Title image for the blog. A dramatic image of a woman walking on the beach Silhouetted against the sea and the setting sun. The title is “is a picture worth 1000 words?”

Paul Kleiman for #LTHEchat 11 May 2022

“A picture is worth a thousand words” is an old, careworn cliché but it still holds true….to an extent.

Photo of close up of an eye staring at a small sculpture made of coloured glass beads.

What is undoubtedly true is that the human brain processes visual images thousands of times faster than text. A well-chosen, striking image placed in the appropriate context can be very powerful, thought-provoking and, importantly, memorable, linking the image with the content.

Image by Michael Heiss via Openverse

Photo of male speaker facing powerpoint slide with lots of words written on it..

What is also true is that, while PowerPoint rules in higher education, its use is often limited to that of a glorified OHP i.e. the projection of (sometimes lots of) words on a screen. ‘Death by PowerPoint’ is a very real phenomena.

Image by Beate via Openverse

Searching for help

Photo of lift button with 'Help Is On Its Way' written on the button.

If you search online for a subject such as “How to improve your PowerPoint presentations” you will find dozens, if not hundreds, of ‘How to’ guides. The various recommendations tend to coalesce around a few key recommendations.

Image by gruntzooki via Openverse

These recommendations include:

  • Don’t simply read out or repeat what is on the screen
  • Make diagrams and charts interesting but not self-explanatory
  • Strike a good balance between the verbal, the written and the visual
  • Keep the number of words or bullet points (or images) on screen to a minimum
  • Good visuals alongside a clear explanation can help to communicate complex ideas
  • Turn bullet points into visuals 👇
PowerPoint slide. Background image of a pair of eyes staring forward. Six boxes containing the six bullet points as above in the presentation.
Eyes image by Alec Couros via Openverse, adapted by Paul Kleiman

Keep It Simple

Somewhere around the middle of the last century someone in the US military coined the phrase “Keep It Simple, Stupid” or KISS for short. The idea behind it is that most things work best if they’re kept simple. Unnecessary complexity gets in the way of purpose and should be avoided. It’s probably no accident that the term has a military provenance as, in that environment, it’s incredibly important to send and process often complex information quickly and without ambiguity.

Photo of white wall. Small tree in a pot on the right and the words 'KEEP IT SIMPLE' on the wall.

The KISS principle (or Keep It Short and Simple or Keep it Simple and Straightforward for those who don’t like the ‘stupid’ part) has since been adopted by anyone who needs to relay information – no matter how complex – effectively, efficiently and, above all, memorably.

Image by iNKMan_ via Openverse

Students are visually discerning and visually sophisticated. So it’s important to bear in mind that anything projected onto a screen becomes a visual medium, and the principles of good visual design apply as much to a PowerPoint presentation as to anything else one sees on screen.

These two slides – good design is aesthetic and good design is minimal – from my presentation on the Ten Principles of Good Design are examples, I hope, of keeping it simple as well as conveying some key points which are enhanced by the verbal explication that accompanies the slides.

Presentation slide. 
Background image of Japanese Zen garden.
Slide Title ‘Aesthetic’. 
Also: Integrity - does it hang together and work as a whole?
Framing, harmony, composition
Constructive alignment?
Presentation slide. White background.
Slide title: Minimal
Also: omit the unimportant in order to emphasise important

Simplicity, elegance, spare use of detail

The use of quality materials and a concern with essential functionalism

Then a graphic image of a group of barnacles and the title “remember the barnacle!“
Slides (c) Paul Kleiman

Where to look

So where can we find images that are guaranteed free-to-use?

There are, thankfully, a number of websites that provide access to millions of images that are free to use, also known as CC0 (Creative Commons Zero). These include: Creative Commons, finda.photo, Freerange, Gratisography, Images of Empowerment, Pexels, Pikwizard, Pixabay, Stocksnap, Unsplash.

