Updated 2018-11-12 at 3:30PM with accessibility information.
Beautiful.AI is a new website that enables users to create dynamic presentations quickly and easily with “smart templates” and other design optimized features. So far the service is free with a paid pro tier coming soon. I first heard about Beautiful.AI in an advertisement on NPR and was immediately intrigued. The landscape of presentation software platforms has broadened in recent years to include websites like Prezi, Emaze, and an array of others beyond the tried and true PowerPoint. My preferred method of creating presentations for the past couple of years has been to customize the layouts available on Canva and download the completed PDFs for use in PowerPoint. I am also someone who enjoys tinkering with fonts and other design elements until I get a presentation just right, but I know that these steps can be time consuming and overwhelming for many people. With that in mind, I set out to put Beautiful.AI to the test by creating a short “prepare and share” presentation about my first experience at ALA’s Annual Conference this past June for an upcoming meeting.
To help you get started, Beautiful.AI includes an introductory “Design Tips for Beautiful Slides” presentation. It is also fully customizable so you can play around with all of of the features and options as you explore, or you can click on “create new presentation” to start from scratch. You’ll then be prompted to choose a theme, and you can also choose a color palette. Once you start adding slides you can make use of Beautiful.AI’s template library. This is the foundation of the site’s usefulness because it helps alleviate guesswork about where to put content and that dreaded “staring at the blank slide” feeling. Each individual slide becomes a canvas as you create a presentation, similar to what is likely familiar in PowerPoint. In fact, all of the most popular PowerPoint features are available in Beautiful.AI, they’re just located in very different places. From the navigation at the left of the screen users can adjust the colors and layout of each slide as well as add images, animation, and presenter notes. Options to add, duplicate, or delete a slide are available on the right of the screen. The organize feature also allows you to zoom out and see all of the slides in the presentation.
One of Beautiful.AI’s best features, and my personal favorite, is its built-in free stock image library. You can choose from pre-selected categories such as Data, Meeting, Nature, or Technology or search for other images. An import feature is also available, but providing the stock images is extremely useful if you don’t have your own photos at the ready. Using these images also ensures that no copyright restrictions are violated and helps add a professional polish to your presentation. The options to add an audio track and advance times to slides are also nice to have for creating presentations as tutorials or introductions to a topic. When you’re ready to present, you can do so directly from the browser or export to PDF or PowerPoint. Options to share with a link or embed with code are also available.
While intuitive design and overall usability won’t necessarily make or break the existence of a presentation software platform, each will play a role in influencing whether someone uses it more than once. For the most part, I found Beautiful.AI to be easy and fun to use. The interface is bold, yet simplistic, and on trend with current website design aesthetics. Still, users who are new to creating presentations online in a non-PowerPoint environment may find the Beautiful.AI interface to be confusing at first. Most features are consolidated within icons and require you to hover over them to reveal their function. Icons like the camera to represent “Add Image” are pretty obvious, but others such as Layout and Organize are less intuitive. Some of Beautiful.AI’s terminology may also not be as easily recognizable. For example, the use of the term “variations” was confusing to me at first, especially since it’s only an option for the title slide.
The absence of any drag and drop capability for text boxes is definitely a feature that’s missing for me. This is really where the automated design adaptability didn’t seem to work as well as I would’ve expected given that it’s one of the company’s most prominent marketing statements. On the title slide of my presentation, capitalizing a letter in the title caused the text to move closer to the edge of the slide. In Canva, I could easily pull the text block over to the left a little or adjust the font size down by a few points. I really am a stickler for spacing in my presentations, and I would’ve expected this to be an element that the “Design AI” would pick up on. Each template also has different pre-set design elements, and it can be confusing when you choose one that includes a feature that you didn’t expect. Yet, text sizes that are pre-set to fit the dimensions of each template does help not only with readability in the creation phase but with overall visibility for audiences. Again, this alleviates some of the guesswork that often happens in PowerPoint with not knowing exactly how large your text sizes will appear when projected onto larger screens.
One feature that does work really well is the export option. Exporting to PowerPoint creates a perfectly sized facsimile presentation, and being able to easily download a PDF is very useful for creating handouts or archiving a presentation later on. Both are nice to have as a backup for conferences where Internet access may be spotty, and it’s nice that Beautiful.AI understands the need for these options. Unfortunately, Beautiful.AI doesn’t address accessibility on its FAQ page nor does it offer alternative text or other web accessibility features. Users will need to add their own slide titles and alt text in PowerPoint and Adobe Acrobat after exporting from Beautiful.AI to create an accessible presentation.
Beautiful.AI challenged me to think in new ways about how best to deliver information in a visually engaging way. It’s a useful option for librarians and students who are looking for a presentation website that is fun to use, engaging, and on trend with current web design.
Click here to view “My first ALA”presentation created with Beautiful.AI.
Jeanette Sewell is the Database and Metadata Management Coordinator at Fondren Library, Rice University.