Conquer The Final Review (Part 2)
PART 2 – CRAFTING THE PRESENTATION
Welcome back sleep deprived, overly caffeinated designers! We at Section Cut hope Part 1 of Conquer the Final Review was helpful – in it we discussed the various types of Presentation Styles, with a focus on the verbal. Now we’ll discuss the remaining elements of any given presentation, and how you can use these to your advantage.
The goal of a design presentation is ultimately for you, the designer, to articulate ideas that you have accumulated through the process of working between hand and brain, and to transmit those ideas into the brains of your jury and other viewers. We designers live by the ability by which we can communicate our ideas to others, and therefore we must rely on multisensory input/output, maximizing opportunities for transmission. Other professions generally under-emphasise the visual sense (ie clip art, excel charts and graphs, etc), while we typically over-emphasize the visual at the mercy of the other faculties. In this HOW TO: Conquer the Final Review Part 2, Section Cut will cover how to balance your presentation across multiple senses to transmit the big ideas successfully to your jurors.
THE VISUAL PRESENTATION
The visual presentation is, as we just noted, necessarily a central part of your presentation. It’s likely what you’ve been spending all of your time crafting, and what the jury will be staring at while you talk. But it’s possible that you’ve spent most of your time working on only one type of of visual content, the static elements. Static visuals are all your drawings and models (which could also be tactile). At this point we presume that you’ve vetted any required drawings and models with your critic, so we’ll explore the use of ‘active’ visuals here, an often overlooked conversation.
With the increase in the use of digital technologies, ‘powerpoint’ presentations and videos have become a common addition to paper drawings and physical models classically presented in design schools. But there is nuance to the various modes, and pitfalls to avoid. And remember, keep the fancy graphics to a minimum – let the work speak for itself. Simple, easy-to-read fonts and calm backgrounds all help your work speak louder. Here are the major types:
It is now standard practice for many design presentations to rely on digitally viewed images, either on projector or large TV. In this scenario, you may have some drawings pinned up, but during your presentation you’re standing beside and talking to a screen. If you’re following one of the narrative or research based presentation styles described in Part 1, delivering your ideas this way is an obvious choice, due to the inherent linear nature of slide presentations. (Although this type is called ‘the powerpoint,’ you most certainly are discouraged from actually using the Microsoft program to execute. Try using inDesign, allowing you to copy in any content from the printed presentation, and create a PDF for the slideshow).
However, this presentation style also has its limitations, and must be used carefully if your project is a singular design proposal (as opposed to a process or set of iterations). While powerpoint is good at telling stories, it emphasizes a cadence and a linearity. As such, individual slides cannot be fully appreciated and understood in the time allotted during your talk. Design projects are often non-linear, requiring reviewers to be constantly shifting their gaze at different drawings to fully understand the work. Some critics complain of powerpoint-heavy presentations as claustrophobic, because they cannot access the work as readily. If you simply must present with slides, make sure to have important drawings visible at all times, such that your panel may refer back to them throughout your presentation.
Consider a hybrid presentation where the core drawings are printed out. If your project relies heavily on physical drawings and models, Powerpoint can still be useful for key parts of your presentation. Maybe all those infographics explaining the socio-economic history of NYC between 1800-2010 aren’t so easy to read when printed, but would make much more of an impact when explained sequentially in slide format before turning to the drawings to explain the remainder of the project. Whatever your scenario, this can actually be the most effective presentation style for design presentations. It’s to the point, and you don’t get carried away with duplication of information across formats. It’s also possible to imbed a movie…
In this scenario, you create a movie to present parts, or all of your project. Movies are significant undertakings so charrette week may be a bit late to start if you’re new to the process. But we’ll talk about it anyways for future semesters. There are 3 types of movies possibly used in design reviews:
1. The Flythrough Animation
This movie is short – maybe only a few seconds or a minute. You can possibly export it directly from your 3D modeling program without any editing. This type is meant as a way for you to show your reviewers more of the project than is available in static renderings. Pitfalls include poor use of render materials (err on side of simplicity! see our post on making sexy renderings), or aerial-only views that could also be experienced with a physical model. We are humans, and we walk on the ground. A particularly useful trait of animations is that they can put us into the spaces you’re imagining and show experience.
