from Dean Meyers

How does this wall look on me?

Housing Works' Design on a Dime Benefit

Housing Works' Design on a Dime Benefit

Last Thursday evening I had the opportunity to peek into over 20 stranger’s bedrooms and other living spaces. Actually, I was invited to not only peruse, but to purchase the lamps, tables, beds….anything with a price tag on it. There were plenty of nice items to choose from, and it wasn’t just a shabby chic auction or a fire sale going on, it was Housing Works’ “Design on a Dime” Benefit show, held at The Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street in Manhattan. Is New York in a spring cleaning/home design frenzy? I ask because as the Benefit opened its doors the May 11, 2009  issue of New York Magazine cover article was Design Liberation: The 2009 Home Design Issue.

I don’t have an answer why home design is on the mind of New Yorkers right now, and you can just look at my pics below from the Design on a Dime Benefit show and not read anymore of this post. But it is a good time to think about design as something that isn’t just in the minds and hands of experts.

An Obama-inspired bedroom

An Obama-inspired bedroom

We all design (by accident as well as on purpose), starting with our home and work spaces. Rather than being just an unconscious reflection of who we are (messy or neat, bright or somber), it can be what we want it to be by applying thought about how the contents of the room affects us, choosing colors that dominate the setting for each room, and displaying a few choice items that make a statement.  This is where visiting a show like this or reading the New York Magazine article can stimulate our creativity and inspire us.

Enjoy the picture show below. Look for color, shapes, organization. See what you like, and think about how it sets a mood. Imagine why you’d like to spend time in that room or why you wouldn’t even walk into a room like that. Design is proactive, and after you’ve looked at what other people have done to create an environment, think about what you might do to change yours.

Moving from 3-D to the flat spaces we design all the time as well, apply the same criteria: is this slide or page or web site inviting, welcoming, cold, formal, funky? Would I want to spend time here or just go past it quickly because it’s too messy and unorganized? Take a stroll through a presentation on Slideshare and see what others are designing that make you feel at home, and use it as an example. Hopefully a light bulb with a pretty lampshade will turn on in your mind.

Click here to see the slide show from Design on a Dime Benefit

Click here to see the slide show from the Design on a Dime Benefit

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I am Susan Boyle. And so are you.

20 seconds. It took 20 seconds, from hitting the “play” button on the recording to start the song for Susan Boyle to convince 3 skeptical judges and a doubting audience that she did, in fact, have a voice, and could dream a dream. There are now millions who have watched the clip on television and the Internet, who have cried and laughed and felt good seeing this plain-spoken woman astound the venerable Simon Cowell—and us.

What’s the attraction? And why am I and you just like her..or how can we be? Saying she’s authentic, well, it sounds right, but what does that mean, really? I think it’s more valuable to look at the symbolic reference, or what Susan Boyle is as an archetype: she is “everyman“, a person who wouldn’t stand out in a crowd, has no great distinguishing physical characteristics (by outward appearance), rather “ordinary” or “plain”. Her life story seems to be an unremarkable tale: a single woman, close to her parents, never married, in fact never has been kissed. Doen’t that already set us up for a great story, either way? She could be something wonderful we are about to discover, or a complete loser who we take into our hearts (remember William Hung on American Idol?) Didn’t we give him just as much attention for his hopelessly naive performance of “She Bang“?

So there’s a larger story, and it’s not just about those who are successful despite all odds, or surprise by being good at something they shouldn’t be able to do, or even by being as awful as we expected. It is when we see ourselves in them, our frailty, our commonness, the things that make us so LIKE each other, that makes us interested in hearing what they have to say.  When our  defensive wall is down, when our genuine enthusiasm is on display, and when we fervently believe we have something to give, we are interesting to others. Show your enthusiasm, your passion, your belief in your work, your products, whatever you want the world to see that you create, and you’ll be memorable. This is the lesson of Susan Boyle, and she has inspired me to “dream a dream” too.

