The Cruciality of Design Congruence in Presentations

October 23, 2023


Recently, a client of ours sent me a deck that had worked on. Self admittedly, she said “the design is not great…it could definitely use some work.”

So we read through the deck with our team. The storyline was pretty solid; maybe an 8 out of 10. And the design, exactly as she had promised, not so great. However, there was another layer beyond this. It wasn’t just that the design could use a bit of help we told them it’s also that there was an asymmetry between the storyline and the design.

The result from all of this? An underwhelmed audience and not just that…a confused audience.

Common misconception clients have when coming to us: Treating presentation storyline and design as two discrete tasks. And this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

A Unified, Logical Story: Back To The Basics

So what’s the purpose of your presentation anyway? All too often people treat their presentations as a mandatory task; a checklist item to send across or present, because that’s just ‘how it’s done.’ And often times we don’t even take the time to think why.

Rather than tedious work, a presentation is actual your ally. A flexible visual tool, able to cater to both ‘readers’ and ‘image people’ alike (and even in some cases audio learners, should you be able to present).

So when crafting our presentation what is our main goal then ultimately? To make it easy for your audience to understand the logic behind your opportunity and absorb that logic however their brain best works.

Deck With Only Text; On Option

There is an option that exists out there where design congruence plays no importance: text-only presentations. Zero pressure, just words.

However, why is this not truly an option and where does design fit in? Well simply, we live in increasingly visual era. With graphics and video-centric content, your brand needs visual pop to stand out and with attention increasingly limited, your window for showcasing your brand’s precision is very small. Absent deliberate visual pop? You’re missing a cornerstone crucial competency of any business: marketing panache. And this is true whether your business is a Direct to Consumer (D2C), Business to Business (B2B), or a Business to Enterprise (B2E) business.

So What’s Design Congruence And Where Does It Fit In?

Design congruence is the principle of both guiding the reader’s attention where you want it to go AND having the imagery mirror the words-based message on the page. It has to stay within familiar structures for your audience while also going against the grain to showcase your dynamism.

What’s an example of a real-life incongruent design that might confuse people? How about if there were a green stop sign?

Should I go? Do the rules change? My brain is in conflict with what the message is (do I stop or go?) and therefore I’m stuck on my next action. Result: car parked in the middle of the road, unsure of what to do.

Again your role is to point the viewer exactly where you want them to look and make it easy for them to digest your presentation while showcasing your design and marketing skill.

Get that right and you’ve de-risked a crucial marketing and positioning competency that others miss on.

Ok, So How Do I Go About Achieving Design Congruence?

When composing your presentation, there’s a linear flow we tend to go through to determine our visual approach:

1) Determine the message hierarchy on any page: where do we want the viewer to look first, second, third.

2) Determine visual structural options we can use to communicate this

3) Ensure that the visual cues provide continuity/are complementary to the rest of the presentation

4) Sanity check: ensure the visual approach for any given slide won’t go against conventional perception of that visual approach (e.g., ensure the structure doesn’t normally convey another slide type)

A few bonus hints as well:

–   Start with a pencil (or a figurative pencil). Do not worry about color or font or precise imagery.

–   After you have the storyline (strawman), think of the first design phase as a logic exercise and not a design exercise. Focus on what you want your audience’s experience and understanding to be like on each page.

–   Simplicity will make your congruence exercise easier. The more items on a page, the more ‘advanced’ of a design exercise it becomes. Common rule default rule we go by: more pages with less content per page > fewer pages with more content per page.


When seeing a highly polished presentation it can be intimidating, especially as a non-designer, to envision your path to such a presentation. While most conceptually understand the importance of conveying their brand in an elevated fashion, the common misconception is that the gap to that presentation is just imagery, font, and color. In reality, ensuring the visual cues you provide match the storyline is of the utmost importance with the ‘traditional’ design elements of imagery, font, and color as additional levers to integrate for optimal design. So start with what you can control even as a non-designer: the logic of each page and the whole presentation. Then run ‘continuity’ tests and only then start to integrate the more ‘traditional’ design levers.

Become Differentiated,
Drive Conversion

Sign up for our private monthly newsletter to learn how to truly differentiate.
Drive excitement, clarity and conversion to increase pricing, accelerate your revenue, and increase your margins.

Get ready to have your eyes opened; we're about to take you to another level.
Please add to your address book immediately to ensure you receive our newsletter.
We look forward to elevating with you.