16 Online Tools for Designing a Beautiful Visual Aid

Woman using laptop

An engaging visual aid adds WOW! to a presentation. Beautiful visuals can make a good presentation a great one, or an interesting speaker a memorable one. They allow a speaker to turn an ordinary presentation (a status report, a school project, a marketing plan) into an opportunity to create a lasting impression.

If they’re so impactful, why aren’t we all creating great visual aids? Because if you’re like me and you’re not a graphic designer, it’s hard to know where to start. We stick to what we know, using the tired templates and dated tools that have always worked.

The secret to great slide decks is as simple as updating your toolbelt. The internet is full of resources that make designing visual aids easy and fun–you just need to know where to find them.

Last semester, I shared some simple slide deck design principles like these and the following list of resources with my public speaking students. The lecture took 50 minutes. One of my students applied the principles and tools to every presentation he gave at work, and each morning he came into class reporting compliments from his co-workers and positive feedback from his boss. He had no design experience. He’d previously mentioned not feeling confident designing visual aids, and yet his slide decks were creating buzz at work with people who’d never talked to him before.

If he can do it, any of us can. These simple and *almost* entirely free tools can elevate any boring presentation to one that pops. Win attention, add beauty, and inspire an audience to remember your ideas with these resources. 

Slide Deck Design Tools and Templates:

A strong photo layout, color scheme, and font family can completely rebrand your visual aid. And the great news is that you don’t have to design any of it yourself; just apply professionally-designed templates from these sites:

1: Canva is a free, online graphic design website with presentation templates that have already been created for you. To make them your own, simply drag and drop images and text.

Canva slide design workspace
Source: Canva

2: Creative Market has magazine worthy pre-made slide deck templates you can buy. For $20, you can download a deck with so many layout options that all you have to do is insert your own information. You also have access to free downloads for fonts, graphics, and PowerPoint templates.

3: Envato Elements is similar, but you pay for a membership to access unlimited downloads. Here is one of my favorite templates:

Envato Succulent PowerPoint Template for Visual Aid Slide Deck
Source: Envato Elements

4: Google Slides, themes and “Explore” tool

I create most of my lectures and presentation materials in Google Slides. Google loads it with non-boring and customizable themes, and I like to use the “Explore” button, which generates new layouts based on my existing slide design.

5: PowerPoint “Designer”

For Office 365 subscribers, PowerPoint Designer will automatically improve your slides like the Google Slides “Explore” button does, giving you multiple layout options to click on and transform your slide.

PowerPoint Designer Workspace with Layout Examples for Visual Aid Design
Source: Microsoft “About PowerPoint Designer”

6: Slideshare is where I look for design inspiration when I want to design a template on my own. I love presentations like this one from Alex Rister: it teaches slide design while integrating all of its own examples. But be approach Slideshare with caution when looking for design inspiration; most of the presentations are meant to be read, not spoken aloud.

7: Prezi

Some people prefer Prezi to PowerPoint, Google Slides, and Keynote. Prezi Next is a new product version that makes a compelling argument why. It comes with a free trial, but access runs between $7 and $59 a month with student and teacher discounts available.

Sites that Offer Free, Beautiful, High-Res Images:

As your browsing these design sites, you’ll notice that every professionally designed template has one thing in common: beautiful, high resolution images. Great photography is an easy way to update your visual aid. Images are far more impressive when they stretch across the screen, and this effect only works with high-quality photos. Throw out your watermarked clipart and replace it with images like this:

Photo of snowy road from above, downloaded from Pexels
Source: Pexels

All of the sites below offer free, high resolution stock photography. If one doesn’t have the image you’re looking for, I bet another will.

7: Pexels

8: Librestock

9: PixaBay

10: Kaboompics

11: Picjumbo

12: SplitShire

Tools for Designing Infographics:

13: Piktochart

In most public speaking situations, the audience will appreciate that you didn’t show the complicated scatter plot graph and instead made your data visual with a simple infographic. See the difference?

Comparison of a bar chart and an infographic
Source: Leslie Belknap via LinkedIn

If you’d like to turn a complicated chart into a simple image, use Piktochart. It’s full of icons that make stats and data (Dare I say it?) fun! Not only does Piktochart work well for infographics, you can use it to design your entire presentation and includes templates. It comes at a cost, though. Access can run between $12.50 and $99.00, but student and teacher discounts are available.

14: Simple Icon

Infographics use icons of people or objects to help make their facts more visual. Whether you’re looking for an icon of a person, a truck, a brain, or an envelop, you can download the image for free at Simple Icon. Free icons make everyone happy!

smiley face
Source: Simple Icon

Resources that Add Motion to Your Visual Aid:

15: Giphy

Depending on the setting, an animated gif can be a fun way to capture the audience’s attention. Download gifs at Giphy and insert them into your presentation to make your audience laugh or add a splash to a dry topic.

Animated gif of a PowerPoint pie chart
Source: Giphy

16: Gifmaker.me

If you’re slightly more confident, you can make your gifs from your own photos or images at Gifmaker.

Hey you, with the boring visual aid! Microsoft Office 2004 wants its PowerPoint template back. Showcase a slide deck with great design to set yourself apart; your audience will find your clean layouts and beautiful images refreshing. And the fact that you’ve never even taken a design course? That will be our little secret.



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