powerpoint and keynoteUnless your computer is sporting 90s-era software, then you already have excellent computer tools for designing solid graphics without expensive programs. I’m talking about applications like Microsoft Office’s Powerpoint and iWork’s Keynote.

With tools like these, small companies with few or no graphic designers can still create powerful imagery. The key is to make sure you have strong branding, an established style, and staffers with eyes for design.

Why Today’s PowerPoint and Keynote are More Than Presentation Tools

Although both presentation applications are prized for their functional action tools for live presentations, their developers obviously realized that great presentations require great design functionality. In many industries, PowerPoint and Keynote have completely different purposes than traditional projected presentations. For example, In the sign-making industry, slide files are often used to print large signs. Because of SlideShare, read-only presentations, resembling eBooks, have also become increasingly popular.

Many clients are surprised when we tell them that a lot of the work that Weidert Group produces was not put together using expensive tools like Adobe Photoshop, but that we used Keynote instead. We’ve found that for landing pages, calls-to-action, and many of our content materials, it’s not only easier to use Keynote; it’s also more efficient.

Keynote Powerpoint typefaces

Tools like Adobe Creative Suite offer designers maximum control over every aspect of an image, but often, businesses don’t need to change much at all. If you take advantage of stock photos and vector graphics, tools like Photoshop are often not worth the expense. Within the latest versions of PowerPoint and Keynote, users can alter image attributes like color and size. Filters are also included, and with these programs’ shape tools, most of Illustrator’s drawing functions have also been effectively emulated.

Once you start looking, there are a surprising number of design features in these programs, and with a little preparation, they can become a powerful part of your marketing toolkit.

How to Get Started Designing

As I said before, many businesses can rely heavily on PowerPoint or Keynote for their design needs if their staff approaches graphic design the right way. To start, I don’t recommend establishing your brand and style using just PowerPoint or Keynote. Instead, make sure you commit to achieving the highest quality possible by working with a design firm or marketing agency to figure out what works best for you.

You want your brand to be unique and special. That’s where real control is needed. An agency, like Weidert Group, will take the time to construct graphics that will explain your business with elegant simplicity. We’ll also work with you to construct color palettes and an overall style for you to utilize online and in print materials.

Once you have your brand and style established, you’ll have a set of firm guidelines and graphic elements to implement and adapt in tools like PowerPoint and Keynote. One of the reasons I like advocating for the use of these tools- is because they actually help you commit to utilizing your style. Unlike Photoshop and Illustrator, presentation tools were not developed to recreate the wheel every time. Instead, they give you the ability to organize and blend graphical elements while following style rules. For familiar users, you can even establish custom masters and style themes, which can be reused as templates for the future.

As you build images for web and print, you should keep in mind all the tools you have at your disposal. A few that you should pay attention to include:

  • background remover tool, which quickly changes solid backgrounds to a transparency.
  • format menu windows, which gives you a variety of blending options, like shadowing, reflections, and glow
  • crop tools, classic, but always useful
  • charts, which easily liaise with Excel, and easily out-compete Illustrator’s chart options

Slide designFinally, the most important thing to remember about presentation tools is that no matter what, you still need to optimize your graphics. This is one aspect of Keynote and PowerPoint that just doesn’t match up to Adobe, which as a “Save for Web” option. In PowerPoint, make sure that you adjust your slide size from the beginning, as well as a modify the image’s dimensions in the Save Options. For Keynote, you have to use the export function. If you don’t need the whole slide, remember that you can also save imagery by using the selective screenshot function (CMD+SHIIFT+4) on Mac or the snipping tool on Windows (under Accessories on Start).

Develop an Eye for Design

All things considered, the real key to creating great graphics—no matter what program you use—is to maintain a design eye. Whether you’re building a small call-to-action for your website or designing an entire promotional eBook, the quality of your imagery will always depend on your ability to envision design quality. Businesses would do well to hire staffers that know design, even if they don’t have a graphic design degree. Consider hiring an artistic student or two, who aren’t graphics wizards but have good graphical perspectives.

If you want a rocket pack of information about easy design options like this one, take a look at this new content piece from HubSpot, Content Hacks: 34 Tips & Tricks for Planning & Creating Content. Our own Meg Hoppe is featured on page 58.