The art of document design: Tips and tricks

Dave DeFranco

Written by

Dave DeFranco

You have a great idea, and you need your customers or co-workers to get on board. But your plan is too complicated for an email, and you know almost no one is going to read a long-form report. In a fast-paced world where attention spans are shrinking, how do you gain someone’s interest and persuade them, without being in the room?

It used to be that people would choose between creating visually intriguing slides (sometimes with – sometimes without speaker’s notes) and writing (too much) in Word when designing a document.


Pick the right visual aid for your content

It’s important to pick the right visual aid to give your content its time to shine. It might be a word document. It might be your slide deck. And it might be something else entirely. The phrase, “Send me your slides,” has become so ubiq­uitous that, in many organizations, presenta­tions are passed around as reading material more often than they’re projected. The problem with sending a true presentation is that it was meant to be presented – not read.

Or, if slides were created to house what might normally be reserved for a word document, the slides would be so overloaded that they’d be difficult to decipher and overwhelming to digest. Some people see this as a misuse of presenta­tions. (And we see this as a great opportunity to use The Glance Test™ to prevent busy slides from happening. But we digress.)

The answer? What’s been missing is a solution that has the visual interest of slides but the robust content of a word document. We have given these documents disguised as slides their own medium — we call them Slidedocs® visual documents.


What is a Slidedoc™?

Document design matters, so create Slidedocs, not Word documents. Slidedocs are skimmable, visual documents that powerfully deliver your most important ideas. They are ideal for:

  • Creating pre-reads
  • Leave-behinds
  • Visually digestible documents
  • When you can’t communicate your ideas in person
  • When your ideas need to live on their own in a portable format
  • When your audience needs to work through a lot of details

For your most important conversations. They are especially impactful at getting your key messages easily understood without the need for a presenter.


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What are the top 5 benefits of a Slidedoc for document design?

When Slidedocs are done well, they can be the fuel to help your ideas spread like wildfire. Slidedocs allow people to quickly under­stand and easily share our ideas by uniting visuals and words to illustrate one clear point per page.

With a Slidedoc you have more freedom to combine visuals and text in a succinct and meaningful way. And unlike a memo or a standard report, you can use presentation software to build your Slidedoc so you can easily integrate graphics and words.

  • 1. Help you focus on key messages: When you create a Slidedoc, you are forced to boil down the material to its essence. You make the content simpler and easier for the reader to absorb.
  • 2. Visually present your ideas: Slidedocs help audiences “see” what you’re saying. When decisions need to be made quickly, visually oriented concepts help people reach consensus more quickly.
  • 3. Save time: Slidedocs allow audiences the time they need to read your material when it’s convenient for them — instead of requiring them to listen to it be presented. When you give audiences more time to absorb your ideas, they may be more inclined to adopt them.
  • 4. Drive alignment: After reading a Slidedoc, stakeholders and decision makers can gather to have a more effective dialog and create movement toward decisions and outcomes.
  • 5. Accelerate understanding: Slidedocs help people understand your ideas more quickly because the information has been dissected, organized, and visually depicted.


Here’s our advice about how to design a word document

Don’t. Do you like to read multi-page, text-packed word documents? Few do. It can be tough to stay engaged when your document design leads to scrolling and scrolling. Many people process visual information much faster than textual information, and visuals often stick with people long after their first interaction with the material. Then, when you couple those visuals with clear and concise takeaways, steps, and examples, you’ve given your reader a communication medium that is engaging, explanatory, and saves them time.


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4 reasons to use PowerPoint vs. Word

  • 1. You already know how to use PowerPoint, so you don’t need to learn new design tools in Word.
  • 2. It’s easier to work with visuals in PowerPoint than it is to do so in Word.
  • 3. PowerPoint is also a Microsoft product, so software-conservative organizations don’t need as much convincing to try it out.
  • 4. Presentation decks are wide format and that is a superior format when most reports are going to be read using computer screens (laptops/desktops).

*It should be noted that the bulk of our clients historically use Microsoft products, but you may insert Google Slides vs. Google Docs, or Apple Keynote vs. Apple Pages for your use-case if needed.


