Bullet points and information design

The informative content we provide for students is quite often text based, accompanied by media. We spend a lot of time writing and rewriting our content, searching for the right order of ideas, the right words, the perfect sentence.

In many cases we use bulleted lists or ordered lists to convey information in an organised way. It creates great whitespace on our Moodle page or Powerpoint slide, and feels more readable than paragraph text. And then, we end up with lots of bullet lists and suddenly, it’s boring.

So how can you transform some of your bullet points to visually appealing content?

The first principle to achieve this is to reflect on the type of information your list conveys. Bullet points, even though they all look the same, can be lots of things: a comparison, a process, a procedure, a list (!) of features, characteristics or requirements. Determining this type of information can guide you to a different view of your bullet list.

Let’s imagine a course about pancakes. It consists of 3 slides all together, each with bullet pointed lists. So every slide looks exactly the same. And still, they are so different in content.

pancakes_slide1pancake_slide2 pancake_slide3

Three bulleted lists that look exactly the same, but convey three completely different types of information. The first one is really a list. The second one is a procedure. The third slide shows a comparison.


As a first step towards conversion, we could stay in the plain text sphere.  We could stay with the bullet list for slide 1, make a numbered list for the procedure and create a table for the comparison, as shown below.


In a next step, let’s make it very visual.  As we want to convey in slide 1 that you need ALL these ingredients, a checklist seems a nice approach. It indicates all these items have to be ‘ticked off’ to be complete.

In slide two, we want to make the sequence of the actions quite clear. While this can be done by the numbers, we have used one of Powerpoint’s Smartart options to show a visual of the sequence. A set of photo’s or a video are also an obvious but more resource requiring option.

Slide three works well with the basic table layout as we are comparing characteristics. By incorporating pictures, we make the slide clearer: comparison becomes easier for the learner.


FYI – no fancy graphics tools were used to create the new slides, all was made using the graphic design functionality in Powerpoint.



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