The PowerPoint Slide that Changed the Course of My Career
Updated: May 13, 2019
Toward the latter part of my long tenure as Cranium’s “Keeper of the Flame”—still hands down the best job I could ever hope to have—I led a new cross-functional initiative to extend the brand into the dicey territory of preschool learning. It was ambitious and exciting and extremely complex.
We had multiple internal teams contributing games, toys, books, and puzzles to the line. We brought on partners specializing in kids’ TV and publishing and industrial design. We had a board who wanted updates and a design agency and a packaging agency and product illustrators. We had teams of content and art developers and educational experts all working in different time zones, under a tight schedule.
I was creating the materials to explain the core tenets of the brand to all of these far-flung partners. At Cranium we had a very clear and well-defined brand, grounded in Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, but brevity was not our strong suit. We had accumulated years of fantastic anecdotes and catch phrases and customer stories, but things had gotten messy. I needed to get everybody on the same page, fast. Getting things down to a single page? Practically impossible.
It’s been 10 years, but I vividly remember sitting in my red-walled office (all of our offices were painted in the brand colors), laboring over this one slide. Designing in PowerPoint is its own special hell, but I did my best to communicate the brand structure as well as its spirit.
This was part of a much larger presentation, but creating this slide was the moment when I began to think less like an editorial director and more like a brand strategist. (There are some undeniable parallels.)
This is when I really began to appreciate the value of clarity over quantity. As a team we had a penchant for giving massive, detail-packed presentations to immerse people in our exceptional brand and culture, but this really was getting everyone on the same page—one page.
For product developers, this slide communicated that we had to keep all four quadrants—create, discover, perform, connect—in balance.
For content writers and educational experts, it gave inspiration for the types of activities that could represent those quadrants.
For designers and illustrators, it showed that the underlying educational principles always needed to be presented in a fun and friendly way, as personified by Gary Baseman’s genius Cranium characters Creative Cat, Data Head, Star Performer, and Word Worm.
Over time I have worked to incorporate this principle into my own work. Less is more. Clearer is better. Sometimes a single page is best of all.
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