Text point in the Podium Tabs section later in this review.
- Backgrounds: Click this button to bring up a Background gallery as shown in Figure 3. Choose any background as you require.
Figure 3: Background gallery
- Embellishments: This is a toggle button which opens/hides the Shapes & Embellishments pane (highlighted in red in Figure 4). Select and drag (or double-click) any of the available embellishments to your slide.
Figure 4: Shapes & Embellishments pane
- Help Section: Within this section you’ll find the Podium Help file, tips, access to the online forum, etc.
- Choose any of the options to enhance the look of your slide. See Figure 5 which shows a slide with a Podium readymade background and embellishment applied.
Figure 5: Slide with Podium media element applied
Once you click the Launch Podium button within the Podium tab of the Ribbon in PowerPoint, a mini-application called Podium opens with a PowerPoint-like interface, containing 6 tabs — these tabs are explained below:
- Library: This tab (see Figure 6) provides you options to view and access backgrounds, templates, and stock photography.You can even manage your presentations by adding slides which are stored on your computer to this Library. This process is easy because Podium automatically searches your entire hard drive and categorizes every PowerPoint presentation and template that it finds. And the One-Click button makes it really easy to update the Library with any new content.
Figure 6: Library tab
- Slide Designer (see Figure 7): Lets you create slide backgrounds for your presentation. It offers you numerous filters to manipulate colors, effects, and transformations. You can manipulate images so that you end up with an entirely new design — this can be used as your PowerPoint slide background. You can instantly see how your designs look with the live thumbnail preview.
Figure 7: Slide Designer tab
- Slide Builder (see Figure 8): This full drawing studio enables you to create backgrounds layer-by-layer with easy to use vector drawing tools provided as well as the large royalty-free library of rasterized shapes and embellishments.
Figure 8: Slide Builder tab
- 3D Text (see Figure 9): The new OpenGL® base 3D text rendering engine enables you to create 3D text with full lighting effects and gradients.
Figure 9: 3DText tab
- PowerPoint (see Figure 10): Within this tab you can define how your output should be applied to PowerPoint.
Figure 10: PowerPoint tab
- Help (see Figure 11): This tab offers quick access to the Podium support center, customer areas, checking for updates, etc.
Figure 11: Help tab
Pricing and Support
Podium provides license for a month, a year, and full license. They cost $15.00, $99.00, and $199.00 respectively.
Support options include an online FAQ, email, and online demo movies.
Podium has a huge feature set — and it does have a good price:performance ratio. Podium does bring in a lot of options and that can be intimidating unless you have the time to explore and play with all of them. It’s a good product if you get to use all its features.
Multiple monitors can increase productivity by up to 44%
Remember those TV commercials for Doublemint gum featuring twin girls running all around town, with the tagline, “Double your pleasure, Double your fun?” How about doubling your output? Your monitor output, that is.
By adding a second monitor to you computer, you’ll be able to display more information…which can translate to a 44-percent increase in productivity. Dual monitor display, as it’s called, is a powerful productivity enhancer…and something that the average power user regularly relies on.
Graphics designers and video editors typically have at least two monitors. People in the finance industry have entire rows of screens displaying information from one computer.
When I work on a video production or PowerPoint presentation, I usually hookup my laptop- which is the main computer I use- to a second monitor, and put Photoshop on one screen, and PowerPoint on the second monitor. It’s easier to remain focused and I get more done in less time.
Prices for monitors have come down, and all nearly new computers- Macs and PC all have the ability to handle a second monitor. Pop it on the desk and configure it in the control panel and you’ll be on the fast track to working as a power user.
Discover how to setup dual displays in Windows 7
Considering a projection screen for your next presentation? Overwhelmed by the options and features?
Check out this handy Projection Screen Buying Guide to help you make sense of the specifics and options.
What is a Projection Screen?
A Projection screen is basically a blank canvas that can be coupled with a digital projector to display an image proper for the dedicated viewing space. Projection screens come in various sizes, materials, formats and sizes.
How do they work?
Most projection screens come in one of two types. Front projection screens reflect light back towards the source (projector). Rear projection screens diffuse light through the surface out towards the audience of the other side. For the best results, you want a screen that is free from staining or discoloration and is uniform in reflectivity.
Style: Portable, Electric, Manuel, or Fixed
If your projection application is permanent, then hanging wall and ceiling screens is usually your best choice. However, if you need to move the screen to different locations, a portable screen is a better choice. If you are on a budget, a manual screen will
Portable screens are able to move from location to location readily. Here are a variety of portable screens that you can choose from to best fit your needs.
- Floor mounted screens- available in manual and electric models. The manual screen is stored in the base, and extends upwards using a number of different possible manual mechanisms. The electric screens are also stored in the base, but extend upwards using a spring system.
- Folding or Frame screens- are supported on both sides by vertical T-legs. They are usually break down into a polyethylene case for storage and transport and require one or two people for set up.
- Inflatable screens- are an innovative new design perfect for the outdoors. Easily assembled and stored.
- Tripod screens- are supported by a tripod base and are extremely mobile and easily stored.
- Ultra-portable- are smaller formats and are ideal for table-top presentations.
Electric screens are high-end projection screens that add elegance to their mounted location. Electric screens can be tensioned so that they have the smoothest possible image surface. These screens descend and ascend back into the casing with the flick of a switch or via remote control. Electric screens may be externally mounted to the ceiling, or recessed into the ceiling (additional construction may be required). They may also be mounted to the wall, both the wall and ceiling, or ascend up from the floor.
Manual screens are an economical choice for projector screens that stay in one location all or most of the time. The most common application is in the classroom or small office location. These screens are raised and lowered by hand, sometimes using a pull string or rod to reach screens mounted in high locations. They are available in ceiling, recessed-ceiling, wall,and floor mounted models.
