Design

Back To The Future: Slides Before PowerPoint

Before there was PowerPoint for presentations, there were slides. Real ones. They were tiny, and tactile, and delicate, and kind of delightful.

Making slides was a trained profession for highly skilled designers and technicians. In fact, while researching speeches at the Stanford library, we came across several sets of slides for GE from the mid 1950’s. They were simple, clear, visual, and highly conceptual. Back then, speeches were so well crafted (and we assume effective) that they were saved for archival purposes.

These slides are built by a trained craftsman who knew what it took to make an effective visual aide.

The following collection of presentation slides was created for IBM over thirty years ago, before PowerPoint was even a glint in Microsoft’s eye.

presentation slide - online

presentation slide - world monetary crisis deepens

presentation slide - virtual storage

presentation slide - about with circles

presentation slide - about with circles

presentation slide - about with circles

presentation slide - bolder is online

presentation slide - bolder starts now

presentation slide - information programs

presentation slide - information programs

Here’s what we can learn from our slide-design forefathers:

  1. Slides were treated like they were valuable because they were expensive.
    In the 1950’s each element on the slide was crafted by hand, using an array of papers and tapes and a whole heck of a lot of White Out. If you had to pay money for every word and chart you put on your slide, you’d make some very different choices about what information you’d include to make sure they were effective. Just because our slides are free, doesn’t mean we should fill ‘em to the brim.
  2. These slides were created by a person whose only job was to create slides.
    Slide creation was once an art, typically practiced by specialized artists. Flash forward to today, you are responsible for three roles in developing a presentation: the content, slides, and delivering the presentation. you’ve got to contend with the content and delivery of the presentation, too. That leaves little time or energy to dedicate to your slides. We know all too well, good design takes time.
  3. Each slide had to be final days before the presentation.
    Frightening, right? Imagine being forced to finish your final deck a week before your presentation. Among other things, like giving you a heart attack, it would allow you time to rehearse. If you had an entire week to think about what to say during your presentation, you may not need to include so much information on the slides themselves. Also, all your valuable up-to-the-minute data would have to be relegated to a handout, where it should be. Hint hint.

Those slide designers toiling away in the olden days were probably dreaming about a tool like PowerPoint, after commuting to work via jetpack. Let’s do ‘em proud by appreciating PowerPoint as an incredible tool to help with presentations, and using it like they would. One idea per slide, plenty of whitespace, and keep (most of) that data in a document.

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  • Harry Wilson

    50 years on they are still very effective slides as they kept me gripped to wanting to see more!

    • Yeah, I LOVE these slides. Wish more organizations kept records of them. [http://disqus.com/notifications/notification/pixel.gif] [http://juggler.services.disqus.com/event.gif?imp=19138d6d-f667-4a3f-b532-2807bc5e36f0&zone=notification&forum=duarte&thread=917788746&event=notifications.opens]

      • Miguel Monteiro

        Nancy,

        Not 35mm slides, either conventional or computer generated, not that old as GE’s or IBM’s, but old enough to be considered an “antique” – a dynamic computer generated presentation – 1989’s Citroën XM launch presentation in Portugal: http://youtu.be/InvWzJ-Aloc

        oh noooo… just became aware of a “terrible” thing… I’m getting “jurassic”
        in what presentations design concerns…

  • Harry Wilson

    50 years on they are still very effective slides as they kept me gripped to wanting to see more!

    • Yeah, I LOVE these slides. Wish more organizations kept records of them. [http://disqus.com/notifications/notification/pixel.gif] [http://juggler.services.disqus.com/event.gif?imp=19138d6d-f667-4a3f-b532-2807bc5e36f0&zone=notification&forum=duarte&thread=917788746&event=notifications.opens]

      • Miguel Monteiro

        Nancy,

        Not 35mm slides, either conventional or computer generated, not that old as GE’s or IBM’s, but old enough to be considered an “antique” – a dynamic computer generated presentation – 1989’s Citroën XM launch presentation in Portugal: http://youtu.be/InvWzJ-Aloc

        oh noooo… just became aware of a “terrible” thing… I’m getting “jurassic”
        in what presentations design concerns…

  • Paula, thanks for sharing — these are amazing. I am guessing these are so good because only folks with a good design sense would have been trusted to create slides 50 years ago.

    • Thanks, Geetesh! You’re right – it was a job for the pros. PowerPoint is available to everybody, which is wonderful and terrible. 🙂

  • Paula, thanks for sharing — these are amazing. I am guessing these are so good because only folks with a good design sense would have been trusted to create slides 50 years ago.