2. The Active Diagram
This type is meant to explain a temporal or morphological concepts more convincingly than in static drawings. These could include assembly processes or change over time. With some forethought, short animations or even gifs could help in your explanation. Image content could be from a 3D or parametric model, illustrator diagrams, or stop motion from photographs. Consider adding text annotations which could be overlaid in video editing software. Rules of good infographic design apply here!
3. The Full Explanation
This type of movie is most often found in professional design competitions. Generally it’s seen as unprofessional to merely play a movie to your critics and avoid actually speaking in design school reviews. Movies such as these are meant for explaining ideas to remote review panels or to the public. Save it for that competition you’re going to attempt over the summer unless your professor explicitly asked for it.
THE INTERACTIVE MODEL
With the ability to design in multiple dimensions comes the opportunity to show your review panel the actual digital model you built. Woah there, not so fast. Generally, this is also seen as poor form in reviews, as the digital model is often considered as working product, not presentation product. If you want to move around in a static model, make a flythrough animation or establish a few viewport/layer presets instead so you can control what the viewer sees, and how long they see it for.
Certain types of projects may benefit from the addition of an interactive element that can’t be afforded in a physical model. Maybe you wrote a script that takes user inputs, or created a truly complex set of spaces or objects that simply must be experienced to be understood. If this is you, find yourself an iPad and either load your interactive features, or download one a 3D model viewing app such as iRhino. Autodesk has one as well. Load up and pass the tablet around as a tactile supplement. Remember, this is not a replacement for a physical model and should also not be considered a back-up. Physical models are better at showing general formal moves, and allow all reviewers to talk to the object that everyone can see in the review space.
THE VERBAL PRESENTATION
Generally, students under-prepare their words for final presentations. But language is critical to convey meaning. There are a few key elements to really nailing your verbal presentation, which can make or break a jury’s perception of your project! Most simply, timing is everything. Speak to little and they won’t understand; speak too much and they lose focus. Figure out how to say just enough to convey the critical elements and explain the project, and let the panel do the rest.
1. Make an Outline Now!
Write an outline of talking points. Regardless if your project is non-linear, speech and presentations happen in time. Work with it! It may even be helpful to write an exact script. It’s ok to read directly from a script for important elements, but avoid letting it dominate. You should feel comfortable walking a panel through your project with only bullet points to guide you.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
We know, those drawings, that model; this shit takes forever. Creating visual presentations is obviously the core product of design school, but crafting a good verbal presentation should not wait until the last minute. Give yourself at least three days to practice your verbal presentation, ideally with one of your studio-mates. Then you can critique each other. Through practicing, you will also teach yourself which drawings are more critical to spend the last few hours on, and which can be let go of if your time becomes too precious. Additionally practicing will give you more confidence as you stand in front of your critics.
OTHER SENSORY ELEMENTS
Presentations are typically given in a physical space between people, and engaging things. Therefore all sensory inputs are fair game to be optimized, not just the visual and auditory! This could include the use of physical models with particular tactile qualities as we’ve alluded to throughout this post, the addition of food or drink to assist in bringing the jury into your world, or the use of audio to invoke particular atmospherics. Don’t forget about touch, taste, smell, and other audio elements besides your own voice to convince the jury of your project’s goals. But with that said, a word of caution: don’t overdo it. Clean, subtle, and specific generally make for a more favorable impression on design critics who are easily overwhelmed by the amount of information thrown at them, particularly when additional senses are involved.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
If you’re lucky enough to finish up by midnight, great! Go home and get a good night’s sleep. Before you fall asleep, read over your outline and reflect on the work you’ve done. More likely though, if you find yourself at the midnight hour with a significant amount of work to do, it may be time to step back and rethink priorities for the next 12 hours. Regardless, you should practice your presentation at least two times the night before. Even if you have a lot to do, take a break, and think about all dimensions of your presentation!