In business today, it’s rare if you don’t find yourself needing to explain a product or present an idea. For many, the most common mechanism for doing this is the presentation, using either Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote. The inherent ability to present ideas and communicate visually with these tools is great. But you either need to find the right graphics or create your own. Finding graphics that you have permission to use and that maintain a consistent look can be challenging or expensive. But, if you learn some basic drawing techniques with these tools, you’ll find that you can create your own pictogram-style graphics and illustrations.
While Adobe Illustrator is my preferred tool for creating graphics and pictograms for animated videos and infographics, you may be surprised at what you can create with Keynote and PowerPoint. While I’ve been sharing free pictogram graphics for a few months now, I thought it might be useful to share some basic techniques to create your own – kind of like the give a man a fish, feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, feed his for a week thing. (Note: As a Mac user, I’m going to focus on Keynote, but the basic idea of creating graphics from the basic shapes available in the tool will apply to PowerPoint as well.)
So, let’s start off with something pretty simple to teach the basics, the ubiquitous smartphone that you’ve no doubt seen in countless infographics and animated videos.
Making a SmartPhone Pictogram in Apple Keynote
Open Keynote and start with a new presentation. For this exercise, I chose a 1280 x 720 presentation with a white background. Hover over the Shapes icon in the tool bar and select the roundtangle icon (the rectangle-like object with rounded corners). This will represent the body or our smartphone.
This will place the default roundtangle object on your screen. We’ll want to change the color of that, so open your inspector by clicking on the blue inspector icon in the tool bar and then select the graphic icon (the little square and circle icon) in that tool inspector to adjust the properties of the object. Under the Fill dropdown select Color Fill and the shape will turn to a white fill with a black outline (also known as a stroke).
Next grab one of the square handles on one of the corners and drag to resize the object. Tip: If you’re not sure about the size or proportion that the body of the phone needs to be, find and download an image of a smartphone from the web (for reference only), or take a picture of your own smartphone, then drag that image into Keynote to use as a reference. You can even place it in the middle of the screen and turn its opacity to 50% or so and then draw your objects right on top of it. If you do this, you’ll wan to lock the image by selecting it then selecting Arrange > Lock from the menu).
Next, change the color of the phone’s body. Make sure the object is still selected and in the inspector window click on the color fill square to activate it which will open up your colors palette. From that palette, select a color for the body, black in this example.
Next we’ll make the screen. From the Shapes icon in the tool bar, select the rectangle icon.
This adds an ugly square to our canvas on top of our current object.
Resize the square to make it look like a screen on a smartphone.
We’ll want to change the color of that like we did with the first object.
Next, get another rounded rectangle shape on the screen and make it long an skinny to represent the speaker on your smartphone. You can make sure each of the shapes is aligned properly by selecting the shapes and then going to the Arrange menu item and choosing Align Objects > Center.
Change the new rounded rectangle’s color and it’s starting to resemble a smartphone.
Next, select the circle shape and add that to your phone. Change its color and center-align it with the other objects you’ve created.
You can add a little detail to the round ‘home’ button by adding a new rounded rectangle with no fill, only a stroke.
To create buttons for apps, add another rounded rectangle and size it down quite a bit. Grab the little blue circle when its selected to adjust the rounded corners.
Copy and paste the first App button to create more and distribute them on your screen.
If you want to maintain a more grayscale look, just change the color on your App buttons to a gray of your choice.
And there you have it! You’ve created your own smartphone pictogram. Experiment with it a a bit. Try it using your company’s color palette. Next time we’ll try something a little more elaborate.