Prezi infinite canvas poses design questions

15 Mar 2012 - 7:04am
4 years ago
5 replies
2311 reads
Davin Granroth

Morville's Understanding Information Architecture prezi has crossed many of our screens lately, and it's a pretty fun explanation of information architecture.

I found Jakob Jochmann's critique of it (moreso of the prezi form) to be thought-provoking, but I wonder if many in the field haven't yet seen Jochmann's post. Here's an excerpt, but I encourage you to read the full post.

Prezis often look like mind maps that Mr. Magoo would draw under a microscope. Unlike headers in print, the size of the typeface does not give the user a clue about information hierarchy. No indents are there to tell us where a new line of argument may begin, no grid is there to guide our uptake. Most of the time we don’t even have a clue about how far we have progressed in absorbing the content. This isn’t just bad architecture. I’d say that in the worst examples there is no structure at all. It’s Labyrinth of powerpoint slides.

So, here are some questions on my mind.

  • What do others in this community think of this critique? (The whole critique, not just that quote.)
  • Are there prezis that hit closer to the mark (or provide alternative viewpoints) on designing information for an infinite canvas like this?
  • Is the Magoo fun-factor a trump card for visual hierarchy?


15 Mar 2012 - 2:00pm
Moses Wolfenstein

I actually think the crucial line of this critique is, "The problem with the structure of Peter’s Prezi is that zoom or size is not meaningful at all." It's really a question of the affordances of the tool and whether or not the designer has chosen the right tool for structuring the content. The really powerful affordances of Prezi in comparison to other forms of presentation software are in fact zoom, size, and non-linearity. I've actually seen Prezi's that make particularly good use of the first two (particularly one that used a map as the primary metaphor), but I have yet to see one that makes strong use of non-linearity because at the end of the day since people recognize it as a presentation software they tend towards constructing linear presentations because (among other things) this is a cultural constraint of putting together presentations. We generally engage in presentation design as a form of storytelling, and in particular storytelling using Western conventions that cleave to linearity. 

Before we can even ask the question of what an IA for Prezi should look like, it's probably worth asking the question of whether Prezi is really appropriate for presentations as we usually deliver and receive them, or if this sort of infinite canvas actually has other uses for which it is better suited. If the only feature of Prezi we actually use for presenting is the motion and we're not using this feature to actually help convey information in a meaningful way but just to make it shiny, we probably shouldn't be using it at all.  

On an unrelated note, Peter's footnote about the Talmud is great.


16 Mar 2012 - 4:01pm

Thank you very much for your appreciation of my work! At times I find it a bit difficult to get into the design discourse as a newcomer, with an outside perspective no less, so thanks.

I have to agree with Moses about the affordances of Prezi. My main objective is to mind the contingency of media use. Context dictates how a tool should be used to maximum effect. To that end I don't consider Prezi a presentation tool necessarily, especially since the linearity that Moses mentioned is very much tied to the speech event associated with real live presentations. Web tools such as Prezi however disintermediate the narrator, hence to me they need not fall into the presentation paradigm we have grown accustomed to from meetings and conventions. (Not that I think presentations need be linear, far from it)

I do think that it is possible to consider general usage scenarios (hence, IAs) in which zoom or non-linearity is a meaningful property. From there people can extrapolate whether any of those scenarios are appliccable to their needs, and be it to present to a live audience with Prezi in innovative ways after all.

Lastly I'd like to take credit for the footnote about the Talmud. Media history and media theory informs how I approach new tools, among other things. I believe there's still much new to discover in media history. The name's Jakob Jochmann btw ;-)

19 Mar 2012 - 9:50am
Moses Wolfenstein

Oops, apologies for the name confusion there Jakob.

19 Mar 2012 - 12:25pm

No worries!

I'm glad you liked the reference. Only affirms my resolution to write a blog post or two about the theory of hypertext. Cheers!

19 Mar 2012 - 4:05pm
Jeremy Kriegel

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should...

One of the other differences between prezi and other presentation platforms is the way prezi allows you navigate. In this instance, another question is whether it enhances the understanding of the material or the experience of the presentation. In the few prezis that I've seen, as well as one I tried to create, I found the navigation disorienting and distracting. This may improve as more people learn what works and what doesn't. Until then, I'll keep my presentations simple.

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