August 19, 2003

Learning to Love PowerPoint

An interesting response to Tufte's widely circulated condemnation of PowerPoint, from ex-Talking Heads leader David Byrne:

Although I began by making fun of the medium, I soon realized I could actually create things that were beautiful. I could bend the program to my own whim and use it as an artistic agent. The pieces became like short films: Some were sweet, some were scary, and some were mysterioso. I discovered that even without text, I could make works that were "about" something, something beyond themselves, and that they could even have emotional resonance. What had I stumbled upon? Surely some techie or computer artist was already using this dumb program as an artistic medium. I couldn't really have this territory all to myself -or could I?

I wonder what PowerPoint template this was from?

PowerPoint's gotten an unfortunately bad rap. Sure, the program allows--in some ways, encourages--bad presentation design. But other aspects of the program provide useful structures for developing presentations: the outline structure, the landscape orientation (compared to, say, default document creation in Word), etc.

More to the point, though, Tufte's comments position users as passive sheep--their work automatically structured (tainted) by the technology. But while technologies do lend force to particular types of work (encouraging some, discouraging others), it doesn't make sense to lay blame with the technology. Why not ask the larger question: Why do we assume that technologies operate under simple cause and effect patterns? Do we really believe those Microsoft and Apple advertisements that promise us perfection as long as we stay on the upgrade plan?

Why not, instead, understand technology use as a complicated interplay among users, technologies, and contexts? Why not help users figure out how to design effective presentations and other communications?

The short answer, of course, is that it's easier to sell magic than work. Posted by johndan at August 19, 2003 01:10 PM | TrackBack