Prezi: Is it the right tool for Architecture & Design?

I learned about Prezi a year or so back when WIRED magazine described it as “a PowerPoint killer.” When I looked into it myself I did think it had the potential to become a new standard presentation tool. But like any new technology it runs a risk of being misunderstood and therefore misused. Unfortunately it appears to have fallen into that category of tools that people will use because they think it looks cool and they want to look cutting edge, rather than because it is the right tool for the job.

If you haven’t heard of Prezi or seen one presented, the concept behind it is simple. Your presentation becomes an almost infinite canvas which allows you to pan around or follow a narrative. You can zoom into detail or zoom out to see the big picture (it’s best to watch one to get the idea). The fluid movement of the screen is what most people are caught by. But before you run off and throw your next client presentation into it, let’s take a critical look at what is it really good for!

The first thing you have to understand is that Prezi was not designed just be used to navigate from one slide to the other. If you are just going do the same layouts as you would in PowerPoint, but want to use it because it looks cool, then you are better off sticking with PowerPoint or InDesign. This is especially true when you are presenting a series of still images, like architectural renderings. Don’t think of it as just one photo to the next. You could use it to walk someone through their space by placing imagery on plans, so that you can zoom into those points and see the spaces in the image. Then after moving through the focal points of the projects to highlight the areas you can zoom out to see the overall picture and each images relation to the plan.

A good Prezi tells a story and walks the user through an idea. If you layout your frames, paths, and content correctly, your audience will follow you through your idea. If I want someone to focus on one point out of six on the screen, zoom in on the one so that they cannot still see the rest. But by zooming out after you can show it in relation to the others.

The other important point of this narrative is for you the presenter to remember what is coming next. You can leave hints at the edge of your frame to see what’s coming. It looks different than PowerPoint, but that’s the beauty of the software. You know something is coming, and then you move to it.

Personally when it comes to design and architecture, I think Prezi works best when you have a narrative or story to explain. Think of an example of a “Day in the Life of” scenario where you want to show a client a day in the new building or workplace. Maybe you want to talk about the customer experience in a store. These work great on Prezi. Showing them a series of disconnected spaces does not.

Another presentation that works well is when you are talking about a concept or idea. Take for example “Architecture 3.0” – This was an idea that I presented at a tech conference recently about the idea that Architecture is going through another major step in its evolution as we are empowered through technology. Big concept, but I used Prezi because I wanted to be able to walk them through the concept it. I could drill down into some ideas while showing overviews of how different platforms interacted. More recently I used it to discuss the new role of Digital Design in our workflow. These are concepts that are easier to explain if you take the audience through it and show elements together rather than flipping to the next slide and leaving things behind.

If you do a search on “what makes a good Prezi,” you will find a few people that have put together Prezi’s or videos to teach you some of the basics. Things like:

  • do not rotate your canvas just because you can;
  • put things close together and in order rather than zooming back and forth across your canvas;
  • don’t overload your image with graphics, it will slow down;
  • Don’t overload your document with text and look to use more images and talking – this goes for any presentation (watch Steve Jobs present), but is especially true for Prezi.
  • Don’t be too rigid like a PowerPoint in space. Don’t be to chaotic and just throw your stuff all over the place. You should brainstorm your idea and plan it out (sketch it on a whiteboard or Post-It notes on a wall can help). You should be able to do a squint test where if you zoom out you can still see the flow of an idea.

I think that this is one of the biggest factors when you consider Prezi as a tool for design and architecture. Although you can generate still PDF slides from your presentation, you cannot control the quality, colour, and maintain a linked workflow like you can in InDesign. So if your primary goal is a polished printed book or large prints, you are better off going with InDesign.

Also always consider who the audience is. It might win over Nike and Facebook might look at nothing but Prezi, but is that law firm or bank going to find it useful or annoying.

Also keep in mind that this is not a tool that everyone knows and although anyone can sign up for an account, your content will not be private without paying a fee. You might also find yourself in situations where someone asks for a copy of your presentation or that they want to incorporate your slides into their PowerPoint. So don’t start using it if you don’t plan on sharing it with others that know the program.

I could go on, but I will leave it for you to explore. Be sure to check out the collections on the website of some of the best Prezi presentations. Here are a couple of the better ones I’ve seen that demonstrate the potential for the program.


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