    • Thanks, Geetesh! You’re right – it was a job for the pros. PowerPoint is available to everybody, which is wonderful and terrible. 🙂

  • as one of the guys working on actual slides 30 years ago I can tell you that you have glamorized it just a bit. Yes, generally they were simpler and generally they were done well in advance… but I cannot tell you how many times and how many tens of thousands of dollars clients spent the last 2 days before presos to keep labs open overnight and designers working through the night. Not to mention the cost of fixing a typo. ;o)

  • as one of the guys working on actual slides 30 years ago I can tell you that you have glamorized it just a bit. Yes, generally they were simpler and generally they were done well in advance… but I cannot tell you how many times and how many tens of thousands of dollars clients spent the last 2 days before presos to keep labs open overnight and designers working through the night. Not to mention the cost of fixing a typo. ;o)

  • These are great. Almost makes me want to set the clocks back 50 years.
    (Almost 🙂

  • These are great. Almost makes me want to set the clocks back 50 years.
    (Almost 🙂

  • Chris Hoskins

    Thanks for sharing, we were one of the first companies in London producing slides with Mac computers, but my background was also in using a Rostrum Camera. We had many, many late nights with trips to Joe’s Basement 24 Hr E6 processing lab. Once we had to send an employee to New York with one corrected slide and initially thought we would have to send him on Concorde so it would arrive in time. Unluckily for him the client decided he could take the early American Airlines flight and they would postpone the meeting for an hour.

    We recently celebrated our 21st birthday and to the bafflement of my younger employees I insisted on displaying the camera, even though it hasn’t beed used for over 10 years. We also had a Kodak Carousel projector displaying some of the old slides.

    https://www.facebook.com/ellipsisagency

  • Chris Hoskins

    Thanks for sharing, we were one of the first companies in London producing slides with Mac computers, but my background was also in using a Rostrum Camera. We had many, many late nights with trips to Joe’s Basement 24 Hr E6 processing lab. Once we had to send an employee to New York with one corrected slide and initially thought we would have to send him on Concorde so it would arrive in time. Unluckily for him the client decided he could take the early American Airlines flight and they would postpone the meeting for an hour.

    We recently celebrated our 21st birthday and to the bafflement of my younger employees I insisted on displaying the camera, even though it hasn’t beed used for over 10 years. We also had a Kodak Carousel projector displaying some of the old slides.

    https://www.facebook.com/ellipsisagency

  • Alan

    for several years as an architect and as a graphic designer I “created” slide shows: 35mm, 3M overhead projectors, opaque projectors and for film strips. Often it was my full time job from 1966 to 1979.

    From 1980 to the early 90s I still used those types of slides and equipment along with flip charts sheets and posters.

    Eventually i began using PPT and Keynotes in the early 90s.

  • Alan

    for several years as an architect and as a graphic designer I “created” slide shows: 35mm, 3M overhead projectors, opaque projectors and for film strips. Often it was my full time job from 1966 to 1979.

    From 1980 to the early 90s I still used those types of slides and equipment along with flip charts sheets and posters.

    Eventually i began using PPT and Keynotes in the early 90s.

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  • Wow. These substantial work flow considerations would definitely be a game-changer for us today. I wonder how that level of care would enhance what we’re doing week to week.

  • Wow. These substantial work flow considerations would definitely be a game-changer for us today. I wonder how that level of care would enhance what we’re doing week to week.

  • Bob

    I can relate… I started working in the drafting department in (1975 – Plastics division) Mt. Vernon, Ind. I developed a graphics department shortly after fowards. We did enough flip charts, overheads, handouts, maps, engineering booklets and artistic illustations to fill a train car. We worked around the clock many times to complete everyones charts that had to speak the following day. The presentations with all of the departments talking were the worst. Between the chemist, engineers, human resources, department leaders and plant management we had all we wanted. The only thing that stopped the changes was when the presentations were over.
    The few Board of Directors meetings that we prepared was the most nerve wrecking. The volume wasn’t there because fewer managers talked, but everything had to be on the mark.
    After we started using computers it was better because making changes was instant. The problem was they expected twice the work in half the time. Ha, nothing ever changes.
    I retired in 2003 as Sr Graphic Designer and I still miss the challenge of an impossible schedule for an upcoming plant, division or directors presentation.

  • Bob

    I can relate… I started working in the drafting department in (1975 – Plastics division) Mt. Vernon, Ind. I developed a graphics department shortly after fowards. We did enough flip charts, overheads, handouts, maps, engineering booklets and artistic illustations to fill a train car. We worked around the clock many times to complete everyones charts that had to speak the following day. The presentations with all of the departments talking were the worst. Between the chemist, engineers, human resources, department leaders and plant management we had all we wanted. The only thing that stopped the changes was when the presentations were over.
    The few Board of Directors meetings that we prepared was the most nerve wrecking. The volume wasn’t there because fewer managers talked, but everything had to be on the mark.
    After we started using computers it was better because making changes was instant. The problem was they expected twice the work in half the time. Ha, nothing ever changes.
    I retired in 2003 as Sr Graphic Designer and I still miss the challenge of an impossible schedule for an upcoming plant, division or directors presentation.

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