Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Amplification Through Simplification

The Japanese Zen arts teach us that it is possible to express great beauty and convey powerful messages through simplification. Zen may not verbalize “amplification through simplification,” but you can see this idea everywhere in the Zen arts. There is a style of Japanese painting called the “one-corner” style, for example, which goes back some 800 years and is derived from the concepts of wabi and sabi. Paintings in this style are very simple and contain much empty space. You may have a painting depicting a large ocean scene and empty sky, for example. In the corner, there is a small, old fishing canoe, hardly visible. It’s the smallness and placement of the canoe that give vastness to the ocean and evoke a feeling of calm and an empathy for the aloneness the fisherman faces. Such visuals have few elements yet can be profoundly evocative.

Learning from the Art of Comics

We can learn about simplicity as it relates to presentation visuals from unexpected places, including—and this may surprise you—the art of comics. And the best place to learn this is from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (Harper Paperbacks). In this popular book, McCloud repeatedly touches on the idea of amplification through simplification. McCloud says cartooning is a form of amplification through simplification because the abstract images in comics are not so much the elimination of detail as they are an effort to focus on specific details.

A key feature of many comics is their visual simplicity. Yet as McCloud reminds us, while casting an eye toward the wonderful world of Japanese comics, that a simple style does not mean the story is necessarily simple. Many people (outside Japan at least) prejudge comics by their simple lines and forms as being necessarily simplistic and base, perhaps suitable for children but not something that could possibly have depth and intelligence. Surely such a simple style found in comics cannot be illustrating a complex story, they say. However, if you visit local coffee shops around Tokyo University—Japan’s most elite university—you will see stacks and stacks of comics (manga) on the shelves. There is nothing childish about the genre of comics in Japan at all; in fact, you’ll find brainiacs in all shapes and sizes reading comics here and, indeed, around the world.

The situation today is that most people have not been exposed to the idea of making a visual stronger by stripping it down to its essence. Less equals less in most people’s eyes. If we apply this visual illiteracy to the world of presentations, you can imagine the frustration a young, enlightened professional must feel when her boss looks over her presentation visuals the day before her big presentation and says, “No good. Too simple. You haven’t said anything with these slides! Where are your bullet points!? Where’s the company logo!? You’re wasting space—put some data in there!” She tries to explain that the slides are not the presentation but that she is the presentation and that the points will be coming from her mouth. She tries to explain that the slides contain a delicate balance of text and images and data designed to play a supportive yet powerful role in helping amplify her message. She attempts to remind her boss that they also have strong, detailed documentation for the client and that slides and documents are not the same. But her boss will have none of it. The boss is not happy until the PowerPoint deck looks like normal PowerPoints, you know, the kind used by serious people.


We must do what we can to be firm, however, and remain open to the idea of amplification through simplification as much as possible. I am not suggesting you become an artist or that you should draw your own images. Rather, I am suggesting that you can learn a lot about how to present images and words together by exploring the so-called “low art” of comics. In fact, although presentation visuals were surely the farthest thing from McCloud’s mind when he wrote Understanding Comics, we can learn far more about effective communication for the conceptual age from it than we can from books on slide software. For example, early in the book, McCloud builds a definition of comics and finally arrives at this, a definition he admits is not written in stone:

  • “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.”

It is easy to imagine, with some tweaking, how this could be applied to other storytelling media and presentation contexts as well. We do not have a good definition for “live presentation with slides,” but a great presentation may indeed contain slides that are comprised of “juxtaposed pictorial and other images.” And great presentations certainly have elements of sequence designed to “convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response.”

At the end of the book, McCloud gives us some simple, Zen-like wisdom. He’s talking about writers, artists, and the art of comics, but this is good advice to live by no matter where our creative talents may lie. “All that’s needed,” he says, “ the desire to be heard. The will to learn. And the ability to see.”

When you get right down to it, it always comes back to desire, a willingness to learn, and the ability to really see. Many of us have the desire; it’s the learning and seeing that’s the hard part. McCloud says that in order for us to understand comics, we need to “clear our minds of all preconceived notions about comics. Only by starting from scratch can we discover the full range of possibilities comics offer.” The same can be said for presentation design. Only by approaching presentations and presentation design with a completely open mind can we see the options before us. It is just a matter of seeing.

(I recommend you watch Scott McCloud’s TED talk on called “The Visual Magic of Comics.”)

Redux: Simplicity Is Not Easy

Usually, we think about time in terms of “How much can I save?” Time is a constraint for us, but what if, when planning a presentation, we took the notion of saving time and looked at it from the point of view of our audience instead of our own personal desire to do things more quickly? What if it wasn’t just about our time, but it was about their time? When I am in the audience, I appreciate it very much when I am in the presence of a speaker who is engaged, has done his homework, has prepared compelling visuals that add rather than bore, and generally makes me happy I have attended. What I hate more than anything—and I know you do too—is the feeling I get when I realize I am at the beginning of a wasted hour ahead of me.

Often, the approach I advocate may require more time, not less, for you to prepare, but the time you are saving for your audience can be huge. Again, is it always about saving time for ourselves? Isn’t it important to save time for others? When I save time for myself, I am pleased. But when I save time for my audience—by not wasting their time and instead by sharing something important with them—I feel inspired, energized, and rewarded.

I can save time on the front end, but I may waste more time for others on the back end. For example, if I give a completely worthless, one-hour, death-by-PowerPoint presentation to an audience of 200, that equals 200 hours of wasted time. But if I put in the time, say, 20 to 25 hours or more of planning and designing the message and the media, then I can give the world 200 hours of a worthwhile, memorable experience.

Software companies advertise time-saving features, which may help us believe we have saved time to complete a task such as preparing a presentation and simplified our workday. But if time is not saved for the audience—if the audience wastes its time because we didn’t prepare well, design the visuals well, or perform well—then what does it matter that we saved an hour or two in preparing our slides? Doing things in less time sometimes does indeed feel simpler, but if it results in wasted time and wasted opportunities later, it is hardly simple.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020