So now that you’ve been lured here by our irresistible title, we’ll fill you in on the secret. This post is actually about icons. Specifically, it’s about why to consider using them in your presentations and if you do – you’ll be an iconic presenter. See what we did there? Tricky, huh?
For our purposes, icons are defined as simple, flat two-dimensional illustrations often comprised of basic shapes. Take a look at your computer or smartphone screen, you’ll see icons. Now you’ll probably see them everywhere. I’ve noticed Time Magazine using icons and simple info-graphics quite regularly these days. (You can thank us later for drawing them to your attention.) Next week, Jamie’s blog post will break down the actual process of creating icons using the basic shapes found in most slide design software. It’s really nice. I’ve seen a preview. I’m pretty lucky that way.
Additionally, we’ve dedicated some real estate on our website to the pursuit of happiness through icons. It’s called Icons Inspired. Each week, we’re posting a new icon, along with video directions so that you can make your own. We’re also posting downloads of the ones we’ve created. You are most welcome to use them in any of your projects or presentations. We hope that by providing this resource, and demonstrating that you too can make icons with a bit of practice, you’ll have a low-barrier strategy for conveying your content visually.
Side note: The music in our videos is courtesy of Benjamin Tissot, a musician and composer who has a fantastic collection of royalty-free music for use on his website www.bensound.com. Thank you Ben! In a future blog post we’ll show you how you can make simple videos using slide design software. That’s a lot of fun and really easy, too.
I think we can all relate to being overwhelmed by the quantity of information we come in contact with each day. In fact, people receive 5x as much information today as they did in 1986. And in 1986, a lot of the information was Top Gun-related, so there was a common thread there.
Jamie and I use icons regularly in our presentations and handouts as a means of combating today’s information overload. When used properly, these simple illustrations make information easier to digest and more engaging. When coupled with text, and/or your narration, icons become powerful vehicles for communication.
In fact, research shows that pairing images with text can lead to better learning outcomes. Incorporating icons can help you explain a process, say something faster, tell a story, show data, and will simply make your information more beautiful. Now, I know you’ve got the need for speed when it comes to all of your work, and so I think it’s only fair to disclose that it does take a bit of time to create icons. However, it gets much faster and easier once you get going. You might even catch icon fever like us, and want to make them in your spare time. Nerd alert! Additionally, you’ll create a library of custom images that you can use again and again for future projects. I’m still using icons today that I created for presentations several years ago. Here are a few fun images from my icon collection. I like that push pin so much that I make up reasons to use it.
Most importantly, we want the speed advantage to be on the side of the audience members who need to digest and interpret your content. It only takes 150 milliseconds for a symbol to be processed and 100 milliseconds to attach a meaning to it. That makes a compelling case for adding some of these simple images to your slides or handouts.
Below are three additional reasons to consider incorporating icons into your work.
Custom Content – Once you understand the basics of icon-design, you have access to a free and easy way to create visual slides that convey ideas – just as you imagine them. You also have ultimate control over style and color.
Data Visualization – People have been presenting information visually for quite a long time. Think maps and charts. It’s much easier for our brains to understand data in charts rather than in spreadsheets. Data visualizations can help you quickly share information in universally understood ways. They can help you show comparisons, relationships, and trends. Icons allow you to take traditional data visualizations like charts and graphs a step further. Check out this data visualization created by Pamela Pavliscak for a slide in her presentation entitled “Finding Your Happy Place in the Internet of Things”. She has cleverly used ice cream scoops as a symbol of happiness and stacked them like bar charts. The icons used are comprised of simple shapes – just circles, triangles, and half moons. These can all be found in the shapes ribbon of Microsoft PowerPoint.
Having Fun Times – One can’t discount the power of having fun times when it comes to providing information. Fun and humor are wonderful teaching tools. Take a look at our friend (and fellow icon-enthusiast) Nichelle Gray’s hysterical joke, made far funnier with the aid of icons.
So, put your sunglasses on. Be a Maverick or an Ice Man (he was my favorite). Make yourself some awesome icons. Turn those icons into crowd-pleasing data visualizations. And if you create some things you’re really proud of, please send them our way. We’d love to showcase your work.