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Hacking Prezi as a Platform for Visual Composition and Design Experimentation

A Ferris Wheel at Night

[This is a guest post by Kimon Keramidas, Assistant Professor and Director for the Digital Media Lab at the Bard Graduate Center. Kimon teaches about the design and material culture of technology and is tasked with integrating and implementing digital media within the curricular and research goals of faculty and students. He also leads the development of digital media and interactives for the BGC's Focus Gallery exhibitions. Find him online at http://kimonkeramidas.net and follow him on Twitter at @kimonizer.--@BC]

One of my favorite parts of ProfHacker is the idea of subtly hacking tools for educational purposes. By subtle hacking I mean not changing the code or structure of a tool, but using it for a purpose it may not have been originally intended for. One tool that I have found is readily hackable in this sense is Prezi. (Editors: See our previous posts covering how different ProfHackers have been using Prezi.) Prezi is marketed as a presentation tool, a killer app for the frustrated hordes of PowerPoint users who are looking for more dynamic and visually compelling modes of presentation. It accomplishes that task quite well with a digital canvas design structure, a user-friendly interface for adding text, images, and multimedia (it even cannibalizes existing PowerPoints well), and the capacity to create a step-by-step path through materials for presentation purposes.

But if you start to think more creatively about what Prezi’s toolset offers, you begin to realize how powerful a tool it can be for designing a wide array of visual compositions. If one looks past the presentation use case, the combination of the flexibility of a nearly infinite digital canvas and easy-to-use design features makes for a powerful and highly accessible tool for developing thought maps, prototyping designs for digital interfaces and physical spaces, creating bespoke visualizations, and as a platform for comparative visual analysis and annotation.

At my institution, the Bard Graduate Center, we’ve come to realize the range of Prezi’s possibilities through a variety of different projects. Interestingly, the tool was first introduced to me by a student who was looking for a tool that would reveal detailed craftsmanship in highly intricate metal works. He wanted to be able to show the whole object and then do a zoom into the fine details. This would have taken multiple slides in PowerPoint, but by using Prezi he was able to travel from a view of the whole object to a detail and back much more fluidly. In one of his early projects, he laid out about seventy of these high-res images along five radial arms and was able to organize them visually and accompany each image with metadata. (Click on each image below for a larger version.)

A Prezi screenshot

From those early Prezis, students, and later faculty, have used the tool for a variety of projects, as it became clear that Prezi’s ability to highlight and make flexible the use of visual materials suited much of the work we do studying decorative arts, design history and material culture. We’ve had students create dual-axised graphical layouts of materials along theme and time.

A screenshot from Prezi

We have also used Prezi to generate wireframes for digital project prototypes, including an early draft of our first digital-born qualifying project.

A Prezi screenshot

In our exhibitions, we have used Prezi to work on concepts for interactives and to mock up designs for gallery spaces. As a resource for students I created three Prezis with a combined 2000 images that acted as a visual syllabus for a course I taught on scenic design.

Screenshot of a timeline built in Prezi

One of the best things we have found along the way is that Prezi has a collaborative system that is very simple to use and manage. The result is that faculty and students are often contributing to and editing single or multiple Prezis over the course of a semester.

Because of these robust features Prezi has become an important part of the toolset at my institution and has become equally accepted by our faculty alongside PowerPoint for in-class presentations. It is also an easy tool to learn and teach, meaning that students can quickly feel proficient in the process of adding images, videos, texts, and shapes. This allows them to begin to think creatively and to experiment across the digital canvas with little instruction. For our institution, it has been a great example of a tool being hacked beyond it’s perceived range of functionality and has been a great entry point for many community members interested in working with digital tools. If you’re interested in seeing some more of the Prezis we’ve been working on feel free to contact me.

Lead image: live spirograph 3 by Flickr user tadekk”> / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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