the mobile montage

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Prezi, zooming user interfaces, and PowerPoint relief

Posted on | March 18, 2010 | 4 Comments

Not so long ago one of my students (John Spencer) introduced me to Jef Raskin’s book “The Humane Interface“. While I have yet to read the book cover to cover, it’s got some interesting ideas in it including the notion of a “zooming user interface” or “ZUI”. Independent of John’s suggestion, another friend of mine (Zach Moazeni) visited our lab recently and gave a talk on Ruby on Rails. Zach gave his talk using – a zooming presentation editor which really piqued my curiosity.

During our recent Spring Break (when my students were all basking in the sun down south) I started playing around with Prezi (they do make if free for educational purposes) and so far I like what I’ve seen. I’m teaching Android in one of my courses, so I started using Prezi for some of my lecture materials. Here’s a sample (click on the fullscreen option for best effect):

There are a couple of things I like about Prezi. First is its ability to focus and shift attention on presentation content in a natural flowing manner. Second, it’s sort of a hybrid between a PowerPoint presentation and a screencast. Its more dynamic than the former and more “macro” than a screencast. For example, when I browse the prezi gallery on, I find I get more out of these presentations than a standard PowerPoint presentation (because of the ability to focus and shift attention) but find them not nearly as time consuming and tedious as watching a detailed screencast. Finally, the prezi editor is fairly simple to learn and work with, though I’m sure my initial output probably could use some serious refinement!

Prezi is based on Flash so it will work on any PC, Linux or Mac (but not on your iPhone or iPad!!). You can serve up your Prezi presentation online or you can download a read-only copy to distribute yourself. There is also an offline editor, though I prefer the online editor since I can then get at my presentations from any machine.

There are also some features I’d like to see in a future version. For example, when I’m establishing a path through multiple objects within a frame I’d like to be able to “group” that path as a sub path and refer to it at a macro level. As it stands you really can’t create a path until all the information is out on the table. The equivalent of a “snap to” wouldn’t be bad either when creating content.

I’ve posted my Android Prezis on my Screencast and Prezi Tutorials page. I’ll be adding more in the coming weeks. While you’re at it, give a test drive yourself. I think you (and your audiences) will find it a welcome breath of fresh air after decades of PowerPoint and similar presentation tools.


4 Responses to “Prezi, zooming user interfaces, and PowerPoint relief”

  1. Shai
    March 19th, 2010 @ 7:00 am

    I liked the class presentation you created on Prezi – much, much better and more attention getting than a fancy PowerPoint presentation (hence I agree that it is more intuitive and a better educational/presentation tool). I did play with it a bit and like it. Please forward my thanks to Zach for introducing the great tool. And free to boot for basic educational purposes.

  2. Zach Moazeni
    March 19th, 2010 @ 7:15 am

    Great presentation. You used some features that I haven’t even used yet. So I’m going to have to do some digging.

    At first I wanted the “snap to” functionality too, but as I thought about it the irregularities in positioning adds a bit of flare to the zooming-changes. However I do use “duplicate” a lot so the scale of the slides stays similar.

    One other note, my first couple slides were circular, but then I started putting them side by side (with a couple rows). That allows me to click the canvas and zoom out, but still able to see the slides to zoom in on them. I think it’s because the algorithm only zooms out so far as to contain all the objects. However that’s just a personal preference for deviating from the path when presenting the objects

  3. Laura
    May 15th, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

    I just found Prezi. I’ve been using duplicate for scale and that helps, but I want a snap to as well. I don’t have a good eye for lining things up but I’m OCD about making sure things are straight. So, yeah, snap to for me.

  4. Tony Ahn
    June 25th, 2011 @ 9:58 pm

    Prezi beats PPT 2010 because Prezi has pretty much the same features yet is FREE. When PPT 2010 releases a freemium-ware version that allows you to create slideshows branded with their logo in the corner, then I’ll be ready to declare them the better app.

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    Jonathan Engelsma

    Jonathan Engelsma is a computer scientist, programmer, teacher, mobile technology enthusiast, inventor, beekeeper and life long learner. He is currently a Professor in GVSU's School of Computing, where he leads the GVSU Mobile Applications and Services Laboratory.

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