The Problems with Prezi

Here at BrightCarbon, we like Prezi, and we are happy to use it. We can use pretty much any presentation technology to create presentation visuals – from whiteboards and sketches to Keynote, Prezi, or anything else you can think of.

We understand that people are bored of PowerPoint, unable to harness it for effective presentation design, and looking to avoid Death by PowerPoint. We understand that in 2012 people don’t want to get up and present boring bullet points. For most though, Prezi is not the answer.

Text is Still Text, Bullet Points Still Don’t Work

Prezi easily allows the use of text, images, and insertion of videos. Because most Prezis are created with a reader in mind, text is usually still used to convey messages – and so the problem of audiences being able to read for themselves is still present when using Prezi for presentations. Just as PowerPoint doesn’t work well when audiences read bullet-points for themselves and ignore the presenter, Prezi also doesn’t work well when audiences read bullet-points, however fancy the transitions between them.

Prezi Allows Interesting Transitions Between Frames, but Within-Frame Animations are Limited

Done well, PowerPoint allows a significant range of sophisticated on-slide animation. Prezi allows smooth transitions between frames (as they call slides), but once one gets to a frame, try setting a motion path, animating a graph, or doing anything other than zooming in to another level…  (Prezi added a simple fade-in animation, to use within frames. It’s a good start.) PowerPoint actually allows more high-end animation than Prezi, although Prezi’s transitions are easier to master.

The Canvas Provides a Spatial Framework for Organising Information – But Few Presentations Make Use of It Properly

The major feature of Prezi is the ability to organise information spatially on a giant canvas, and zoom around. This is perfect for presenting information that is spatially related. Yet even the most popular Prezis – those held up by the company as best practice, viewed millions of times – fail to make use of the feature properly. We think Prezi is a great tool to deliver content that all relates to a physical thing that we can zoom around e.g. a typical hospital, or New York, or anything else where content can be explored spatially. Unfortunately, we hardly ever see Prezi used in this way. In most long Prezis, the viewer is left confused as to where on the spatial plane information has been placed. (For those who are interested, the pptPlex plug-in for PowerPoint from Microsoft can organise PowerPoint slides on a spatial canvas. It works well – although it isn’t supported. We would like to see it included in the next version of PowerPoint.)

Frames in Prezi are Spatially Related Whether this Makes Sense or Not

Prezi suggest organising content around large photos, or diagrammatically. But even the basic examples given, or the ‘best practice’ Prezis promoted by the company, contain material that shouldn’t be related spatially. Why should ‘What do Dinosaurs Look Like?’ and ‘When did Dinosaurs Live?’ be related spatially? Prezi’s canvas format forces a spatial relationship where none exists. Want to show a series of photographs in PowerPoint without spatial movement? No problem. Want to do it in Prezi? Prepare for motion sickness, and confusion as to why the photos are related to each other in space.

Nesting of Content Within Frames Mixes Spatial and Hierarchical Relationships, Which is Confusing for Audiences

Prezi recommend nesting ‘less important’ information within frames – which to the viewer looks like a zoom in. But on a spatial canvas, we expect a zoom to suggest a closer look at something in space (e.g. USA -> New York -> Central Park, or Hospital -> ER -> Blood gas analyser). It’s simply confusing when the zoom ends up providing additional detail with no relationship to the spatial nature of the canvas (e.g. USA -> New York -> Dutch colonists in 1624). But few presentations allow all information to be usefully organised in a single spatial plane.

Prezi’s Default Settings Encourage Poor Practice

Just as PowerPoint’s ‘click to add subtitle’ encourages the use of bullet points, Prezi’s default ‘click to add text’ and path settings also encourage poor practice. We like that Prezi encourages the use of images and videos by making these options prominent, but we don’t like that path settings make the issue of motion sickness very real for most Prezis. We aren’t quite sure why authors are encouraged to rotate text, or why it is so easy to arrange content over large distances, which contribute to motion sickness. Why not keep all text horizontal by default, discourage the use of rotation, and encourage shorter ‘pans’? Why not allow control over the speed of panning?