20 ideal use-cases for a Slidedoc

Dr. Lynell Burmark, Ph.D. Associate at the Thornburg Center for Professional Development and writer of several books and papers, had this to say about visual literacy: “Unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear.

To be clear, Slidedocs don’t replace presentations. Well-designed presentations are still one of the most effective ways to move audiences. By using presentation software as an accessible replacement for professional page layout software, we can make our information more consumable, easier to understand, and more likely to spread throughout our organizations.

Consider Slidedocs as…

    • 1. A pre-read: The most effective conversations hap­pen when everybody is fully informed. By distributing a Slidedoc before a meeting, you can reserve a majority of the meeting for building consensus. This is particularly helpful when the topic is overly complex or technical.
    • 2. Your proxy: People in positions of influence will some­times say, “Send me your slides” before they’ll book a meeting with you. In any situa­tion where you can’t be there to present your slides, Slidedocs can help fill in the de­tails about our ideas without being there.
    • 3. Reference material: Information should enhance a conversation, not distract from it. Combining words and visuals around a single idea makes it easier for people to refer to the information in the heat of a discussion.
    • 4. Follow-up material to a presentation: Presentations often answer the question, “Why should I embrace your idea?” After a formal presentation, people need answers to the question, “How do I embrace your idea?” Follow up with de­tails so they can help you push forward. This is why Slidedocs make great modular sales collateral.


8 types of external communications perfect for a Slidedoc

Here’s a multitude of examples on instances to use a Slidedoc, depending on your industry and business.

      • Proposal
      • Research finding
      • Earnings report
      • Client strategy
      • Sales sheet
      • Case study
      • White paper
      • Datasheet


8 types of internal communications perfect for a Slidedoc

And here’s a list of examples to try a Slidedoc for your internal use at your organization.

      • Research finding
      • Report
      • Brief/memo
      • Corporate strategy
      • Execution plan
      • Appendix
      • Staff meeting
      • Status update


Here’s our advice about how to design a word document template

Don’t! Creating a template can take as much time as developing all the content to go into it. We get that. We don’t even think people should have to design their own Slidedoc templates either. That’s why we went ahead and built free Slidedoc templates that anyone can use to begin using immediately.

Duarte can also help you expand beyond those templates and customize your Slidedoc to your specific brand and use-case. Either way, you’ll quickly see how using Slidedocs can help you effectively spread ideas beyond your immediate reach.

Document design tips for your Slidedoc

Opening the template is step one. But you still need to fill it with your incredible ideas. The next time you’re tasked with delivering complex ideas, especially ones designed to motivate and persuade, think about the best way to convey them. Will words suffice? Or will words, coupled with visuals in a tight, concise, skimmable and searchable Slidedoc make your reader take action?

Keep these document design tips in mind:

      • Just like how your entire message should have a single “Big Idea™”, each page should focus on a single, core point.
      • The “one-idea-per-slide” mentality prevents you from overelaborating and helps your audience focus their attention.
      • Put your ideas for topics and subtopics on individual slides.
      • Once you’ve settled on a certain number of topics, these will become your page titles.
      • As you develop your supporting content, use the title as a litmus test to tell you whether you’re staying on topic.
      • If you’re overcrowding a page with words, either edit your material down or create a new subtopic on another page.
      • If you do create another page, make sure that it supports the overall point you’re making with your Slidedoc and that it really is relevant to your audience. If not, the content may be unnecessary and could be deleted.
      • Make the information easy to consume and understand to make your point.


Learn better document design from us

If you need some help getting started in document design, Duarte has a course just for you. Our 90-minute on-demand Slidedocs® course will help you create simple, easy-to-read “leave-behinds” using presentation software. Learn how to persuade your audience, even when you’re not in the room, by combining powerful visuals and prose. You’ll even learn how to adapt your live presentation slides into stunning leave-behinds that fully explain your message. Don’t worry if you’re not a designer. You too can create magazine-like reading experiences that match your brand’s look and feel.


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