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  • Haley Jolstead

Biggest Courseware Mistakes

Designing courseware is more involved than just dragging a few pictures and plugging in some facts on a slide. In fact, there is a whole industry surrounding the creation of courses and other class materials that much of the general public is oblivious to. Here are the top four design mistakes often made by amateurs.

1. Death by PowerPoint

2. Colors and Graphics

3. Animations

4. Ransom Note

Death by PowerPoint

If you are the type of person to attend any meeting with a PowerPoint presentation, chances are you’ve seen one of these presentations, and probably fallen asleep (or wanted to). “Death by PowerPoint” is generally categorized as a white background with plain, 12-point black text on it. It tends to be crowded with text and hard to read. It is the go-to for people short on time or short on experience.

The reason these types of presentations don’t teach well is they are boring and usually text dense, meaning the viewer isn’t engaged or learning anything. The message trying to be conveyed isn’t connecting with the audience.

The best presentations utilize white space, are colorful and engaging, and use short, key words and phrases, smart art, and appropriate pictures to convey meaning.


There are over 90 animations available in PowerPoint, but there are several that should not be considered for use in a professional presentation. Some, like Boomerang entrance, are difficult to make work well in most situations. It often can make a presentation look juvenile.

Some animations that work well include Fade, Wipe, and Dissolve. All of these are subtle enough to look professional but add movement and emphasis to keep the audience engaged.

Animations are powerful when used on bulleted lists and smart art, and other graphics. This prevents the learner from ignoring what is being said so they can read ahead and keeps the learner’s focus on the point that is being discussed.

Colors and Graphics

The opposite of Death by PowerPoint is a presentation that uses too many conflicting colors and graphics that don’t flow and work cohesively with the subject matter. A slide deck should not look like a digital kindergarten craft.

Keep the color scheme simple, with two or three bright colors that work well together, and a few subtle colors to compliment. Microsoft PowerPoint has many color schemes built into their programs to help with this.

Graphics should be simple in design and contribute to the message on the slide. Squares, circles and simple icons are powerful tools. Use similar graphics throughout the presentation.

Ransom Note

Have you ever seen a ransom note? Each letter or word is cut out of a separate publication and glued together to form one message. Often when a whole team of people work on a single project, it can have the same effect. Each member of the team has their own unique color, graphic, and writing style. When all the slides are combined, it can have the same effect as a ransom note, looking incohesive and thrown together.

Not only should a presentation be checked for grammar and spelling errors, but one team member should correct errors in color, graphics, and general flow. This is often called the “one voice” editor.

One way to help the one voice editor is to establish a style guide for the project. This includes approved colors, shapes, fonts, font sizes, and animations. When the team is given more direction at the beginning, the one voice editor will have a much easier time when the deadline is near.

We can help!

Creating engaging courseware, either for your office or for a client, can be a daunting task. We have trained courseware developers and designers who know all the downfalls to watch for. Whether you need a course written from scratch or just could use some help polishing your presentation, The Courseware Group is here to help. We look forward to hearing from you!

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