Beyond Prezi

For the advanced user, PowerPoint offers more powerful options than Prezi. For the part-time slide designer? Prezi can deliver something new – but often it replaces ‘Death by PowerPoint’ with ‘Sea-Sick and Confused by Prezi’. We’re not sure that’s a huge step forward. The clear message is to use whatever presentation technology you use effectively – often by ignoring some default settings.

Aside from the obvious (e.g. PowerPoint, Keynote) alternatives to Prezi include Ahead and impress.js – let us know if you think we should look at – or feature – any others.

Latest comments

Brian Božić on 8th May 2012 at 9:39 am said

All the above points are valid, except the heading. These are not problems with Prezi, but problems with would-be presenters/presentation-designers.

The same pitfalls apply to how these aesthetically-challenged people use PowerPoint, but you make a point of saying PowerPoint isn’t the problem, it’s the user. The same logic should be applied to Prezi.

There are circumstances where Prezi will result in a far better, or far easier to create, presentation than PowerPoint, and vice versa. So Prezi should be included in any presentation designer’s toolkit as a result. That is not to say throw PowerPoint, or Keynote, or any other tool out the window.

Just use the right tool for the job.

Joby Blume on 8th May 2012 at 9:54 am said

Brian

I’m glad you found the article – I was going to send you a link to it, but don’t think I got around to it.

I agree with the thrust of your comment. I always get annoyed when people complain about PowerPoint being some sort of “evil” tool, as quite clearly we can use it without causing “death by PowerPoint”. That said, as I mention in the article, PowerPoint’s default settings do have to take their share of the blame for the way people use the tool – it’s set up to encourage bad practice. Prezi is similar in that regard, but I think some of my criticisms above are actually more fundamental:

1. There isn’t any within frame animation available within Prezi – and I would say that’s a problem with the tool, as one can’t easily display change, or show how a process works. (Without zooming around a canvas using static frames – it will work for some processes, but not all.) Limiting, to say the least.

2. Prezi’s canvas forces a spatial relationship onto all elements. It’s true that when used for brainstorming, that’s not really a problem. But when used to present, audiences just naturally wonder why certain items are to the left, some to the top, and so on. There’s no way to show items without the question of whether the spatial relationship means something. To me, that’s a fundamental issue with the platform.

For the right topic, Prezi is wonderful. I would contend that ideally Prezi should only be used for certain material, where information is best organised spatially. Of course, it is easier to get an ‘interesting’ result than with PowerPoint, and not everyone has our PowerPoint design expertise – so that’s of course part of the appeal.

Brian Božić on 8th May 2012 at 10:52 am said

Hi Joby,

When I first saw Prezi, I was completely dazzled by the fresh approach, which clouded my judgement, until I started thinking about the limited functionality. This was nearly two years ago. They are slowly, but steadily adding functionality as they go.

We have to remember that they are not Microsoft, who can throw X hundred development hours at something over a weekend (and still make suboptimal products).

About a year ago I was completely frustrated with the limitations of Prezi, but have come to appreciate their careful consideration of features (I just wish it was quicker).

The lack of animation (without Flash) is the biggest bug-bear of mine, but also, the use of custom-fonts is a mystery to all but very technical people. In the changes they have made, they do seem to have kept in mind the requests of their users, so I’m hoping animation is in development.

The spatial relationship issue is somewhat similar to the implied chronological relationship that a standard PowerPoint gives you. I’ve experienced many presentations where the order, and indeed general organisation, of content has been as questionable as the design choices. At least with the blank canvas approach it gives the audience the opportunity to at least view, if not understand, the reasoning behind the presenter’s organisation of content.

(As an aside, and in relation to that last point, I have become an active audience-member in all presentations. I know and understand that the presenter has an agenda, and wants to effect change in my knowledge, understanding or behaviour. So I look for their motivation, their clarity of thought, their organisation of content. Presentations are far more two-way than people credit).

