Twist your presentation like a Prezi!

January 13th, 2010

Prezi is a Hungarian startup that has developed a tool to empower people to make stunning visual presentations using text and media. Using their intuitive (yet not fully cross-platform) editing tool, creating gorgeous, dynamic motion-based presentations is surprisingly easy.

As an exhibit designer, I personally found Prezi’s strong emphasis on scaling inspiring. Since exhibition designers use scale as one of their primary mechanisms of information organization, I can even see Prezi as a potential tool for prototyping exhibit content, where the ratio in size between header graphics, sub-headers, body text and captions can be as high as 100:1.

Like most sketching tools written about on this site, Prezi’s success relies as much on its limitations as it does in its features. While the possibilities for creating zooming presentations seems endless, Prezi keeps its users on track by providing only a few design templates, not allowing users to edit transition times between ’slides’ and otherwise keeping the system as simple as possible. A professional motion graphics designer might find this constraining, but a casual user (like me) can create very professional looking results in less than a half hour. See below for an example I created (oh yeah, the final product is easy to share, download and embed in a website.)

Click Read More for more analysis.

The main editor menu in Prezi offers some innovative interactions. Organized in a visual hierarchy where the current tool selection is displayed as a top-level menu with available sub-commands below it, the process of building a Prezi slideshow relies heavily on mastering this unconventional interface. New users may be confused that the tools for creating and those for editing the size/placement of elements such as text exist on separate levels of the menu hierarchy, but with a variety of different media types to wrangle, and a variety of different parameters to edit within each slideshow, I found the separation of creation and layout interesting. Also, quickselect keyboard commands offer the potential of making the process of creation even faster.

The Prezi ‘dartboard’ (my name not theirs) is another innovative UI element that users will quickly become acquainted with (my labels added to the screenshot at left). When an element is selected for editing, the dartboard is overlaid on top of it. The various sections of this widget allow users to place, scale and rotate an element or group of elements. Again, the separation of creation and layout, while seemingly limiting, actually makes laying out presentations easier. It also must be noted that Prezi projects are created entirely within a browser and the Prezi team must be applauded for implementing such intuitive editing tools within the somewhat-limiting constraints of a web browser.

After wrestling a bit with OS- and browser incompatibilities and getting acquainted with the unconventional UI, I found Prezi extremely fun to use, and even after a half hour of noodling found myself wanting to play more.

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