Balancing creativity and consistency in restrictive style guides for presentation design
AWS case study
AWS – Amazon Web Services – is a global organization, very well known even by the general public, not just by the business menu. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud platform, offering over 200 fully featured services from data centers globally. Millions of customers—including the fastest-growing startups, largest enterprises, and leading government agencies—are using AWS to lower costs, become more agile, and innovate faster.
The problem with restrictive style guides for presentation design
We were involved in a visual improvement process for a sales presentation that a certain department was using for corporate clients.
In this case, as well as in the case of the “blue organization“, we were not allowed to touch the narrative thread or the content elements. Our goal was to refresh the design. The AWS guide is very clear and very generous in that it provides solutions for a very large number of cases. To be more specific, they have created hundreds of slides that anticipate any communication needs. They also have a huge number of icons that can help you graphically display information more easily. One specific thing is the use of a black background. This idea has very clear brand reasons, but it also makes the presentation team’s job even more difficult. This is because it is much harder to display photos on a black background, and equally difficult to display colorful logos. You can’t choose too many colors or fonts (this area is regulated by the style guide anyway).
We found ourselves facing a presentation with dozens of slides where the rules were quite strict and fully respected. What can you do in this case? How can you create even more visual impact, and especially how can you tell a story (obviously, within the limits of the established narrative thread, if there is one, and the content)? You can’t do much. However, to support the audience and the speaker, we chose to better structure the information on each slide while respecting the rules of the style guide.
For each slide, we organized the information into clusters, used multiple titles and subtitles, used bold font, and “abused” the available icons. Additionally, wherever possible, we displayed information in the form of lists (bullet points).
It was a difficult exercise, I practically felt like I didn’t bring enough added value to this presentation design project. It should also be noted that in these projects, it takes a lot of time to understand the brand identity and then the visual identity of the brand (including the presentation design style guide). Often, at least in the case of large organizations, the general style guide has thousands of pages, and the one that deals with presentation design has hundreds of pages. You simply can’t operate without knowing all the rules very well. In these projects, the joy comes from finding the perfect harmony between the guidance system and its message with its story, which the presentation delivers forward.