Comments: David Byrne and the (bogus) PowerPoint art debate

Byrne's PowerPoint work interests me professionally is in it’s delivery of the creative subversion of every day technologies. Most of the staff here have heard of Byrne, and this work particularly appeals to our Art & Design department. Talking about the work has been effective in generating enthusiasm amongst Art & Design to think again about 'corporate' (Microsoft) applications.

I'm also running workshops on PowerPoint soon, aimed at the staff that have little or no experience with presentation software. As well as covering the basics, in terms of the applications, accessibility issues and aesthetics, it's fantastic to be able to give them examples of breadth of use for the technology.

Now, when is John Cage going to take a look at Excel...

Posted by Josie Fraser at April 6, 2004 10:50 AM

Another example of PowerPoint Art: a leaked PP presentation from a consulting firm that works for the Pentagon.

Posted by Roger Eniac at May 21, 2004 4:30 AM

Well, I'm not David Byrne, but I've been "subverting" PowerPoint as a design tool for a decade or so. I can honestly say that in that time I've created perhaps three or four presentations; but I've gone through uncounted revisions of my business cards, and used it to design print graphics for newsletter articles and web graphics. I know a guy who uses it to do web page wireframes (and I wish he'd stop, but that's a different story).

And I have to say, I had the same initial reaction to the Tufte-Byrne "debate". It was clear to me that they weren't talking about the same thing at all.

Tufte's case on PowerPoint is really intriguing to me, not least because I don't think most people really understand how far it goes. They think he's being cute; they think he's just talking about good and bad ways to do presentations. He's really talking about something much grander in scope, encompassing corporate cultures of ideas.

Posted by eric at January 16, 2005 4:45 PM

I "live" in PowerPoint everyday, and it was clearly a reach to even imply a debate between Tufte and Byrne. I believe eric's observations of Tufte's "grander scope" is on the right track…

There is a bigger problem at work here, and it starts with speakers and presenter's who don't actually write a speech before they go to PowerPoint and start filling in slides with content.
Plus we see these images of CEO standing between two 50'x 50' screens bathed in "rockstar-like" lighting announcing the new product or business strategy. Business people want to emulate these business leaders, and if you want anyone in the corporate halls to respect your presentation at all you must have a PowerPoint deck accompanying you when you present. The difference is the CEO has a staff of speech writers, a speaker coach, and team of graphic designers making sure that all the elements fit together. "Joe sales guy" still has quotas to meet and no staff to help with his presentation. (poor Joe) So he just starts filling up slides with no well crafted message and no expert graphic designers to help him pull it off.

I think this is the paradigm that Tufte is trying to change. Nelson Mandela did not use PowerPoint to inspire people, there is no PowerPoint required to get your message across, but in this world of high quality images coming at you via Mtv, HDTV, advertising, and all the digital mediums you can think of, it will be hard to convince people to give up visualizing some parts of there message, and PowerPoint as David Byrne points out, is just to darn convenient.

I think somewhere in between what Tufte and Byrne offer is a viable solution.
1. write the damn speech before you touch PowerPoint.
2. hire a graphic designer to help you visualize piece of you message.
3. You are the presenter not you visuals, whether it be PowerPoint, Keynote or some other presentation software.
4. Just because PowerPoint has crazy animations doesn't mean you should use them. unless of course you are David Byrne.

Posted by cory at February 25, 2005 1:06 AM

Here's a report of a David Byrne talk on PowerPoint last month — thanks to Josie for the link.

Posted by David Jennings at April 5, 2005 8:52 PM