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Close your eyes to see

Thanks to Howard Greenstein, I was able to get into the the Social Media Club meeting in New York City last week on short notice. The details about the meeting, along with video, is posted here:

I didn’t want to tweet about it, which I am finding is now a great way of making notes, but I did bring pencil and pad to write down things that might interest me. The first speaker, Fraser Kelton (@fraser) spoke about Glue, and the issue of “walled gardens” keeping data from transferring between applications.  My pad and pencil responded with this:


The second speaker was Tina Alexander, talking about the community sites currently in beta on The Wall Street Journal’s site.I was struck by the idea of “Curated content”, a phrase she used, and drew this:


The images come from the talks, and they serve as reminders of the talks. Sometimes from listening, pictures are created in the mind that are more striking than anything projected on the screen. Sometimes, you have to close your eyes to see.

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Filed under: design, Presentation Skills, Visual Expression, Visual Problem-Solving, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tell the tale, enrich it with detail

Good storytelling sometimes has nothing to do with the story itself, particularly if it’s a story so familiar we can tell it to ourselves. Here’s an example of great storytelling that isn’t about the story, a familiar chestnut of a fairy tale, but the way it’s told: with humor, simplicity, and a surprising amount of data visualization that might hang around in your mind even after the story is done.

picture-1Slagsmålsklubben – Sponsored by destiny from Tomas Nilsson on Vimeo.

Filed under: design, Storytelling, Visual Expression

Curiosity is the glue to a good story

istock_000004387778xsmall“What’s coming next?”

That’s the question you want every listener and every viewer to ask. You want edge-of-the-seat, gripping-the-chair attention. You want silence in the room as every eye is on you. If you’re using a whiteboard to make a presentation, you want everyone to get excited as you go to the board to draw the next chart, write the next big keyword, flip the page to make a point.

Beyond interest lies curiosity. That’s what drove humans to find better ways to hunt, explore new lands,  create art.

Examining your presentation, your graphic design, your next blog post, what evokes curiosity? Here are some tips:

1) Build the story. Give a setup: “here’s the situation, the problem”.

2) Describe the outcome that is hoped for.

3) Describe how you propose to make that happen.

Simple, right? So why do so many presentation go down the rabbit hole of too much detail and no end in sight? Good stories are about action. Create energy with action…what are the actions that will make your outcome happen?

Visual tips: cut down the bullet points and write action words. Use a picture instead of a word if you can find one.

And, perhaps my favorite suggestion, when you’re giving a talk or presenting with slides:

Take a breath and pause after you’ve hit a key point. Give it time to sink in. Create suspense by not rushing from slide to slide, from point to point, spewing out facts or running down a list.

Control the pace of your story, and you’ll create a lot of interest not only in the story you’re telling but in you, the storyteller. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Presentation Skills, social media, Storytelling, , ,

25 years later: Macintosh, metaphors and the mouse

The Macintosh computer turns 25 year old

The Macintosh computer turns 25 year old - an early print ad

A blog post on requested stories from those who were around in 1984 for the release of the Macintosh computer. At that time, I was the Sales and Tech Representative for Apple Computer for the Caribbean Region. Most of my job entailed introducing the new technology to both sales people and perspective customers.

First single-button mouse

First single-button mouse

Although we are all used to all kinds of input devices now, navigating with a mouse was actually pretty daunting for a lot of people at the time. Basic navigation with a mouse involves a kind of eye-hand coordination which, in 1984, was completely novel even for kids, who were using keyboards with up-down-left-right arrows to play games.

Visualization of mouse/GUI navigation

Visualization of mouse/GUI navigation

I spent a lot of time teaching the new Macintosh interface to adults, particularly school teachers and educators. The number one question was always, “What happens when I run out of room on my desk to move the mouse?” My routine answer was “lift the mouse, move your hand, lower the mouse back to the desk and move it again”. If experienced mousers think that sounds clunky, I assure you that it just befuddled grade-school teachers who spent most of the day with chalk or pen in hand.

