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Tips on creating presentations with personality

Posts Tagged ‘mandatories’

Graphic Tips: Making Text Clearer On Photos

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

The design guys and I are working on a food packaging project at the moment. It’s quite a fiddly task. There’s a Dan Brown novel’s worth of legal mandatories to fit on each box, much of it warnings about the two greatest threats to Western civilisation: nuts and crustaceans.

DANGER THIS FOOD MAY HAVE BEEN PREPARED USING EQUIPMENT THAT MAY HAVE COME INTO CONTACT WITH NUTS OR CRUSTACEANS, OR POSSIBLY OPERATED BY A PERSON WHO ONCE SHOOK HANDS WITH SOMEONE WHO ONCE ATE A NUT OR CRUSTACEAN, AND IN FACT IT IS POSSIBLE TO DIE A SLOW AND PAINFUL DEATH FROM JUST THINKING ABOUT NUTS OR CRUSTACEANS, THAT’S HOW DANGEROUS THEY ARE ACCORDING TO OUR LEGAL DEPARTMENT.

So there’s a lot of fine-print type going over the top of photos, which creates production dramas too tedious to relate here, but it has some relevance for creating presentation graphics.

A nice photo makes a more compelling background for your screen show than a cheesy graphic template. But adding words over the top can present all sorts of hassles. Here’s a quick guide to the words-on-pictures thing that you can do within PowerPoint, rather than having to use Photoshop, Illustrator or other fancy gear.

For demonstration purposes, here’s a picture of the handsome lads of Scene Change Tasmania, in their natural habitat of Constitution Dock (which, by the way, is ALIVE with dangerous crustaceans).

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Like most shots, it’s a mixture of dark and light bits, so the black type disappears into the dark suit. Let’s try white type.

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That’s a lot better, but it still gets a bit lost on the lighter concrete background. So we’ll add a subtle shadow to the text in the slide below. Adding the shadow actually reduces the perceived weight of the font, so I’ve switched it to Bold as well:

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That’s much clearer. It’s a black shadow with a 75% transparency. It works best if your version of PowerPoint has an adjustable shadow facility. Some of the earlier versions had a single, very ugly setting with a gray, massively offset shadow which will do your photo no justice.

If adding a shadow still isn’t making it clear, try the ‘glow’ feature (Format/Font/Text Glow and Soft Edges). This is a black 8 point glow on 32 point type, at 75% transparency:

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Almost all video titles use a glow, because of the legibility hassles with a moving background with changing levels of contract. It’s pretty foolproof for still images. But if you’re dealing with a super-contrasty background, consider putting a transparent background in your text box.

Drag the borders of your text box to the left and right margins of the picture, and centre your text. Now adjust the ‘Fill’ on your text box from ‘No Fill’ to black. Now adjust the transparency until the text is legible, without blocking out the picture too much. On this shot, I’ve set the transparency at 75%:

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It’s quite a nice, elegant effect. Depending on the shot, and your personal taste, you could use black text on a white box, also set to 75% transparency, like this:

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While the transparencies look great on screen, beware if you’re planning to print the pages. Some printers give you a messy, crosshatched effect. Test your printer well in advance of the deadline.

And after all those shots, you’re probably feeling a strong, subliminal attraction to Scene Change Tasmania. If you are, you should know the contact details for our beaut new office, a stone’s throw from where this photo was taken:

Cnr Macquarie/Campbell Sts

(GPO Box 2266 Hobart Tas 7001)

Hobart TAS 7000

Tel: 03 6234 2266

Fax: 03 6234 2655

Cut-Through Among the Mandatories

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

It would be interesting to survey people who create communication for a living - writers, designers, etc - to learn what their least favorite phrase in the world is.

It might be ‘minor revisions’. Or ‘I love it but…’. Or maybe ‘procurement department’. But if it came to betting my house, I’d go for ‘mandatories’.

This is the dumpster-load of catch phrases, tags, co-branding logos and sundry clutter that must be added onto any piece of visual communication, transforming the concept from elegant simplicity to a visual flea market.

Presentation graphics generally suffer less from mandatories than, say, press ads or packaging, but you still see lots of screen material where being ‘on-brand’ seems to be more important than clear, involving communication.

If you’re swamped in compulsory clutter, sometimes you have to turn the ‘contrast’ dial up to 11.

Which is why I love this construction site sign. It wouldn’t have the same charm if the core message wasn’t totally buried in a blizzard of mandatories.

It makes me proud to be Australian.

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