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.


  1. It would be better if Prezi will not require Flash. This means greater accessibility and portability.

  2. I have tried several times to create a Prezi and have always come away frustrated and wondering if my brain just doesn't work that way!! It sounds like some changes have been made so I'll give it another try some time when I have time - but for now, I wil stick to try to make excellent PPs.

  3. @Anonymous (1): ah great point, forgot to mention that - thanks for adding it here!

    @Anonymous (2): that's the other challenge... getting your head around a somewhat non-linear, certainly non-2D presentation surface and taking advantage of what that brings in terms of audience experience. I struggled with that too. I think if the Prezi devs read this post and take it to heart, they'll convert more PP people to at least add Prezi to their tool belt.

  4. shoot - i just wrote a big comment, then my computer shrugged and it disappeared. my apologies if you get two.

    i just used prezi for the first time, and i couldn't agree with you more. being a linear thinker, that large empty canvas was a challenge! it took me a few weeks of working with it to get my presentation truly organised, but in the end i wasn't totally thrilled with it. my biggest problems:
    lack of options: font/colour/design. very limiting.
    not being able to change/add to the navigation path without either dragging every single one to the new path, or deleting and starting all over again (what a pain!)
    image blurriness. i had to drop quite a few images because i couldn't figure out what to do about that.
    hyperlinks! didn't like being "stuck" inside the prezi.
    i couldn't agree more with your recommendations. i can't see myself using prezi again when powerpoint gives so many options and is easier to manage.

  5. @Kelly - wow, and I thought it was just me! Some people were telling me how awesome Prezi was, and that they had switched their students from PPT to Prezi because PPT creates bad presentations. I looked at a lot of Prezi's to get ideas on how people are using it and saw a lot of bad presentations... tools without skills will do that - it's not the fault of the tool! Takes time to learn a tool to be able to exploit it's potential too.

    Don't give up on Prezi :-) I suspect they'll keep improving it. For presenting, it's actually quite enjoyable.

  6. Great post and interesting comments. I'm a huge fan of Prezi, and I'll admit that the hardest part of learning to use it was the conceptual jump from linear to non-linear in the design stage. I'm glad to see others point in this out!

    I tend to approach my Prezis as concept maps first. I throw text and images on the canvas as ideas come to me, then start moving those items around until a big picture emerges. I think it's important that the placement and scale of items has some kind of logical sense. "These ideas are connected, so I'll group them together in a circle." "These three images are examples of this bigger idea, so I'll shrink them down a bit and place them under the text that represents that idea." That sort of thing.

    Once I have the words and pictures laid out in some sensible fashion, then I'll go bag through and lay down a path for delivery of the presentation. Here's where it's important not to move too far or scale the scale too fast, otherwise you might get some motion sickness in your audience. If I need to zoom way out for something, I'll go in stages so it's not so extreme.

    It takes more thought to plan out a good Prezi, one that takes advantage of the non-linear options. But it's because of those options that Prezi can do things in terms of representing ideas that PowerPoint just can't. Yes, PowerPoint offers more fine-scale control over the look and feel of a presentation, but it's not great at helping you convey the big picture. I'm okay with that tradeoff in using Prezi.

  7. @Derek: thanks for sharing your experience on how you approach starting with a Prezi. I like your analogy of a concept map - nice.

    I don't entirely agree that Prezi is non-linear and Powerpoint is linear or that Prezi lends itself to conveying the big picture and Powerpoint doesn't. I've had success with both now and again, they're just tools.

    In the hands of the designer, almost anything is possible. Powerpoint has a much richer feature set and supports pretty creative and flexible designs. Although you can be non-linear with Prezi, you can with Powerpoint as well. I suspect most people generally follow a linear path regardless of the tool. Prezi might lend itself better to jumping out and adding to it in real time but Powerpoint is fine for that too.

    So, I guess I agree with you 1/2-way :-) Hey, thanks for jumping in on this, apprecate it!

  8. Hi Brian,

    I agree with your comments about making Prezi more designer-friendly, but also want to make sure they find the balance between accessibility and complexity by not adding too many features.

    I'm a big fan of Prezi: it's free, is easy to embed YouTube videos (unlike PowerPoint!), saves your presentation automatically and often, and saves it to their cloud so that you can't forget your presentation!

    My major interest in Prezi additions would be to have the ability to paste photos from the web or screen captures without first having to save them to my computer then insert the file.

    Prezi and PowerPoint are not dueling in my mind for supremacy; I use them both and think they have somewhat different niches: if you want something fun and engaging where you don't need to have photos and text merged together, Prezi is great. If you want to bring up pictures behind or in front of text, and animate text or photos beyond simply jumping from one to another (albeit in a cool way) PowerPoint is more useful.

    Thank you for sharing your insight on Prezi!

  9. @Scott - good point, the more features/capabilities, often the more complicated something gets. Balance makes sense. I think that if features are added with accessibility, discoverabiliy in mind, the balance can be maintained.

    BTW, you can embed youtube vids in Powerpoint 2010. Insert from website, get the (old) embed code from a Youtube vid, paste in the PP insert box, and you're done.

    With Prezi (maybe only the desktop version) you can drag images into the prezi without using insert. I can't remember if it supports copy/paste though - don't think so.

    Good point that Prezi and PPT have different niches. That's kind-of how I see it. I'm hoping Prezi gets easier and more capable to design/create with though 'cause I do like the presentation experience it provides.

    thanks for stopping by.

  10. I used prezi a fair bit about 18 months ago and am returning to it recently.

    I'm finding Prezi to be extremely intuitive for my brain. I like planning a presentation in an analog fashion, lots of sticky notes in the early stages. Prezi helps me organize my thinking. I haven't really struggled with limitations. I suppose whatever constraints of the program I've just accepted and moved on. The new path thumbnail feature is very useful. My online complaint or request is to have some type of speaker note feature. That's what prevents me from using it more. i like having my talking notes available. For many they include those in their text heavy presentations. I like to make a few notes of important ideas or phrases I want to include.

    I really don't have too many other requests.

  11. @Dean: ah, so the "canvas" approach works for you. Guessing that you place content here and there then link it up on a path. I noticed one of your recent prezi's had the ipad with "apps" as your backdrop - I like that approach to drive the story.

    Speaker notes... something I don't use. I find that having notes stresses me out. I like to get the messages locked in and then rely on the triggers to pull the key messages out of my memory. Sometimes I will have a few printed notes to refer to depending on the complexity of the story.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your experiences here.


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