PowerPoint is not the right tool for the job

By: John McGarvey

Date: 17 July 2012

ToolboxIf you've ever had the misfortune to suffer death by PowerPoint, you'll know how unpleasant this thoroughly modern ailment can be.

Sitting through a presentation that consists of 60+ slides of dense text is not a pleasant experience. It's made worse when the person giving the presentation insists on reading through every block of text, in full. Using a slow, monotone voice.

And that's not even the most inappropriate use of PowerPoint I can think of. Not by a long way. At least it's being used to give a presentation, no matter how mind-numbingly tedious.

Probably because it comes as part of Microsoft Office - which almost every business uses - PowerPoint seems to be the tool people reach for when they're not quite sure what they need. More than any other piece of software I can think of, it gets treated it as some sort of Swiss Army Knife, as if it's perfect for all sorts of tasks.

Well, it's not. Here are three things it's not designed for, and why you really shouldn't use it for them:

  • Website wireframes. PowerPoint is singularly bad as a tool for designing the layout of your website, unless you want it to consist of identically rectangular pages with badly aligned sections and garish text. Try Balsamiq mockups or mockingbird, or go old skool and sit down with a bunch of markers and some A3 paper.
  • Saving screenshots. Need to send someone a snap of your screen? Don't save it as a PowerPoint file. It takes up much more space than it needs to and the person on the other end might not even be able to open it. There are better ways, like just pasting the screenshot straight into an email.
  • Creating posters and leaflets. PowerPoint slides are designed to be displayed on screen, not printed. It's tricky to line up elements precisely and when you add fonts and images, your slides tend to change in other ways too. Do yourself - and your printer - a favour and use a package that's meant for the job, like Microsoft Publisher (around £80 from Amazon or PC World Business).

Using software to do things it's not meant for isn't usually a good idea. There's almost always a good, cheap or free tool that you can use to do a better job. So next time you're tempted to use PowerPoint for anything other than a presentation, stop and think about whether you could find something better.

Image: Flickr user erix! under Creative Commons.

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