Image by ZEISS Microscopy via Openverse

Particularly useful is the image search engine Openverse https://search.openverse.engineering/
It enables you to search through over 600 million free-to-use images most of which simply request that you credit the creator. It also offer you links to other search engines if you still can’t find the right image.

Screen grab image by Paul Kleiman


“I haven’t got the time to search for and insert nice images or to edit my presentations to make them visually interesting”

Everyone is under often immense pressure, and the reluctance to engage in yet another time-consuming activity such as searching for good images to use in presentations is entirely understandable. But if it means that the important and valuable information you want to communicate really ‘sticks’, then it is probably time well spent….and the more you do it, the easier and quicker it gets.

Image by James via Openverse

I would suggest gradually building up your own ‘library’ of images which is located in a folder on your desktop or tablet. You know your subject, so when you come across an image that you think might be useful, stick it in the folder. BUT….(here speaks the voice of experience!) remember to make a note of where/how you found it, who created it and how they want to be credited. That will save you a great deal of time and frustration when you actually use the image.

Image DIY

You can, of course, create your own images! Our homes and surroundings provide an infinite number of photographic possibilities and most mobile phones have excellent cameras and there are many free photo editing apps. The main advice for presentation images tends to focus on close-ups and dramatic or striking images.

This photo was taken on a cycle ride that took me under a pylon. I happened to stop and look straight up and was immediately struck by what I saw. Using simple editing tools I changed it to high contrast black and white.

Image (c) Paul Kleiman

Good visual design and inclusivity

Image of chalked sign saying “Welcome. Key is under mat”.

Image by cogdogblog via Openverse

Is creating a visually striking, memorable presentation compatible with the diverse requirement for inclusivity? The answer is a definite ‘Yes’!

A number of those requirements e.g. number of bullet points, font size etc. are about keeping it simple. The technology also provides the ability to read slide captions and descriptions (if you put them in), notes pages can be printed and published beforehand, audio can be recorded over the slides, QR codes can be used to link to the presentation and other material.

Good design takes time and effort. Making good design inclusive should be part of that time and effort.

Arresting images

Image of the statue of justice holding a sword and scales on top of the Old Bailey courtrooms in central London.

One of the concerns in regard to using images is about infringing copyright, and it is worth bearing in mind that most images that you come across on the internet (or in books) are copyright protected. None of us and, particularly, our institutions, want to break the law by using copyrighted material we aren’t allowed to reproduce.

Image by deBurca via Openverse

There are, however, the ‘Fair Use’ provisions* that allow copyright works to be used for educational purposes. These include:

  • Showing copyright works in an educational establishment for educational purposes. However, it only applies if the audience is limited to teachers, students and others directly connected with the activities of the establishment. So, a lecture to students in a lecture theatre is covered by fair use, but a conference presentation in a conference venue isn’t. Whether uploading the presentation to a secure VLE is permittted is a moot point. Uploading to a publicly accessible website is not permitted.
  • The copying of works in any medium as long as the use is solely to illustrate a point, it is not done for commercial purposes, it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement, and the use is fair dealing. This means minor uses, such as displaying a few lines of poetry on an interactive whiteboard, are permitted, but uses which would undermine sales of teaching materials are not allowed.

While you may use copyrighted images in a perfectly legal way under the ‘Fair Use’ provisions, difficulties can arise if, for example, a student videos or takes photos of your presentation and those copyrighted images and then posts them on social media or in a blog. So it’s far better to play it safe and, wherever possible, use images that you cab be sure are genuinely free-to-use.

* This section has been adapted from an informative blog about image copyright by Neil Potter, the Academic Liaison Librarian at the University of York. Inspiring Minds: Need some free images for your academic work / poster / presentation / website? Look no further

Finally……Do the Eyes have it?

So, is a picture worth a thousand words? Here’s a test: if you’ve got as far as here, close your eyes and think about the content of this blog and the various sections. Do the images help you to recall the content?

Image (c) Paul Kleiman