For the design community, Adobe’s Photoshop is the go-to tool for image manipulation and design concepts. I want to look into whether it’s remotely possible to even consider PowerPoint as the more effective way to communicate a creative idea. The initial reaction may be ‘of course not, how could they even be compared to each other?’ In this post I will attempt to give my insight into why I believe you can use utilise PowerPoint as a creative tool, taking into consideration the user’s technical ability as well as both software’s strengths and weaknesses.
The UI (User Interface)
When comparing two different and contrasting pieces of software, looking into their user interface is always a good place to start. When you are placed in an environment where time is money and personnel are uncomfortable mastering new pieces of software – an interface needs to be clear and linear but also, most importantly, user friendly. I hope you can agree that PowerPoint boasts bold and bright navigation tools such as the ability to increase the user’s magnification through a simple drop down menu. Although visual accessibility may not be an issue for someone with 20/20 vision, if you wanted to utilise this option regardless, Photoshop does not offer an obvious option to do so.
A side by side comparison of Photoshop (left) and PowerPoint (right) respective UIs.
When using design as a communicative tool in a corporate environment, PowerPoint has many advantages. For example, Claire in HR may want to use PowerPoint to create a stimulating and original job specification for candidates. Supposing that some of you may be highly experienced in using Photoshop, outside of the graphic design industry, you cannot depend that staff are familiar with its user interface or feel comfortable thrown into a world of small icons, variable sliders and hieroglyphic symbols. Photoshop embodies this complex interface for a specific reason: its user interface is designed to fold into itself, revealing more options the deeper you delve into its functions. This requires time and patience to master, or Photoshop training. Now a lot of you may be thinking ‘well that’s fine, I will master all its tools eventually,’ but I prompt this question ‘Are you able to use PowerPoint’s tools to create the same outcome in less time?’ If the answer is yes then my recommendation would be to delve even deeper into the bold and bright realm of PowerPoint. If the answer is no it sounds like you have already become familiar with most of what Photoshop has to offer and are comfortable with its features. Honestly reflect on whether or not you have been able to creatively and accurately convey your message in Photoshop but more importantly whether you could have done this in PowerPoint instead.
The ‘Ribbon’ is PowerPoint’s key feature in my eyes because of its contrasting colour, organised alignment and clear functions, making it something that is immediately useful for the user. As you all know, Photoshop is the world’s leading software in image manipulation and creation. This allows the program to boast an encyclopaedia of filters, adjustment scales, brushes and blending options. For a corporate entity that appreciates design as an effective tool for communication but does not have the technical ability or time to learn a complex piece of software such as Photoshop, PowerPoint is ideal. PowerPoint offers many creative options that would suit this type of user:
• Templates: you are easily able to select a pre-configured template that suits your purpose. For example a presentation on a member of staff’s quarterly review could incorporate a presentation with pre-built graphs or charts comparing performance to a previous year.
• Templates extended: What’s more is PowerPoint’s ability to customise pre-installed or downloadable templates around your existing brand. Using the colour palette (when a template is selected) you are able to use the colour select tool which enables you to incorporate your company’s branding colours instantly.
Theme design colours allow you to customise the palette to align to your company branding.
• Visualise statistics: PowerPoint offers much more than just bullets. With the ability to create infographic-style diagrams using PowerPoint’s ‘SmartArt’ feature you have yourself a modern and engaging creative asset!
• Transitions: With Photoshop you are able to create incredibly complex animations using the ability to export frames into GIFs. To create a clean and well executed GIF for a loading screen, as an example, would normally take hours of design and development, whereas PowerPoint takes all the time and hassle out of the equation by offering a wide selection of pre-built animations. However do be careful not to over-do these: if they are used too often it can often detract away from the message you are trying to convey.
• Smart Guides: These helpful features allow the automatic alignment of custom shapes, stock imagery or even text boxes Although you are able to do this in Photoshop, enabling these features can be relatively challenging when you have an entire menu of options to chose from.
The dashed Smart Guides allow you to align your slide objects with precision
• QuickStyles: This feature allows you to make your images, or even text, slightly more dynamic in appearance. To add a reflection to an image in Photoshop you would have to duplicate the image and spend time with the blending and masking options to get it right. However, PowerPoint offers a one-click solution to add not only reflections but also shadows, glow, border, bevels and 3D effects.
Usability is another extremely important aspect in trying to produce something creative; after all you don’t want unfamiliar complicated menus to navigate if you have looming deadlines and deliverables. At no point do I want to come across as implying that Photoshop is a redundant tool in producing creative content, there is however a specific audience that it caters for. PowerPoint however does have some useful features that work around some of Photoshop’s downfalls:
• Multiple Users: In an environment where you are working within a team of people, i.e. your marketing team, being able to all work on one presentation at one time becomes simple. Using Microsoft’s SkyDrive or SharePoint you are able to share a link, along with relevant permissions, to a document that everyone can work on at the same time! And if someone decides to add some text that… maybe doesn’t make sense? You can leave a polite ‘Reply Comment’ asking them to clarify what they have typed.
SharePoint capabilities. Source: http://sharepoint.microsoft.com/en-us/product/capabilities/Pages/default.aspx
• Portability: I wonder how many of you are reading this on a tablet, or some form of mobile device? More and more consumers digest media on a mobile device daily and look for interfaces that can cross all mediums. Although Adobe have released Photoshop Express for mobile devices, it does not suitably – or fully – offer all the services that the desktop version of Photoshop does. However, Office programs on touch screen or mobile devices allow you to create exactly the same creative content as you would on a desktop computer. If you are away from your local network you can also use your smart phone or mobile device to access SkyDrive and view any content your colleagues have created that same day.
Microsoft’s Windows 8 RT tablet. Source: http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/46152/surface-for-windows-8-rt-vs-surface-for-windows-8-pro
In this day and age, it is an ever-growing importance for design to play a crucial part of our lives – whether in shopping for new furniture for your home or learning to operate a new software for your job. The key is to identify your strengths and weaknesses in both pieces of software. If you are able to technically master a complex piece of software like Photoshop quickly, then explore and expand your ideas using that. However if you are creatively minded but lack that technical ability don’t give in, get to grips and learn certain techniques PowerPoint can provide to really get your creative idea across. So my answer would be this: Yes, you CAN use PowerPoint over Photoshop as an effective creative tool. However you need to look at how complex your creative idea is, regardless of the message you are trying to convey, and honestly ask yourself how far your technical ability will take you in both pieces of software. Will PowerPoint restrict your creativity or help it flourish or will Photoshop expand your creativity or simply deny you from even remotely getting your message across?
To summarise, I offer the following analogy: PowerPoint is a bicycle, whereas Photoshop is a car. Both offer the ability to get from A to B. However, a bicycle is simpler in design and operation, it uses short cuts that cars can’t. This is compared to the complexity and the abundance of features a car will provide, although it takes longer to learn how to operate a car you are open to far more possibilities in your travels. But remember, even if you do get your drivers license, it’s always a good idea to remember that eventually you’ll need to take your bicycle out for a spin from time to time!
What are your thoughts, do you agree that PowerPoint can act as a creative tool in an environment where time is money? Or do you completely disagree and think that Photoshop is far more suited as a creative tool in a corporate environment?
Want to use PowerPoint or Photoshop like a pro? Attend one of Best STL’s PowerPoint courses or Photoshop training, available London and UK wide.