A fixed or “permanent wall” screen consists of a vinyl screen surface that is stretched and attached to an assembled frame Most fixed screens have the same viewing surface options. The price is usually driven by the style and look of the frame that surrounds and supports the screen surface. Fixed screens are most often used in Home Theater applications as well as conference rooms due to their elegant look and perfectly flat viewing surface.
Mounting: Wall, Ceiling or Both
Wall mounted screens are easily affixed to your wall using provided or optional brackets. Many may be placed flush to the wall, or extended out a bit to allow for some space behind the screen to accommodate things such as a chalkboard, whiteboard, fireplace etc. Wall mounted screens may be manual, electric, or fixed.
Ceiling mounted screens are easily affixed to your ceiling using a bracket system or hooks. A second option of recessed (hidden) installation is available for some models. Both manual and electric screens provide models perfect for this method of installation.
Some screens may be affixed to either the ceiling or the wall depending on your needs. These screens typically use “L-shaped” brackets that allow them to be flush mounted to the ceiling or wall. This option is available in electric and manual screens.
Screen format refers to the aspect ratio, or the proportion of the width to the height of a particular screen. There are several types of standard formats, and you should choose the format based on the (native) format of the projector you use as well as the types of material you will display the most. Some common aspect ratios are HDTV 16:9, NTSC Video 4:3, Slide 1.25:1, and Square Format 1:1(popular for overhead slide projectors).
- 16:9- (generally named as: “Sixteen-Nine”, “Sixteen-by-Nine” or “Sixteen-to-Nine”) is the international standard format of HDTV as used in Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and the United States, as well as in Europe on HDTV and non-HD widescreen television (EDTV) PALplus.
- 4:3- Originated in 35 mm silent film, commonly known in TV and video as 4:3. It is also the standard ratio for MPEG-2 video compression. This is the used format for standard definition television screens and NTSC computer monitors. This format is slowly being phased out in favor of widescreen and HDTV formats.
- 1.25:1- These screens are ideal for slide presentations.
- 1.1- This is a square screen which may be partially descended to change the aspect ratio. In this case, it could be useful for more widescreen applications, but are ideal for presentations and use with overhead projectors.
Two other formats are the multi-format and the widescreen/cinemascope screens. The multi-format can be adjusted using masking devises. These are multi-purpose, easily adaptable for presentations or video viewing. The widescreen/cinemascope format is used for most movie theater screens.
Masking borders can be added (and potentially removed) as a way to eliminate the bars you see on the top and bottom of the screen when using your projector in its non-native format (ie 4:3 projector displaying in 16:9). They also increase the perceived brightness of an image on a projector screen to give it a top-notch look. The human eye perceives the image to have more contrast, a sharper picture, and brighter colors when masking borders are used.
The highlight of the two-piece projection system is the ability to create a large screen size. When choosing your screen size it is important to note that while it is true that size counts when it comes to home theater, it can be overdone to the point where it is not enjoyable. In a commercial setting size becomes less important for the “wow” factor and more important for efficiency of delivery to the audience. A good rule of thumb is dividing the distance of your furthest viewer by 8 to get your recommended screen height.
Commercial and Educational Applications
Screen height should be approximately equal to 1/8 the distance from the screen to the last row of seats. This is so that text can be read and the details of the presentation can be seen clearly. Ideally, the first row of seats should be approximately two screen heights away. The bottom of the screen should be a minimum of 4 feet above the audience floor. This allows those seated toward the rear of the audience to see the entire screen.
Home Theater Applications
In home theater settings a good rule of thumb is to place your seating at a distance that is equal to 1.5 x the screen width for 720p projectors. With 1080 resolution projectors the rule can be modified to 1.2. The bottom of the screen should be a minimum of 2 feet above the audience floor. This may require additional screen “drop” for ceiling hung screens.
To maximize the quality of the image you are projecting, an important factor is screen fabric. The two most important qualities of a specific fabric are its gain and viewing angle. Gain is the measurement of reflected light on a screen. The viewing angle is the maximum angle at which a display can be viewed with acceptable visual performance. Usually, the higher the gain, the narrower the viewing angle of the surface.
Be sure to choose the screen surface that best suits your projection and viewing requirements. Your choice will largely depend on your projector, seating arrangements, and how much you can control the ambient light in the room. There are several types of screen surfaces with different attributes designed to accentuate the projected image. But, for the majority of users matte white or high contrast matte white will be the two surfaces from which they choose. Matte white screens are the most popular because they provide the most accurate color representation and largest viewing angles. High contrast screens are popular when used in home theaters because the material increases overall contrast by dimming the image.
Most screens will have the matte white type surface. It has a normal gain and has a wide viewing angle. It provides true color representation, so it will better suit your business needs. Many home theater applications are now choosing Matte White due to the quality and high contrast ratio available with the latest projectors.
There are no real negatives to choosing a Matte White surface. The only reason to choose something other than Matte White would be if you need to make some adjustments to your image like added reflectivity or higher contrast.
High Contrast Matte White
Gray surfaces add to the images perceived contrast, making blacks and shadows more detailed.
Gray screens typically has a lower gain and tighter viewing angle than a Matte White surface.
Regardless of whether your screen is for a home theater, office or organization, the price is always a very important factor. For many, the price is the single most important factor in choosing a screen. Screen prices will vary depending on the intended application. But, generally screens start at a few hundred dollars and can go up into the thousands, depending on size, material, and other factors. Some small portable screens have been known to retail for less than $100, whereas installed manual screens start in the $120 range. Electric and permanent wall mounts generally start between $400-$500. For larger formats and extra features you can attain one of the more popular electric or permanent wall mount models between $700-$1200.