Animating Concepts

December 6, 2009

I put a presentation together last week for a discussion on budgeting for Run/Grow/Transform efforts. Our team will use the presentation to show how investing in technologies that grow or transform IT services can improve the results that our stakeholders receive, and lower the cost to run our services leaving more funds for further growth or transformation.

For the Presentation I used PowerPoint to animate one of the slides showing how investments in new technologies could result in those technologies eventually becoming operational and lowering the cost of sustaining operations. This awkward attempt to describe in words what I was trying to show in the presentation is the reason I decided to animate it (more on that in a minute).

I sent the presentation out to a broad group of reviewers and one of my friends responded, with tongue firmly in check, “I want to see an interpretive dance version of the final product.” The implication, as I interpret it, was that animation in a business presentation is more eye-candy than practical. I couldn’t disagree more.

For years I have used and advocated animation in data-flow diagrams. Static data-flow diagrams are difficult to create and interpret. In order to properly convey many options for flows, I have to create multiple images showing each different option. To demonstrate a flow, you must use multiple arrows that frequently do more to confuse a concept than clarify it. However, a simple animation can show different routes data can flow through a network, in a way that the viewer can instantly understand.

While I find data-flow to be the most useful concept for animation, any drawing showing change over time is more effective when animated. A pie chart with an increase in funding for one area, the effects of gradually consolidating services, or any kind of life-cycle diagram are all much more powerful and easily grasped if created using animation than if they are attempted with static images.

I am continually disappointed that there are so few options for animating drawings. For my first attempt to animate a network diagram years ago, I created lots of static images and then ran them together in a short video. That was extremely time-consuming. Then my wife (a geographer) showed me the animation feature of PowerPoint, and I have been using that ever since. Although I find PowerPoint adequate for most simple demonstrations, I still would like to find something that would more effectively animate more complicated concepts. If you have any suggestions, please add a comment to this blog.