Joby Blume on 8th May 2012 at 1:08 pm said

Brian

I never considered that there was an implied chronological order in the relation between PowerPoint slides. If there is, it isn’t as strong as with Prezi’s spatial relationships. And of course Prezi when used to present also has that same temporal element – things are shown in an order, and that order is usually fixed.

As I said, I like Prezi. I think that for the right topic, it would be possible to do a great job. Many of the ‘high quality’ Prezis that are showcased aren’t great – but that’s true with the popular presentations on SlideShare created in PowerPoint. (Self-explanatory? Then it’s not a great visual aid when presented.)

This article had a bunch of views at the same time from Hungary – so maybe the team at Prezi will respond with some of their development effort. Certainly they’ve done a good job so far. Perhaps users make stronger claims for the product than the team at Prezi themselves, but I’m not so sure.

Presentations as two-way… They certainly ought to be. We like to think in terms of visual conversations. The iPad is a great tool for making presentations far more interactive. So yes, the audience ought to think and interpret in an active way, but we take it further and let them suggest topics to discuss, sketch ideas, answer polls, and so on.

Dominik MJ on 15th June 2012 at 8:26 am said

When I found Prezi, I was amazed by the look and feel. But I found it very difficult to get to usable results.
Powerpoint for me it quite a consistent nuisance – however usually I used Keynote, and I am very happy with it.

Now I wanted to do a concept and found Keynote [which has the same organizational structure as ppt] not perfectly suitable. I came back to Prezi and found it a wonderful tool to visualize, the different pieces of a concept fitting to a whole.

For some specific presentation I would always use Keynote – to make slideshows, animations and conservative presentations.
For things which are related and to show their relation to each other, I will use Prezi from now on.

The only thing is, that it looks so simple to start with Prezi, but the learning curve for something decent is quite high…

Joby Blume on 20th June 2012 at 2:57 pm said

Dominik thanks for the comment. I think you are right – when you want to show how elements are related to each other Prezi can be useful. It makes zooming in and out of the whole, and around a canvas, relatively straightforward. I guess the problem is what to do with the information that isn’t connected to the rest. It can’t go somewhere else – it has to go on the canvas. So showing some things that are related and others that aren’t related in the same way – that can be hard.

PowerPoint is more powerful than Keynote or Prezi – but to get really good results does take a lot of work, that’s for sure. Prezi has a steep-ish learning curve – but there’s probably less depth overall – the tool just can’t do as much as PowerPoint.

Dali on 3rd December 2012 at 4:53 am said

I am really glad that I stumbled upon this article. I was starting to think that there’s something I’m missing when I just couldn’t see the supposedly huge advantage of Prezi over PowerPoint. I do see how Prezi can be useful for certain purposes and audiences, but it’s definitely not as powerful as PowerPoint. As someone mentioned before – it’s not the tool that’s the problem, but the user who creates a boring presentation. I will keep on using Prezi when I see appropriate, but I will definitely not trash PowerPoint any time soon.

Joby Blume on 3rd December 2012 at 5:45 pm said

I think the attraction of Prezi is that it’s different. An awful Prezi (sea-sickness, nausea, lots of text, meaningless zooms) is horrible – but at least’s it’s a bit different.

Prezi does have a use, and we’ve done some cool things with it – but replacing a text-heavy PowerPoint presentation with a text-heavy Prezi presentation is pointless. You aren’t missing anything!

Max Alter on 16th December 2012 at 12:32 am said

There is one real problem with Prezi – if you want to record (screencast) a prezi you have to use Keynote. Anything else will not produce the smooth movements of the original. On a PC with the latest version of Camtasia and all other programs closed to maximise memory resources may give you an acceptable result but this is not guaranteed every time. Buying a Mac and Keynote just to record a prezi? A bit on the expensive side IMHO.

Apart from that. I agree, Prezi has limitations, so does PPt. I combined both in a video (hence my need to record a prezi) to do precisely what is recommended in another post on this site: breaking up the monotony, being visually a bit disruptive to raise the level of attentiveness.

I just checked Ahead at the link you gave; it’s still not available.

Great article, thanks.

