A while back someone on Twitter alerted me to a new web app called Prezi, which bills itself as a tool to “create astonishing presentations live and on the web.” I finally had a chance to use it for my recent presentation to the Law School’s entering students on managing online identity, and I could not be more impressed with the product.
Like PowerPoint, Prezi is intended to help you communicate the key points of your presentation through visual reinforcement. Unlike PowerPoint, Prezi has jettisoned the boring, linear, bullet-point structure we’ve come to expect from such programs and replaced it with a user experience in which the viewer feels as though they’re flying above and zooming into a giant map of your presentation. You can even change the structure of the presentation on the fly in order to react to your audience’s questions. It really has to be seen to be believed.
Prezi’s user interface for creating presentations is equally as innovative. Instead of a standard toolbar, the tool menu items are presented as bubbles attached to a larger bubble that rotates when clicked upon. When you place an object onto your map, a set of concentric circles is overlaid, and each circle does something different: one allows you to drag the object through 2D space, one allows you to resize, and one allows you to rotate.
I do have a few quibbles with the product, of course. While you can change the basic look of your presentation, you can’t choose custom colors or fonts, or change the shape of your frames. A great deal of precision is needed to select multiple objects in editing mode which sometimes means performing the same action three or four times before you get it right. Also, while you can embed many different types of media, from still images to video, there is no way to embed links to a live website, which make for a much more dynamic presentation than simple screen shots of a website.
Prezi should prove useful to designers in several ways. Of course, if you give presentations or make client pitches, the benefits of Prezi’s ease of production and its added “wow factor” will hook you right away. But the unique interface should also prove inspirational to designers as it illustrates the power of rethinking design elements that we tend to take for granted. Finally, it should be useful to information architects as a mind-mapping application. I’ve tried several such applications over the years and Prezi beats them all for ease of use in actually getting your ideas down on the screen and illustrating the relationship between them.
Like most web apps, there’s a three-tiered pricing scheme; the free version includes the Prezi logo on all of your presentations, while the next level removes that and provides more storage, and the most expensive level allows you to edit your presentations offline (all versions include the ability to play presentations offline). The free version is more than worth a trial run.