Dear Slide Doctor: Design Distraction!

Illustration by Kate Moore.

Dear Slide Doctor: Design Distraction!

Slide Doctor is a post series where crowded, lackluster, or otherwise ornery slides are transformed into beautiful, effective ones. Have slides you need help with? Submit your question and slides to the Slide Doctor at with the Subject Line: Slide Doctor!

Dear Slide Doctor,
I made a Deck on non-contact forces for my science class, and I think it looks pretty good! I added some decorative elements to the slides so they wouldn’t be boring. The only thing is, some of the slides seem maybe a little bit busy and distracting. How can I make them look good while still getting the important information across to my students?

Hoping you can help,

Distracted by Design Dilemma

Dear Distracted,

You know how sometimes, when you buy a birthday cake, there’s so much frosting on it you can barely find the cake? That’s what we’re dealing with here: a little too much frosting, burying the cake. Nothing’s wrong with a little frosting of course. It’s pretty and tasty and without it a cake could be boring, but moderation is the key.

The Slide Doctor gives you kudos for going the extra mile to make your lesson shine. You want it to be engaging for your students! But balance can be tricky to find. All too often we think “images = interest,” but it’s important to remember that “information > images” if those images aren’t directly related to the point. Let’s take a look at a few examples from your Deck.

Slide 1.png


Here’s an example of a nice slice of learning cake that’s just been a little over-frosted. The Slide Doctor’s favorite strategy is to start building a slide with only the essential information, then take a step back and see if it needs more decoration. So let’s Break It Down to Basics.

Slide 2.png

Now we’re gettin’ down to the real meat of the matter. But it’s not meat, it’s cake. Remember that! Always remember that! These are the important pieces of your slide, the parts you want your students to see if they notice nothing else. Obviously, the photo needs to be pretty big, since we want kids to draw on it. But right now, the instructions for what to do are kind of getting lost, tucked up there in the corner. Let’s fix that and Play Up the Point.

Slide 3.png

That’s better — the photo is still just as big, for plenty of drawing space, but now the question is nice and prominent too. And once we’ve gotten our cake arranged right, there really isn’t a lot of need for frosting on this slide. Any more images here would probably just distract students from completing their particle paintings.

But the Slide Doctor knows the value of well-placed accessories, and is in no way suggesting every slide’s gotta be the bare minimum. Less is not always more, after all. Let’s take a look at a slide that could stand to be a little more exciting.

Slide 4.png

Ahh, look at all that real estate! The question being asked is already front and center, and on top of that, this is a writing slide rather than a drawing slide — so there’s no need to leave room for students to do their thing on the slide itself. If you’re hungry for a little decoration (and the Slide Doctor certainly is, after all this talk of cake), there’s no need to go full piping and fondant flowers. Think sprinkles — cute, fun, but not overwhelming.

Slide 5.png

This is a fine place for those decorations we removed from the earlier slide. See how they add a little flair without distracting from the question? Any time you finish Breaking It Down to Basics and Playing Up the Point, if you think your slide needs a little je ne sais quoi, feel free to Spice It Up with Sprinkles.

So when you’re building a beautiful new slide, a few quick points to consider:

  • What kind of question is it? Do students need to do work on the slide itself?
  • Are there images that are important to the lesson that should stand on their own?
  • Are all the important elements big enough to be noticed right away?

You’re on the right track, Distracted, and with a little pear-ing down here and there, you’ll have a delicious Deck with just the right amount of cake and frosting in every information-packed bite. Bon appetit!

Have slides you need help with? Submit your question and slides to the Slide Doctor at with the Subject Line: Slide Doctor!