Picking Up The Gauntlet

If you read nothing else, my summary judgment on stock photography closes the post.

Tom Woodard

Ten minutes after I threw down the gauntlet Tom Woodward picked it back up and whacked me with it:

Once again, help me make this better. That goes for images, argument, facts – whatever.

My response.

John Pederson

John Pederson, apropos of nothing I wrote, has developed a sudden, sloppy crush on typography, one of the artistic disciplines that hasn’t changed in several centuries, so that’s great. Because if you don’t know how to work with type, Prezi and CoolIris won’t save you.

Darren Draper

Darren Draper posted two variations on the same theme, asking would I really prefer a white background to a stock fast-food worker.


My answer is no, I prefer the stock photo, though I am glad there are a few other options besides those two. If those were your only options then go with stock photography. But carefully. The trappings of stock photos are a) exaggerated lighting, b) exaggerated framing, and c) exaggerated content, all of which give the content of your slide a lot of competition for attention.

I saw recently, for one example, a frightened kid shot under harsh lights with Scrabble tiles spelling out F-E-A-R censoring his mouth. The accompanying quote concerned Internet filtering or something. The quote was interesting and provocative but completely overwhelmed by the stock photo.

Dean Shareski

Dean perplexes me, saying I’m “stirring up trouble” with my last post. I realize this is just Dean’s usual Canadian bonhomie but, come on. Here is Dean’s commenter, Mark Kowalski. Take it away, Mark:

Even as a teacher, public critique of a person’s work is an odd experience. Maybe our social norms on feedback and politeness have gone too far one way?

If that “one way” is toward norms equating “criticism” with “insensitivity,” then I agree.

Angela Maiers

Angela has linked up a Slideshare presentation and asked for feedback.

Credit where credit is due. Y’all have taken Garr Reynold’s style and run with it for quite some distance. I have two concerns.

First, there are instances when the stock photography is so exaggerated or stylized that it distracts from the purpose of the presentation. In this example, I promise you I am not pondering the consequences of Angela’s quotation. I am scared to death of that toddler. Someone sign that kid to the Lakers but get him away from me.

Second, there are instances when the stock photography Angela has selected a) interprets the quotation for me or b) tips me to Angela’s interpretation when she’d probably rather I develop my own interpretation and add it to the discussion or presentation wiki or whateverTo cite my recent obsession, stock photography can easily be too helpful..

I didn’t mind this next one at all, an understated image that doesn’t constrain audience interpretation. The fact that I’m reduced to judging stock photography on how little it hurts a presentation oughtta concern us, however.

Alice Mercer

Alice has linked up her presentation files and asked for feedback. Take it away, people.

Summary Judgment On Stock Photography

Ditch it. Show me something real, not artificial. Serve the quotation up on a simple background with good typography and then show me some video or a photo or some audio captured naturally, in the wild, that hints at but doesn’t clonk me over the head with your point. And then let’s talk about it.

In Darren’s case, I would look for video of high school dropouts interviewed about their career paths since they left school, including, for the sake of intellectual honesty, some success stories. Find that. Or make that. Embed that. Let’s talk about that. Not about some Google Image or FlickrCC search I could have performed myself.

I realize this is several hundred times harder than typing keywords into a search engine but, as with personal hygiene, you get out of it what you put inMaybe y’all think I’m some sort of crank in these posts. But when someone uses their digital projector to curate and build conversations around interesting media they captured or aggregated themselves you really can’t imagine my enthusiasm..

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Dan-

    As always you are making me think!

    As speakers, writers, communicators we are constantly challenged to explore new and combined ways of expressing big ideas. Whether image, words, audio, video…

    Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate you diving deeper into the dialogue. There is still much to be explored and understood about the power of visual literacy, and it is conversations like these that will help unpack it.

    Great conversation! (Did you buy the book or did the little boy scare you away from Amazon?

  2. Dan, it’s not that I think you’re wrong, it’s that I think you’re too early. Most of the presentations I see at conferences are still mired in mid-90s PowerPoint, with drop-shadowed typography over some tiled background with a couple of animated gifs and the text of the speech verbatim. Moving to quotes tangential to the talk backed by stock photos is an enormous leap forward. Maybe I expect too little, but those will draw me in more effectively than most of the decks out there now.

  3. Angela, not sure if you mean Presentation Zen, The Element, or your Habitudes. I purchased Slide:ology recently but lost it before I read it in a move, which is frustrating.

    Ian H., shoot, man, you’re right.

    Look everybody. Good job. Like Ian says, these image-heavy slidedecks are several orders of magnitude better than their predecessors. The design pendulum is swinging away from bullet points.

    I now eagerly anticipate the moment that the pendulum swings past this stock photo obsession and toward imagery that is real, that is natural, that is intellectually hard-earned and matters.

    And, if it’s all the same to all of you, I’ll maintain my expectations where they’re at. I know you’ll do the same for me.

  4. Dan- The Element

    Slide:ology is fantastic- definitely worth the find, and get a lot of Garr’s stuff right from his blog.

    And, for stretching my imagination and pushing me to adapt- I will send you a copy of the Habitudes! :-))) Would love your thoughts on that as well!

  5. Please continue being cranky, if that’s what it is. I despise 99.5% of powerpoints that I see. I hate having my time wasted. I hate being read to. I hate seeing pictures that have little or nothing to do with what I’m learning about. So, carry on.

    P.S. The typo/grammar error in the creativity slide is also driving me crazy.

  6. Well, I’d love to take your response at face value, but my snark meter pegged out. Anyway.

    As the list you linked to on Dean’s site alludes to, no one will ever be perfect in each of the slices of teaching (great analogy, BTW). Maybe we educators should just do what the business world does when there’s an acknowledged lack of skill: outsource. We can trade favours with people who have a skill we lack and lack time to develop. I’ll get my friend to correct grammar mistakes while I build her a WPMU intall.

    Professionals recognise and admit that they won’t ever be great at everything, and they hire someone to fill in the missing pieces. We can recognise that teachers don’t have the budget (personally or institutionally) to actually pay someone to fix those things, so we establish an educational skills bank, with people willing to trade x number of hours of skill y every month in return for equal consideration in an lacking skill area.

  7. Take me at face value. I’m 100% sincere. I dig the concept of an educational skills bank, too. I’d hop on that domain name pronto.

  8. Fair enough – I apologise for assuming you were being sarcastic.

    I’m a little leery of registering a domain for everyone, particularly when there’s horror stories of sites like Lumberjack’s Exchange (www.lumberjacksexchange.com – eep!) out there. Teacher Skills Bank could possibly be read Teachers Kills Bank (which is grammatically incorrect, but still kind of funny). Just don’t look up teachertrade.com… trust me, it’s not what you think it is.

  9. Leigh Murrell

    April 8, 2009 - 11:19 am -

    Dan, thank you for your posts. You have given me a lot to think about. I am/have been working at making my presentations better and you have provided me with inspiration. I agree with Jen,”I despise 99.5% of powerpoints that I see. I hate having my time wasted. I hate being read to. I hate seeing pictures that have little or nothing to do with what I’m learning about.”
    The problem is lack of skill and time. I really like the idea of an educational skills bank. Another solution is what you have been saying, asking people for criticism of presentations we post and learning from that so we can develop the skills needed.