I thought about how to break down the actions into something familiar: Lift, move, lower, move. Lift, move, lower…brush. I found the answer!

slide7The size and shape of a mouse wasn’t much different from that of  a brush. Most of us learn to use a hair brush as children, when we are first developing gross motor skills. Now I had found my common, real-world example of how to move the mouse to get around the screen based on something most people already know.  I could answer the “running out of room to navigate on the desk” question before it came up.


That Macintosh way of thinking, using visual/experiencial metaphors for everyday applications, has stuck with me since that lightbulb went off in my head 25 years ago. Is all of life just a GUI? Tell me your stories about making the leap of explaining the unfamiliar by using common experience.

Filed under: Storytelling, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

Over 25 resources to improve the visual impact of your presentations

Besides the stagecraft involved with giving a presentation, many people struggle with the visual aspects, such as creating the ubiquitous PowerPoint or Keynote slideshow, or figuring how to use a whiteboard or an easel pad with marker pens. The dilemma often starts from not having a clear focus on 1) a structure to make the presentation and/or 2) Clear, definable objectives, key ideas and take-aways to anchor the linear progression or the storytelling aspects of your presentation. Simply put: Do you have an overarching point to make that you can write down in one sentence? Does you presentation have a beginning, a middle, and an end, with major points or milestones that carry the story along its way? With those in hand, you may now ask yourself: How do I tell that story visually, with impact?

Here is a collection of books and web resources to assist you with formulating and executing a presentation, with a heavy focus on STORYTELLING. When I emphasize this word I hope it sounds like gathering the tribespeople around the fire and regaling them with myths and legends. That’s the image I use when I plan on making a memorable presentation. The best presentations have a magical quality to them, where the presenter imparts something of value, something memorable, perhaps through a story of dangers overcome, or one of transformation. The story might warn of imminent doom or give an example of heroic achievement to be emulated. In the more mundane variety of what’s forced into the “presentation” category, if you must present the findings of research in the form of a report, plan a brainstorming session or a Q&A/discussion instead: email the attendees an agenda and a PDF version of your research paper or the thoroughly-researched facts and figures that you have turned into a neatly-organized document BEFORE the presentation. Let everyone digest the information at their own pace, and then you can turn a potentially mind-numbing experience into a participatory event, getting questions answered and your findings clearly revealed. Wouldn’t you prefer that over watching people look at their watches instead of the clever slide you made with 4 charts and 7 bulletpoints of text?

To see a sequential slide-based presentation with great visual impact, look at this video of Al Gore’s first version of An Inconvenient Truth. This is not the documentary film version, but a video of him on stage presenting the slide presentation he started with in 2004. Bear with the opening introductory speeches and his “ums” and “errs”. It’s worth watching for the strength of his clear, purpose-driven storytelling combined with simple yet powerful visual images.

Next, watch T.Boone Pickens give a whiteboard presentation, offering his solution to U.S. dependence on foreign oil. His great strength starts from his clear objective, which is then enhanced by writing down his key points on an old-fashioned (analog) whiteboard as he speaks. To top it off, he adds a few maps for additional visual impact. It’s simple, and it works!

The rest of the list below will help you, whether left-brained or right-brained, in creating better presentations and better reports. But there are two key ideas I’d like to leave you with before you attack the list:

1) If you are bored with your story, your audience will be bored as well.

2) To avoid boredom, as you finish each slide, or section of your presentation, make sure you can answer the question “SO WHAT?” What is the point of the slide? State the objective (the “SO WHAT?”) clearly, revise the words/images to support the objective, or get rid of the slide.

And now, to the list. Let me know what you learn or give me suggestions to add and share in my training:

Concept development:
The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, Dan Roam, and the Web site:

slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, Nancy Duarte – and the website:
– My highest recommendation, as this is a textbook, a workbook, a resource, and she is a gifted presenter in print AND in person! (I will repeat this recommendation under the PowerPoint section, as it deserves repetition)

Beyond Bullet Points, Cliff Atkinson (use the edition for PowerPoint 2007) and the web site: – This book has actually helped me in film projects, as his approach comes directly from concepts of script development for film. Another resource that will be repeated below.

Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels, Scott McCloud – Comics and graphic novels have to tell their stories visually–this comic book tells you how it’s done, and you can apply the same ideas to your presentation skills.

A Technique for Producing Ideas (Advertising Age Classics Library), James Webb Young (written in the 1940’s, a little book with an old-fashioned but viable approach)

Mind mapping:

Brainstorm in a visual way, either alone or with others: (free, share mind maps with others) (free and for-pay versions, mind maps/outlining)

Visualizing data:

Methods to display data or business information visually–and that does include words and numbers:
Anything/Everything written by Edward Tufte (
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition

Envisioning Information

Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative

Beautiful Evidence

Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten, Stephen Few (a workbook for those who want to use Excel/Powerpoint charting to better effect) (Great examples of good charting design, a new online service for big number sets)

Gallery of Data Visualization

Using Powerpoint/Keynote to tell your story visually:

slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, Nancy Duarte – and the website:

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (Voices That Matter), Garr Reynolds – and the website:

Beyond Bullet Points, Cliff Atkinson (use the edition for Powerpoint 2007) and the web site:

Other resources:

graphics and images – starting places for ideas
Optical illusions:

Three more books – sequential storytelling and acquiring simple but effective design skills
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud (why we like comics and sequential art)
The Cartoonist’s Workbook Drawing, Writing Gags, Selling, Robin Hall (if you’re tired of drawing stick figures, try his “keyhole” character drawing)
Non-Designer’s Design Book, The (3rd Edition) (Non Designer’s Design Book), Robin Williams (Begins with print, but general principles apply for all graphics)

A special book to help you think about everything above:

The Laws of Simplicity (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) by John Maeda

A final note: FLASH, Whiteboard software, Webinars, others:

Collaborative and interactive presentations other than panel discussions are in their infancy. There are programs online that allow people to display slide shows online, coming first to mind, but I have also used some web-based whiteboard programs to give presentations online, creating hybrids between slideshows and white boards.,, all offer free simple collaborative products to try, there are commecial ones as well. Flash can be a wonderful tool to make great presentations, but has a high-pain learning curve that daunts most from putting it to use–a great shame as it allows for non-linear, non-sequential storytelling to happen when used to its fullest extent. Perhaps we’ll see better tools for that to happen soon. I’ll talk about the non-sequential story as opposed to the sequential story in another post.

Finally, there is the Webinar, a really popular interactive tool for presenters to use the web to give a talk and participants to interact both with the presenter and each other. Again, most of these services follow the model of a host talking while giving a sequential slideshow online, but we’ll see more interaction and better presentations with increased bandwidth and more online interactive gadgetry over time.

I hope you will try many of these tools and resources to become a better storyteller and learn how to increase the visual impact of your presentations. Show me your stories after you’ve tried some of these resources!

Filed under: Presentation Skills, Uncategorized, Visual Expression, Visual Problem-Solving, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Love the post-it note and index cards.

The simple story of transformation

The simple story of transformation

In a world where Martha Stewart reigns as “Queen of the Craft”, it dawned on me last night that during the Great Depression of the 1930’s making clothing, cooking, and even handwriting were practiced, utilitarian crafts in many if not most homes. Jump to 2008 and my focus on visualization skills of the typical, high-school educated to high-level professional, and I routinely see outright FEAR when I suggest laying out a story on index cards, post-it notes..anything non-digital. I love facility and ease of use, most certainly: InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, PowerPoint, Flash, Final Cut Pro…all are my great and good friends. However, the invitation to tell a story the PowerPoint way – “Insert your TITLE HERE”…”Add your text here”..or through Flash’s interface – “Start with a Keyframe on a layer” – “add your library elements” doesn’t address the question that drives the purpose of using these tools in the first place: What is the point of telling this story? These are great tools, but they create anarchy when they offer no guidance or pathway to the process. And, to make matters worse, much of the templating/chart building/clip art libraries obscure the message or are useless.

