At the suggestion of Brian Behn, I bought the book, User Friendly. That was months ago…

Since April, the new book has been on the neglect circuit: touring from bedside —> to work bag—> to coffee table —> to desk. From April to August, COVID-survival got prioritized over pleasure reading. Finally, on a much-needed vacay, I sat still and consumed what has proven to be my second favorite book on design.1 I read it slowly. Smiled at it. Underlined my favorite parts. And it turned out to be the perfect primer for a conversation with Dr. Maia Dorsett on the following Monday.

In that conversation, Maia pointed out how one small change can improve the aesthetics and functionality of a presentation. She pointed out that older versions of Apple’s Keynote and Microsoft’s Powerpoint default to 4:3 aspect ratios rather than the 16:9 ratio that fills up a modern day computer screen.

16:9 was made for :

4:3 was made for

PowerPoint was first released by Apple in 1987 and made sense when the computer screen was shaped with this aspect ratio.

One of the simplest ways to update your presentation is to use the 16:9 aspect ratio on the software.

Both Keynote and PowerPoint refer to 4:3 as the “standard” and that brings us to the User Friendly book. The subtitle of the book is How the Hidden Rules of Design Are Changing the Way We Live, Work and Play.

One thesis within it is this: Design features that made sense in their historical context may no longer make sense if they are applied to new landscapes.

This language within Keynote and PowerPoint is a “hidden rule” that could accidentally communicate that the 4:3 aspect ratio is a preferred standard. Those who follow this cue embedded within the design risk limiting two things:

1. physical space available for communicating content and

2. constraints on the aesthetics of the presentation.

What other design features in your existing tools are constraining your creativity in the classroom?

Love, Ginger


Two books that have opened my mind to how effective presentations can be designed are:

Salim Rezzaie from RebelEM wrote this blog post about the key messages within Presentation Zen

1 My first favorite is The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

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