On May 22, 1990, Microsoft changed the world—for better or worse.
With the initial release of PowerPoint as part of the Office suite, millions of people suddenly had the power to fire up their Dell towers and start building visual presentations for the very first time. And this turned out to be no small thing—over the past 27 years, PowerPoint’s millions of users have turned into well over a billion.
The problem is that, since 1990, not much else has changed.
This is not to say that PowerPoint isn't a better product today than it was three decades ago. They’ve added plenty of cool new features for power users over the years—from animated slide transitions to 3D modeling—although most users have no idea that these features even exist, let alone how to use them. And while they’ve tried to make slide design a bit less painful with features like SmartArt and presentation themes, it’s still way too difficult for most of us to create the kinds of beautiful presentations we wish we could.
As a result, the biggest problem with PowerPoint when it launched is still its biggest problem today: it makes you, the user, 100% responsible for getting the ideas in your head onto the “blank canvas” on your screen. You have to draw the squares and the triangles, line them up, and move them around; you have to pick the fonts and the colors and decide where to put the photos; and you have to make sure that your presentation looks clean, modern, and professional.
In other words, you have be a designer. But is that what you want to be?
If you think about it, PowerPoint and its competitors are the only apps we use every day that put this heavy a burden on its users. Excel, for example, does the math for you so that you can focus on building your model. Word takes care of formatting and layout so you can focus on your writing. And Slack lets you know when something deserves your attention so that you can spend your time working instead of reading chat streams. But PowerPoint asks you to do all of the work—developing your ideas, structuring them into a presentation, and then designing your slides.
And presentation design is really hard. There are dozens of books on the topic and hundreds of people you can pay to do it for you, but for those of us who don’t have the time or money to uplevel or outsource our presentation design, we’re left staring at a blank screen at 2am trying to solve three big problems:
- Visualizing Our Ideas. Designers are good at this. We’re not. So instead of creating our own visuals, we spend hours hunting through expensive template libraries or, more likely, throwing our hands up in the air and adding a few more bullets to the slide.
- “Doing” Design. Great presentation designers are not just experts in design; they’re also experts in PowerPoint. In fact, the majority of their time is spent setting up visual themes, tinkering with layouts, building custom graphics, searching for the right image, and aligning and re-aligning elements. But when this work is left to us, the process takes twice as long and still results in ugly slides.
- Making it Look Good. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. But we all know good (or bad) design when we see it. We don’t need an expert to tell us that our slides are cluttered, littered with too many bullet points, or look like they were designed in 1998. We just don’t know what to do about it.
In building Beautiful.ai, we made a very important distinction early on: Our goal is not to compete feature-by-feature with PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi. Instead, our mission is to give everyone the opportunity to work with a world-class designer every time they build a presentation.
We believe that good design should be a given. And the best way to ensure good design is to build the intelligence of a designer directly into the app. The software needs to know what’s on the slide, what might be added later, and the best way to get from Point A to Point B. It needs to know when to give you choices, which choices to give you, and when to enforce best practices on its own. And, perhaps most importantly, it needs to have good taste.
We’re still at the beginning of this journey—and we’ll be talking a lot more about our approach both here on the blog and elsewhere—but we hope you’ll give us a chance to help you tell your story. Because it’s time to change the world again.