Design trend: Dark backgrounds in executive presentations

Design trend: Dark backgrounds in executive presentations

Recently I was asked about the building trend of black backgrounds in business presentations, specifically

  • Is it just a coincidence?
  • Is it a new trend, and if yes is this across industries?
  • Is it linked to how it’s presented (in person + online simultaneously, creating the need to look great for both audiences)?

I decided to do some digging and see what was driving this dark background trend.

Below is a quick background and history on this trend in advertising and media, the pros and cons, and some tried and true guidance when using.

Black backgrounds in design

Like its opposite, white, black is a definite color. It’s the color of borders, and of authority. Though we have many negative associations with black, we also find it intriguing. The color black is thought of as sophisticated and serious, while often creating an association with luxury items. On the other hand, the color white is viewed as clean, fresh, modern, young, accessible, and familiar. That’s why white is the default for many shows.

In past years, Microsoft and other tech companies stayed away from black backgrounds because of Apple’s branding used heavily across all advertising.  However, in the last few years Microsoft Azure added black as dominant hue to the brand color palette, and now is just as familiar with Microsoft Azure as Apple.  Other tech companies, the automotive industry, and media and entertainment industries are also embracing this trend. You may have seen it recently at Tesla’s AI day and fall 2020 event presentations.

design trends: dark background timeline

Timeline of black backgrounds in design

Pros and cons of black backgrounds

Black backgrounds are effective, and powerful. Black absorbs all light, so it’s a low-energy color. It helps to give a lot of “white space” without a blinding glare on large screens.  This is especially important in large public presentations using 300’ screens.

In design, black backgrounds are dramatic and help to create a feeling of certainty. This can pack a powerful punch in are powerful in some situations such as keynote presentations and executive-tier decks.

Black backgrounds are back again! … but still not the norm, so it stands out.

Dark backgrounds provide an initial first impact but then fades quietly into the background to let content shine.

Black also contrasts well with bright colors and can help make certain elements “pop” during a presentation (see below).

Example: Black backgrounds with bright colors

dark backgrounds example slides

Slide designs by Neal Analytics Creative

However, there are also cons to using black for the background in presentations. Black gives the feeling of perspective and depth, but a black background diminishes readability. Text heavy slides can be difficult to read for some people, ultimately losing your audience’s attention

Because pure black kills all light from the screen, it makes the eyes work harder and open wider to absorb more light. When this occurs, the white letters can bleed into the black background and cause the text to blur. This effect known as “halation” affects users with astigmatism and can therefore be not the most inclusive approach.

When to use black backgrounds (and when to avoid them)

To further illustrate the different recommended uses, here is my analogy comparing business dress to use scenarios and audience perceptions to help when choosing a presentation background color.

For example, you wouldn’t wear a black tux to a startup or funding pitch meeting, and subsequently would not want to use a black background for that presentation as it can appear too polished. It’s not appropriate for this stage of decks and audiences may think too much money was spent producing it (not necessarily true, just perception).

When to use dark backgrounds in presentations

Another important consideration is how your deck will be presented (and viewed), as well as the size of the audience.  Today in 2021 the lines are blurring between large event keynotes and online experiences.  Many third-party apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams,  and Google Meet now have a dark background and/or border making it easy to create a beautiful “keynote style” experience when using a black background.

Though you may be tempted to blend your background with these app backgrounds for a seamless look, the considerations in table above still apply. If you have data heavy slides, a light background will pop more and be more readable when complemented by the black background/border.

How to use black backgrounds:

  • Use grids to create intentional use of negative space between blocks of text and or visual elements
  • Stick with short words, short sentences, and icons
  • Only use sans-serif fonts for ease in readability
  • Contrast is key (Tip: Use a color contrast checker to show you when your color contrast is too low based on accessibility guidelines)
    • In Microsoft PowerPoint, go to the  “File” tab, then click “Options” tab, then click “Ease of Access” to use built-in access control checker.

Designing powerful presentations

As you can see, changing the background of your presentation is more than a simple color change. We recommend leveraging the skills of expert presentation designers and agencies to help manage the intricacies of transforming existing presentations from light to dark backgrounds (or vice-versa!)

Interested in adding that keynote-worthy touch to your presentations? Contact us to see how our designers can help you with your transformation.

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