State of the Word 2011 Slide Design Notes

State of the Word 2011

Last Sunday Matt delivered his yearly State of the Word presentation at WordCamp San Francisco. It’s a real humdinger, and they’ve even cut in the slides throughout for the full experience. You can catch a video of the presentation over on, or here:

Vintage record covers, revisted

I worked (remotely this year) with Matt and fellow exile of the British isles Pete Davies on shaping up the narrative flow of the presentation and then experimenting with ways to visually represent it. Much fun was had. This year Matt decided it would be cool to revisit the vintage jazz LP cover theme for the slide design, so I went about picking out some covers to adapt to our purposes. I stuck mostly with jazz labels, as with last year’s Blue Note theme, but strayed occasionally into other genres where the temptation was too great not to. All of the designs fall somewhere within a decade or two of mid-century modern, arguably the golden age of jazz LP cover design.

Full Gallery

If you’re interested in seeing all of the slides in full-sized glory, I’ve uploaded them to a separate gallery page. Bear in mind that they were created at high speed, and were meant to be viewed that way, so you may find the odd kerntastrophe or grid insurrection (although hopefully not).


The idea was to allude to classic (mostly) jazz album covers, adapting them somewhat to suit the different aspect ratio of the Keynote slides and the considerably different usage. Here’s a slideshow of the source covers that I worked form. You can also check it out slightly larger images on the SOTW 2011 inspiration gallery page.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Huge shout outs to  Project Thirty-Three,Vintage Vanguard, and Cover Jazz for lovingly gathering hundreds of great cover designs together for me to ruthlessly plunder.

Likewise, to Christina Warren’s WordPress UI history on Mashable.


Once we’d settled on the idea of revisiting the vintage jazz LP theme I had about two weeks to source, template up and populate the slides. Within the two weeks the presentation was being adapted and updated daily, up until the day itself. As is quite usual with any presentation, we cut, changed and even started over on around half of the 100+ slides about a couple of days before Matt was due to go on stage, so as I mentioned above, these were put together at high speed.

I made pretty much everything in Photoshop, with a bit of Illustrator and After Effects on the side. All of the slides were remade from scratch (no scans or clips from the original sources) with the exception of the image from the Jazzville cover and the central looped arrows of the Innovation loop slide, above. This mostly involved lots of vector tweaking, textures and layers-within-layers, tucked inside smart objects.

I’d love to have done everything in Keynote, but alas it still doesn’t support blending modes, which was a pretty much essential part of the process here, especially where dealing with vintage textures and the kind of overlays and colour blends so prevalent in this type of design. The downside of this is that tweaking a slide can be somewhat more longwinded when it involves finding, opening and navigating a multi-layered photoshop file per slide, rather than clicking on some text and quickly changing it in Keynote. The upside, I hope, is that the results aren’t really something you can really get with Keynote alone.


The main challenges, beyond the tight deadline and iterative updates to the content throughout, were essentially:

  • Adapting square-format LP covers to 4:3 layouts, which meant either significantly adapting the whitespace and design elements, or taking liberties with typography and layout
  • Trying to do a fair job of staying true to the essence, if not the exact decisions, made typographically and visually in the original covers and estimating which typefaces were used in each case. With a month to research it, I could probably have done a better job here, but think I did okay given the approximate hour-per-slide timing and hopefully there aren’t too many typographic blunders scattered throughout. I’m putting the larger deviations down to the first point – adapting to the more vertically squat and horizontally spacious aspect ratio of the slide format
  • Working from pretty small, far from original-sized screenshots of the album covers often meant that high speed creative liberties needed to be taken, as enlarging the originals for a better look at the details led only to pixelmush.


Form & Function

The most important thing was that the slides didn’t just reflect Matt’s rabid love of jazz, which works it’s way into a lot of the messaging and storytelling in and around WordPress releases, but also supported the key themes and narrative of the presentation. This year the focus was on the emergent, ever evolving, open conversation between WordPress users, core developers and the larger community of plugin and theme developers pushing the platform in new directions.

Matt touched on concepts including the landscape design and architecture focused notion of desire paths, Stewart Brand’s ideas on how people adapt architecture to their needs, and Kenya Hara’s reflections on Japanese vs. Western design. To support these key ideas, in relation to WordPress, I did what I could to find visual analogues in the key slides, where the graphic elements emphasized simplicity, transformation, call-and-response, variations on a theme, point and counterpoint, and organic growth. Hopefully that comes across in some of the selections and adaptations of the visual content.