Specialization, as in inspired and gifted artwork and design, has its place, but it really heightens one’s own ability to take ownership with pride when you can craft it yourself. At the very least, understanding the process of having an idea, seeing it in your mind’s eye, showing some kind of representation of that to others and, lo and behold, making the communication happen, should be an essential craft in your arsenal. Learning by doing? I’m all for it. Here’s a simple exercise:

Draw a square on the left side of a post-it note. Draw a circle on the right side. Draw a 4-sided box with rounded corners in the middle. Draw an arrow between the square, and then one between the rounded-corner box and the circle. You have just told a story of transformation!

In summary, don’t be afraid to sketch it, doodle it, scribble. In fact, you SHOULD do that and more–a slick presentation is like packaged white bread: a pretty wrapper and a lot of air to puff up an anonymous product. Make it, own it, wear it.

Here’s T. Boone Pickens doing it, live, on a whiteboard:

Send me your scans/shots of your index cards, post-it notes, napkin sketches. Anyone have a good visual concept of “Status quo”?

Filed under: Diagrams, Presentation Skills, Visual Expression, Visual Problem-Solving, , , ,

An irresistible urge to communicate

A poster found on a newsstand wall in NYC

A poster found on a newsstand wall in NYC

Here is a visual perfect storm: the convergence of strong graphic design, a message that evoked an emotional reaction and a simple interface (mounting the poster on the side of a wall at common eye level and within easy physical reach) which created an irresistible call to action. It’s not my design or my concept, but it inspires me to ask myself: Is my design about me or about my message? Have I created emotional impact, the kind that stirs a response, triggers and/or plants a memory, satisfies the need to be touched somehow? Do I provide a place for feedback or a call to action? These questions are based on old principles, but when it works, it really works.

Ultimately, inviting participation or dialog is where Web 2.0-Web 3.0 (the read/write web, or collaborative, social media-focussed web), will make the old advertising model feel distant or quaint.

More images:

Filed under: social media, Visual Expression

Better meeting notes can jog extra memories

I have a debriefing call on Monday about a training on presentations I co-facilitated 3 weeks ago. A senior management team convened for a “Reporting with Impact” training seminar, and my role was to teach them Visual Expression in reporting to executives. I’ll talk about that elsewhere, but my challenge for Monday is: How do I remind everyone of the issues we discussed three weeks ago, and make it feel fresh? My solution: at the beginning of that workshop I drew a rough sketch of the table, listing the names of everyone there in their seating arrangement, their titles, and then one or two salient quotes from each person as they spoke. I will admit, I don’t remember people’s names very quickly off the bat, so this was a trick I learned watching lawyers prep prospective jurors–they use a card system with a seating chart, and they write notes on the cards. Here’s my version, first, the pencil draft, and then revised into a graphic that I will distribute before we meet for the review:

Quick sketch showing individuals and their key concerns

Quick sketch showing individuals and their key concerns

Cleaned up and ready to distribute for review

Cleaned up and ready to distribute for review

Here’s the take-away for you: Organize your notes visually, using spatial reminders: draw the layout of the room with major elements, the tables or seating arrangement first–no fine drawing skills required. Use a single page. Write on the page or use post-it notes to label the participants in their position in the room. Make quick notes of what they said on the post-it note or under their name. It will remind you not only of who said what, but will bring back the spatial memory–did the team leader sit at the head of the table? In a panel discussion, who sat next to whom, and was that because they had a relationship worth noting? You will probably remember more with the seating chart jogging your memory than a standard bullet-point note-taking format. Try it at your next meeting or conference.

P.S. if you look at my previous post about the Edward Tufte Workshop I attended in November, you’ll see that I made a quick little layout of where he sat at the beginning of the program and where I was sitting in that giant hotel ballroom. Now you know why I do that.

Filed under: Diagrams, Visual Expression, , ,

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August 2021