Jakob Jochmann on 18th December 2012 at 9:09 am said

I don’t understand how you would use Keynote to record a Prezi but I hear that the feature for recording a Prezi is currently being remodeled by the Prezi team.

Joby Blume on 17th February 2013 at 8:56 pm said

Tim, is this native functionality, embedded video, embedded Flash, a plug-in, or something else? You didn’t get the dog walking from inside Prezi, did you? Still – it’s smart. It’s good to see people testing Prezi, but just a shame that so much that’s needed as core functionality isn’t there.

We normally do want animation, to tell a story with movement, comparison, and change…

Tim on 18th February 2013 at 9:50 am said

Joby, sorry for not being more clear. This is just a flash .swf file and reacts to Prezi arriving on a specific view. Its not linked to a path point…if you zoom out and in on this area you will see the animation-stop and start. This is not native to prezi but it quite easy to do with flash. I agree, animation for animation’s sake is pointless unless it helps convey the story or point of view of the presenter. I even question animation at all…Slideshare seems to be pretty successful without any animation support. Any way I digress ..it was just test and can be adapted to play video without being directly linked to Pathpoints and other things too. Prezi is still pretty new and they seem to be adding new capabilities all the time so here’s hoping.

Joby Blume on 18th February 2013 at 11:51 am said

SlideShare doesn’t need animation support because it isn’t actually a tool for presentations, it’s a tool for slides. Remember a presentation is a presenter with visual aids.

SlideShare slides work without a presenter, as stand-alone visual documents for people to skim-read. You don’t need animation to tell the story because they aren’t being presented.

That’s a neat trick for Prezi. But, it’s (a) not something that someone can do just with Prezi (b) involves knowing flash, which sort of obviates the need for Prezi in the first place, no?

But yes, I agree – Prezi is developing. They may add more new features. But at the moment, it’s a tool that helps cause as many problems as PowerPoint…

Tim on 18th February 2013 at 6:08 pm said

Point taken on Slideshare. Yes its a trick on the animation demo! You cannot do this with Prezi on its own. It does require the use and and a little knowledge of flash, but there are simple to follow tutorials. Personally speaking i’m a through and through PowerPoint person… I think Prezi does have its place as many platforms do and not wishing to enter the whole debate on Prezi Vs PowerPoint.. but in my own simplistic view.. i think it causes way more problems. Poorly thought-out and designed PowerPoint are awful, poorly designed and put togther Prezi’s are cringe worthy. As i say just my view and in no way am i an authority on the subject. Regards Tim

Sebastian on 20th February 2013 at 9:37 am said

Hi!

I think in-frame animations and pop ups are crucial for Prezi, because there definitely are many topics which need at least a combination of the different concepts. So I hope this will be included in future versions.

My beginner’s question to you: how did this guy get it going?

http://prezi.com/4i-1srem9cin/optimization/

Frame 8 is exactly what I would like to have as a functionality. I would also be interested in the background music. Google is only giving unsatisfactory results and I when editing the Prezi I can’t really tell how it works. Would be great if s.o. could point to the solution!

Thanks! Sebastian

Bob Fagan on 28th March 2013 at 10:23 pm said

Hello,
I love Prezi, but can’t seem to play a video longer than the auto play time.
Is there any way around this, if I want to play on auto?
Thanks,
Bob

Sebastian Hope on 23rd May 2013 at 8:52 am said

I am a Learning & Development Consultant for a large insurance company, in the UK. I discovered Prezi just over a year ago and instantly fell in love with it…it was just so different and seemed fresh. The learning curve was steep. However, after 10 hours of constantly using it and a very late night, I cracked it.

Since then, I have seen the heads turn and been approached from managers to do more and to show the wider team that there is more to life than just PowerPoint. It’s not just Prezi though. It’s one of many tools.

It’s definitely the person behind the presentation that is often the flaw. I rarely like the model examples Prezi holds up but they inspire, which is their purpose. I like how Prezi is expanding it’s toolkit of templates and how they are making changes. Prezi today compared to Prezi over a year ago are quite different.

