Need to show a process? Here are 2 alternatives to using SmartArt.

SmartArt Process Cover Image.png

Whether you’re using Keynote, PowerPoint, or Google Slides at some point you’ve had to explain a step-by-step process to your audience. If you’re like most academics, scientists, evaluators, or professionals I work with, then it probably looks something like this.


Most people know that the above slide isn’t visually engaging. Most people draft this and then think “How can I visualize this?”

Well, because most academics, scientists, researchers, or service providers haven’t had proper training on visualizing their work, they rely on (what they think is) the next best thing: SmartArt.

So, the all-text/too-much-text slide turns into an all-text/too-much-text slide with some goofy looking shapes.


In my opinion, this is not a visualization of the scale development process. It’s just clutter, and impossible to read. There’s also WAY too much text on the slide.

But too much text is not the reason SmartArt doesn’t work. Let’s look at this slide again with less text.


It' still doesn’t work. It’s still just a goofy looking shape.

I’m sorry to share the bad news that this type of slide is an ineffective way to explain a process. That’s why one of the first things people learn in my professional development training is to avoid using SmartArt 100% of the time.

There are very few things where I say “NEVER” do this or “ALWAYS” do that. Most of the time, I say “it depends” (like, how many slides should you have in a presentation).

But SmartArt? Yeah. That’s a “NEVER USE” scenario.

(Does your team, department, or organization use SmartArt? Maybe now would be a good time for me to do some training for you all? Want me to train you or your team? Let’s get in touch ASAP!)

So what do you use instead of SmartArt? Create your own design using the built-in tools that PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slides have.

Alternative Design #1 (Made in PowerPoint)

That’s what I did to create this basic setup. The purpose of this slide is to be the “Tell them what you’re going to say” slide, so it’d be a quick overview of the steps.


If you feel like this is a boring slide compared to SmartArt, then (and I say this with kindness) it sounds like there’s a little more unlearning for you to go through. Like I said earlier, most people haven’t had proper training on how to create effective presentations. One outcome of that is we’ve gotten used to superficial and ineffective design elements like color and goofy graphics as a replacement for effective teaching. We don’t realize that a lot of those things (e.g., SmartArt, templates) are actually things that get in the way of learning.

The purpose of slides is to guide people through your material and data in a clear, coherent, organized, and visual way. It’s not to throw colors and shapes in their face to distract them (which is exactly what SmartArt does).

To guide people through this slide, I took it a step further and animated each step. That way, the speaker could walk the audience through each step quickly.


This is easier to follow than the original, but we can take it a step further and add some visuals. How about some icons?


This would, of course, be animated in the same way as before. But now, with the icons it looks even more professional, sleek and — most importantly — engaging and easy to follow.


Plus, now that I’ve introduced icons into this presentation, I can use them for the remaining slides. Like I mentioned earlier, this would be the “tell them what you’re going to say” slide. So here’s what the “then, tell them” slides would look like. I’d use the icon on those slides as a visual cue for which step in the process I’m explaining in further detail.

Here are 4 design ideas for including the icon in the corresponding slides.


Like these design ideas so far?

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Alternative Design #2 (Also Made in PowerPoint)

The above design is miles better than the before slide. It’s much cleaner and easier to follow, and has a simple-yet-professional icon system. If you want to take this to the next step, here’s another way you could design these slides.

Again, this would be the “tell them what you’re going to say slide.”


And this is how it would look animated in PowerPoint. After each step has been shown, pay attention to the literature review icon (bottom left).


Because, again, the idea is to set up an icon/organization system to use throughout the section. With this design, all icons (representing each step) are on each slide, but it’s clear which step we’re talking about in this moment.


How did I do it? Get the actual slide deck I used to make this post!

By having the slide deck you can pull apart every piece, check out the design settings, and you can see EXACTLY how I set up the animations. If it's helpful, you can even copy/paste and use these in your own slides! Plus, I tell you where I got those FREE icons. 


Do you use SmartArt? Let me help you move beyond that so you can make effective, visual, and engaging slides.

Want me to create this type of visual icon/design system for your slide deck?

I’d LOVE to do this for you! I can work with PowerPoint, Keynote, and Google Slides. Simply send your slides to me and we’ll go from there. If you don’t have slides yet but still want this design made for you, I can do that too!

Would you rather know how to do this yourself? Sign up for a Kickstarter 1:1 training session.

Oh and don’t leave without signing up for the Communication Café for weekly tech tips, invites to professional development training, and more!