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Put it All Together: PowerPoint

If you’d like to enhance the visual design of your PowerPoint slides, these principles will help you make broad improvements in a short time.


  • Once you’ve found high-quality images or created your own, you want them to accomplish as much as possible. Consider giving powerful images their own slide, with little to no text. If you plan to make your PowerPoint lectures available to your students, you can move important text to the Notes section, where it can be used for studying later.
  • For full impact, ensure the image covers the slide entirely, with no white space at the edges (but don’t stretch the proportions!)
  • Consider two, three, or four images arranged in columns or grids, with a simple title at the top.


Content is arranged in a standard layout, but the image is underutilized.


Enlarging the image creates more emphasis, and important text has been moved to the Notes section.

Slide Layout

  • Using generous, consistent margins around the edge of the slide and between objects allows students to more easily take in the content. 
  • Concentrate on creating a handful of layouts in the same visual “family,” then repeating throughout based on the content of each slide. For instance, in addition to a regular content slide, you can create a layout to introduce or summarize sections, post questions to the class, or repeat certain themes.
  • While images often look better when they “flow” to the edge of the slide, text generally needs white space around it (also called negative space), to be easily read. 
  • Slide layouts also allow for basic grids, meaning you can vary how your content looks while still keeping things consistent overall. 
  • Once you’ve set the margins, try to stick with them throughout. 


In this section introduction slide, the text is close to the edge, is inconsistent with the background, and does not follow a grid. (It also has color and font issues, but the following sections cover that!) 


The slide now has noticeable margins around the edge, has consistency between the style of the font and background, and seems to fit to a grid. 


  • The UT Branding Guide recommends Georgia and Arial for readability in PowerPoint, although considering a classic font that matches your content (such as Bembo, used below for the Iliad) can be a good way to elevate and reinforce your message.
  • Avoid Comic Sans and other free “handwriting” or “fun” fonts; they almost always cause your message to appear messy or juvenile.
  • Rather than crowding a slide with text, consider expanding it to 2-3 separate slides to ensure students will be able to fully concentrate on each point.
  • Never underline ordinary (non-linked) text – while underlining used to be a means of emphasis, it’s now used only for links.
  • The ideal text size can be difficult to gauge, so consider asking a friend to sit in the back row of your class and report back on whether everything is readable.
  • As noted above, fitting your text into a consistent grid with generous margins is the best way to ensure readability for your students.


This slide has far too much text to easily read, underlining used as emphasis, very small text, and a lack of margins or grid structure.


This slide has a moderate amount text (the rest has been moved to additional slides), colorful boxes for emphasis, larger text, and generous margins applied over a basic grid.


  • The UT Branding Guide also has several color recommendations, from Summitt (light blue) to Energy (hot pink!). If you use the UT palette, apply the brightest colors sparingly.
  • Many color combinations can be difficult to read for those with ongoing sight issues, color blindness, or even a migraine. (For instance, the red/blue “Membrane Filter Technique” slide above!) For UT colors, be sure to check the accessibility and color guide to find out if your color combinations will be accessible.
  • You can also check the accessibility of any color combination with the WebAIM Color Contrast Checker.

A few UT color combinations:

Note that UT Orange should not be used as text, or behind text, due to contrast issues. But it does make an excellent accent color! Color combination graphics sourced from the UT Branding Guide.

Tips for Accessibility

Studies show that using short, direct phrasing in a learning context will not only help those with cognitive disabilities; it helps everyone! If you typically include lengthy PowerPoint bullets, consider paring down to the essentials.

If you plan to share your PowerPoint files with students, be sure to add an alt tag to each non-decorative image.

For more PowerPoint accessibility tips, register for OIT’s hands-on accessibility workshop covering Word, PowerPoint, and PDF files, or request a one-on-one consultation through

Want to read more about presentation design principles? Check out Presentation Design Principles for Better PowerPoint Design from Bright Carbon!

If you’d like to meet face-to-face to talk through best practices for your PowerPoint presentations, request an OIT consultation through!

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