See More
If you want to check out the full-sized slides, there’s a gallery for that.  I’ve also made a gallery of the collected original covers used as the inspiration for the slides. Why, you might even open them in two tabs and flit back and forth between them, should the mood take you.
Edit: They’re also up on Slideshare now, too.
I had a ball making these, albeit an espresso-fueled late night race against time kind of ball. I’d love to hear your thoughts or feedback, here or on twitter (I’m @madebypick over there).

25 thoughts on “State of the Word 2011 Slide Design Notes

    1. Very kind of you! Unfortunately the slides were only made (as raster PSDs) at 1024×768 with relatively low, screen media focused pixels/inch for the default Keynote slide dimensions, which wouldn’t give you the best print quality at larger sizes, I think. The ones in the gallery are the full-sized images. Thanks again for the kind words!

  1. Wow…this is presentation as art. Wish at least some folks paid as much attention to their message and its presentation as you have. Inspiring stuff.

    One query. What do you think about the whole infographics trend that is emerging? Do you see what you have done as infographics with a strong art aesthetic? Would like to hear your views. Thanks for taking the effort to share the fruits of your labor!

    1. Thank you!

      One query. What do you think about the whole infographics trend that is emerging?

      Infographics that clarify rather than confound data seem increasingly rare in direct proportion to the amount produced of late, but I’m all for anything that helps to make complex ideas easier to grasp, or for that matter, more enticing. So long as they do.

      Do you see what you have done as infographics with a strong art aesthetic? Would like to hear your views.

      I think part of what presentation visuals do crosses over with infographics, but equally slides can be an aid to storytelling as much as a means of delivering aesthetically stimulated data. In that sense, the goal of a slide might be something as simple as creating a mood, clarifying a concept, or reinforcing a theme, much as similar static visuals served as an aid to lecturers and storytellers before the dawn of cinema and television. I’m thinking here of magic lantern shows, phantasmagoria, or Kamishibai. A great presentation is a great story, and anything that supports that story being told effectively is fair game as far as I’m concerned, even if it isn’t necessarily imparting dense information slide-by-slide.

      In terms of art, I’d argue that art tends to be expressive or where conceptual, an end unto itself, where design serves a specific function, but the bounds definitely become blurred. The designers of the era being emulated here were heavily influenced by various avant-garde, modernist visual artists. Without Picasso, Miró, Kandinsky or Matisse, arguably we wouldn’t have seen the likes of designers like Paul Rand, or indeed a lot of the designs that went into LP and book cover design in this period.

      For my part, here, I was more of a curator-counterfeiter, sampling and repurposing familiar moods and visual tropes and putting them to different ends, a kind of muted detournement or visual spin on the cut-up technique rather than anything resembling art or even well considered graphic design. Closer to a visual/narrative analogue to the way jazz standards were mutated into all kinds of variations over time, or the sampling culture of hip hop and certain strains of electronic music, perhaps.

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  3. Great slides! I’m super happy that you were able to get use of the WordPress dashboard gallery I made for Mashable (and with the exception of 0.7.1 which I was unable to install without downgrading my version of MySQL). I actually installed each and every major WP release in MAMP and took screenshots. Fortunately, after WordPress 2.1, I didn’t have to create a new database and was just able to upgrade. It was a fun post to put together and I’m glad it could be repurposed for a broader audience.

    1. Oh wow, thank you so much, Christina. Sounds like you went to some epic lengths to gather those. In the heat of moment putting everything together I totally failed to give an acknowledgement there, which I’m usually very gung-ho about doing. Let me add a shout out in the post, and thanks for your understanding. Thanks again! (For those reading here, you can read Christina’s awesome WordPress UI history on Mashable.)

      1. Hi Michael,
        Oh you were sweet to add the shout-out (that wasn’t the point of the post, I swear!) – it was a really fun post to put together, like I said, and I got a total kick out of seeing the images in the bigger slide show.

        Seriously, your work is incredible, keep it up!

  4. Just watching the superb presentation by Matt at the ” State of the Word ” conference and found it inspiring and interesting. As l have always found WordPress provides a solid and reliable approach to blogging – keep up the good work.

  5. Your presentation design is amazing! Can I ask you what your workflow was in order to achieve the numerous blending modes and overlays in Keynote? (Since Keynote doesn’t support these). Thank you!!

    1. Thank you! Every time they update Keynote I have my fingers crossed for blending modes. The sad truth is that this presentation was made of PSDs (via AIs in quite a few cases), exported and dropped into Keynote as flat images. Because, blending modes. Luckily it was a one off presentation, but for something regularly updated I imagine it would be fairly hellish, even with the Russian doll of nested folders I had for each slide. We should start a petition🙂

      1. I see! Well even so, you managed to create something extraordinary. : )) Thank you for your response and I will be following you to see more things you post in the future!

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