episode 23: Typography & Typesetting in PowerPoint


Typography, as defined on Wikipedia, is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable, and appealing when displayed. On the technical side, the definition includes, “The arrangement of type involves selecting typefaces, point size, line length, line-spacing (leading), letter-spacing (tracking), and adjusting the space within letters pairs (kerning).” Typography principles should apply to slides, often do not, and today we are going to gather around and talk about the geeky design stuff about text on slides.



Is typography important to presentation slides?

  • Nolan: For a program that uses text so extensively, PowerPoint is a pretty poor typographic tool and the typographic features have not advanced as much as I would expect. So, for me, absolutely.
  • Sandy: Absolutely.
  • Troy: With a more formal print design background, professional typesetting is always at the top of mind and has greatly influenced our view of PowerPoint as a design tool, so absolutely.


What are some general rules for selecting fonts?

  • Sandy: Don’t use too many fonts. In general, I stick to 1 – 2 fonts in presentations. And for what it’s worth, PPT does a good job at setting up for primary and secondary font types (title vs. content).
  • Nolan: Use the best font size for each design medium. So a print piece and a presentation will use a different rule for overall font sizing.
  • Troy: Fonts and Microsoft Office are sort of a no-win scenario. The creative designer side wants to use custom fonts that align with the content and message. The practical and business side has to be concerned with things like distributing and having specialty (i.e., non-Microsoft fonts) installed on viewing computers.


What about broad, general, rules for blocks of text?

  • Troy: There are different rules for 3 words vs. 30 or 300 words.
    • 3 words is going to be an emphasis point, and large/bold may apply. Left, center, or right justification may apply.
    • But paragraphs are going to have different rules.
    • If over 30 words, never center. It is too difficult for people to read quickly with the ragged edges.
    • If over 20 words, never all caps. All caps are for short statements, or they become shouting, and again, difficult to read because we identify hanging letters: j, g, y, etc. to interpret words without actually reading them all.
    • Right justified is reserved for short statements, primarily where the layout is aided by creating a visual line with text along it, like the Y axis of a chart. Or numbers, so the 10s, 100s, 1000s are all aligned to visually see the value difference.
  • Nolan: Love all those rules. In addition, full justification on print only presentations is often a personal preference. And I always watch out for widow and orphans in text.


What about soft-returns vs. hard-returns for paragraph text?

  • Nolan: This is a little trick not everyone knows, a soft return is Shift + Enter. It moves text down to next line, but still in the same paragraph. I use this all the time because I’m a fanatic about the optical look of lines and paragraphs and fixing widows and orphans.
  • Sandy: Sometimes I will focus on phrases within a statement to create my returns. For example, Benjamin Franklin’s quote “Well done is better than well said,” can be broken into three lines: “Well done | is better than | well said” for graphic appeal, and I think — ease of reading and learning.
  • Troy: I look at slide content from the perspective of the audience. Legibility and quickly understanding the message is top of mind for me. Another example of using soft returns is to cluster phrases and thoughts and not leave lines of text with a possible wrong interpretation because of the way the words are grouped.


With InDesign, line spacing is virtually a mandatory setting you have to think about and set. What do you do for PowerPoint text?

  • Troy: Our base template has line spacing set to “Multiple” and .9 vs. the default 1.0/single.
  • Nolan: The default settings are rarely good. I usually reduce line spacing to .95 or .9 and always in multiples.
  • Sandy: I also use a .95 setting.


Do you have a preference for paragraph spacing: Before, After or a Combination?

  • Nolan: After.
  • Troy: 6-12 pts – Before. I like to keep things easy, so we do not use After paragraph spacing, that is left at 0.
  • Sandy: I will always add spacing before the first paragraph (or bullet point) so that there is sufficient space after the last indented bullet. Does that make sense?


 Listener Question:

  • “Great job with the podcast–I love it!! I Just finished listening to the “Live from the 2016 MVP Summit” and I was wondering if there is any way to consistently add a period, or not have a period, at the end of each bullet point. Way back in PPT 2003 (?) it was possible and I liked it because it made sure, especially with a large slide deck, that there was consistency. Just to reassure you, I don’t do presentations filled with bullet points :), but I do use smart art etc. to convey points and it would be great to have that feature back. If I remember correctly, it was under “Review,” similar to the spell check (but don’t quote me on that). Thanks, Kim”

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