Saturday, October 22, 2011

Open Letter to Prezi

Back in September I wrote Presentation Dilemma – Powerpoint or Prezi where I wrestled with the art of presentation and the challenge imageI gave myself to use for one of my next presentations.  imageAfter much blood, sweat, and tears (okay, I’m being a little over dramatic…), I did it.  I had a blast delivering “The Social Networking Experience” on Oct. 21, 2011 at the Computer Using Educators of British Columbia (#CueBC) annual conference.

I had created a version of this presentation using PowerPoint earlier this year and used it at the BC ASBO annual meeting in May.  Unfortunately SlideShare (where you can access that version) doesn’t do justice to the dynamic aspects of PowerPoint but you can get the sense of that version compared to the Prezi version.

Using Prezi to present is actually a pretty interesting experience.  The essential nature of Prezi is that presentations zoom in and out, and pan based on a defined path.  It adds an element of engagement and entertainment while you move through your content.  I think a good Prezi needs a lot of thought and design around the back drop iStock_000017128753XSmallthat the path (narrative) will navigate. 

I found the creation process to be rather frustrating.  Interestingly, a new feature showed up that I noticed on Thursday the day before my presentation.  I wanted to rework the path and the Prezi gurus added a visual path editor that made it much easier to see and change the path.  It is sort of like a timeline strip in a video editor.

Let’s start with some advice based on my limited experience with Prezi:

  • please don’t think that you can just throw text, pictures, videos onto the canvas and create some bizarre path between the elements – that’s equally as bad as filling a PowerPoint with text, bullets, and meaningless pictures – design and purpose matters!
  • design and create a backdrop to place on the Prezi canvas to guide the path of your presentation – if I was a graphic artist, I’d hand draw a black and white visual story line for this – I don’t possess that talent so relied on a simple organization and helpful images obtained from various web sites
  • use pictures and images carefully – when you zoom in, the details will blur which can distract from your message; also placing text on images is very challenging since you have no control over the color – text can be hard to see
  • use zoom in / out and distance carefully or you could make some in your audience ill, literally – test it out on a big screen to be sure
  • accept that Prezi has limited editing (for some, this makes it easier to use) capabilities or you will be very frustrated and give up – this was my third attempt at using Prezi and by persisting, I managed to finish it and it worked out pretty well I think

Okay, here’s my wish list for the developers of Prezi to consider for improving the usability of Prezi from the designer’s perspective.  Note that I used the Prezi Desktop to create my Prezi and upload it to the website.


  • let the designer choose from hundreds of fonts and use them freely
  • provide the ability to change the text color, background color, style (bold, underline, italic), and size of lines of text or individual characters and words – in particular, it’s very frustrating and impractical not having control of color when placing text onto images
  • enable aligning text across or stacked with characters turned 90 degrees left or right
  • add ability to insert a hyperlink behind the text (ie, hyperlink a word, not just paste a URL on the canvas)




  • provide more shapes to choose from (think PowerPoint)
  • provide handles on shapes for designer to stretch, push, etc. to modify the shape
  • let the designer set the fill color and pattern as they see fit
  • enable the designer to change the transparency of the fill
  • add a feature whereby text can be added to the shape directly (not overlaid text on shape, part of the shape)
  • add ability to add outline color and highlighting features like glow
  • add ability to hyperlink a shape


  • enable the designer to select more than path elements to drag and drop them using the timeline view to reorder them (only allows one at a time currently)
  • enable transition features (not quite sure how this would work) to get from one path to another during presentation
  • add a thumbnail / sorter view (like slide sorter in PowerPoint) to perform path editing

Images and Videos

  • allow placement inside a shape and treated as the “fill” for the shape
  • images: allow ability to hyperlink an image
  • videos: allow options for how/when the video will start to play (automatic, clicked on, after a delay)


  • support the ability to build elements placed within a frame using a variety of build features (e.g., appear, fade, wipe, fly, etc.)
  • any element should be possible including text, shapes, images, videos, etc.

I couldn’t resist sharing my amateur Prezi advice!  If Prezi will add these types of capabilities, I will be torn between using PowerPoint iStock_000014920290XSmalland Prezi.  It would create new opportunities to choose various presentation tools to support more creative, interesting, but usable presentations.  So, I ask you Prezi, please consider this advice.  I think your user community would really appreciate the new flexibility and options.

For readers of this blog, what features and capabilities would you add to this list?  Take away from it?  I’d love to hear from you and I’m sure Prezi would too.  Feel free to share a link to your own or a favorite Prezi, in your comment.