A Prezi used right gets buy in from partner banks that I work with. The reality of most companies is that their staff are subjected to death by PowerPoint, so when I turn up and pull out a well made Prezi, they lift their heads and give me the chance I need to wow them…after all, whether we use Prezi, PowerPoint or any other tool, they are there to hear from me…not to stare at a board. I keep text to a bare minimum on all my presentations and instead just use them as visual cues for me and thought provoking images or videos for the group.

I won’t be throwing PowerPoint out…it has it’s place. I am just glad that finally, someone is giving us something different!

Joby Blume on 23rd May 2013 at 9:45 am said

Sebastian, I’m glad that you are getting decent results from Prezi.

I think it’s fair to say that a well-done Prezi is better than Death by PowerPoint. Then again, a poor Prezi is no better than a poor PowerPoint deck.

My personal sense is that except for a few situations (where information is all organised spatially) a really good PowerPoint deck (e.g. view our demo at the top of the page) is better than most decent Prezis. Just because usually, a single canvas doesn’t help to organise the information appropriately.

But really, if you are pleased with the results you get with Prezi, and are avoiding some of the major mistakes listed in the article – that’s great.

Ralph Roberts on 3rd June 2013 at 11:58 am said

Since I discovered Prezi I have often encouraged others to check out the site and consider it for future presentations. I myself return to the platform and browse and tinker. Still after two years or so I have yet to actually even complete a draft for a presentation using Prezi. The article was helpful in identifying and defining some of the obstacles I have encountered when trying to create a visual dimension to some presentation or training session. I wonder if Prezi in fact introduces a spacial non linear model that is more able to be realized and accessed through highly interactive digital text books.

Joby Blume on 28th June 2013 at 12:40 pm said

Ralph, I think Prezi does a good job of allowing navigation of a spatial framework in a non-linear way. It’s just that the times when that are needed are limited. When people use Prezi because they like the spinning transitions, things can be painful.

David on 6th July 2013 at 1:30 am said

I really like this article and some of the issues it broaches. Conscious consideration of presentations is, and remains, the most important feature of any type of visual aide. However, I do take issue with this question:

“Why should ‘What do Dinosaurs Look Like?’ and ‘When did Dinosaurs Live?’ be related spatially?”

Simply put, because when a particular dinosaur lived is directly related to what it looked like, and the spatial arrangement of temporal relationships is a major mode of information presentation in the sciences (consider any tree diagram ever, or even a simple time-series graph).

I take the larger point, but this is a silly example to use.

Joby Blume on 6th July 2013 at 9:50 am said

David, thanks for the comment – point taken.

I wish I had linked to the particular Prezi that I was talking about. It literally had ‘What do Dinosaurs Look Like?’ and ‘When did Dinosaurs Live’ as two separate sections on a single canvas. If the two topics had been woven together as in e.g. a tree diagram or time-series, that would have worked well in Prezi.

Eric Saund on 25th December 2013 at 2:51 am said

Apparently many people have asked for nonlinear navigation in Prezi and it’s still not available. Slidedynamic.com made an aftermarket plugin that worked for a few Prezi revision cycles, but is now defunct.

Without the ability to put hyperlink branches in a presentation, all the fancy transitions business is just fluff. I’m sticking with PowerPoint.

Jessica on 8th July 2014 at 3:55 am said

I don’t know how to contact Prezi and tell them myself but i like this for group projects in college. We can all get on our separate computers from home but still work on the power point together. That is very helpful, i just want to be able to talk, chat, basically communicate with them somehow. We use our phones, which is a bother. I feel they should add a chat box so we can chat together or some way so we can agree on stuff easier. Other than that i love it, very helpful for classwork in college.

where to meet girls on 23rd July 2014 at 3:31 am said

I usually do not drop a bunch of comments, but I browsed a few remarks on The
Problems with Prezi | BrightCarbon. I actually do have a couple of questions for you if you don’t mind.

Is it just me or does it look like some of the comments
come across like they are coming from brain dead folks?
:-P And, if you are posting at other social sites, I’d like to
follow you. Would you make a list of every one of all your shared sites like your Facebook page, twitter
feed, or linkedin profile?

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