Not everyone has a budget for Adobe Illustrator (at least not a legal version). Or Photoshop. Or Corel Draw, or any other advanced, professional, money-costing chunk of software out there. I certainly don’t. I did consider making an argument for a capital investment at one point. I mean, there are times when you can’t get by without a decent image, especially in technical training. And snapping photos of things with your cell phone isn’t super classy. And stealing images from the internet isn’t recommended. But I quickly learned that, in just about every circumstance, I could not only make do with what I had, I could make a ton of good, effective content with what I had.
Now, maybe someday I’ll have need for some real design software. I kind of hope I do. But for now, I can do almost anything I want with a lovely bit of programming called PowerPoint. Now, PowerPoint has its dissenters. More than a few. And I get that. But, have you ever just played with PowerPoint? It can do some amazing things quickly and easily. And, particularly in a time when flat design is the thing, it can produce some slick results.
I’ve found a surprising number of opportunities to develop my PowerPoint design skills since I learned many of it’s wonders from Tom Kuhlmann. For instance, I recently needed graphics related to shipping and receiving for an e-course I was building. Take a moment to imagine the quantity of shipping-and-receiving related graphic content that is available, with a modern and unified look, for a low price, on the internet. Exactly. So, I grabbed what disparate images I could (photos, illustrations, cheesy clip art), pasted then in PowerPoint, and used them as inspiration for some clean, graphic icons that fit the look of my course perfectly.
Another fun adventure started with a recent E-Learning Challenge from Articulate’s community site. The challenge set me on a slap-dash attempt at creating technical graphics in the space of the few hours I could carve out of my week. My answer? PowerPoint.
The Goal: Create a step graphics interaction. Users click through a set of graphics in order to learn a multi-step process.
My Chosen Topic: Butterfly valve repair. Butterfly valves are simple pieces of equipment, found in sanitary and non-sanitary industries alike. It should be noted that I work in the sanitary process industry, so I often strive to teach people about some very specific pieces of equipment used in the manufacture of food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, and the like. We talk about valves A LOT.
The Plus Side: Butterfly valves are just about the simplest valve to repair.
The Down Side: The only images I had were line drawings from an operator’s manual from 1987 that had been photocopied and scanned about a thousand times. I mean, that’s a look, but not the look I was going for.
My Method: Shapes. Lots of shapes. I inserted a snip of the grainy line drawing I needed to recreate into a blank slide in PowerPoint. I started inserting shapes: nothing fancy, just a lot of rectangles and triangles and circles. I made prodigious use of the “Merge Shapes” tool to turn the basic shapes into the geometry of a butterfly valve. If I had spent a little more time on it, I would have used the “Align” tool a little more (I aimed for perfectly symmetrical, I got almost perfect). For efficiency and style, I kept the shape format simple with a solid fill and dark outline. I could have gone crazy trying to replicate the look of stainless steel. But if you’ve ever had the pleasure of squinting at blurry snapshots of stainless steel valves in front of a stainless steel background, you’ll find the clarity and contrast refreshing.
The step graphic interaction itself is not sophisticated in the least, but it does the trick. The result is a bit rough, but it is more than ready to go to work enlightening anyone who has never had the opportunity to tear into a butterfly valve. My preferred method for teaching a topic like valve maintenance is and always will be hands-on. But when you just can’t put your hands on a valve, this’ll do.
I encourage you to open up PowerPoint and see what it can do for you. Insert a picture and see what you can come up with using the standard drawing tools: Remove Background, Crop, Recolor, and so on. It’s fast, it’s cheap, and it gets the job done. Doesn’t get much better than that. But, as with just about everything, learning what you can do is the best part.