Love to hate it or hate to love it, our complicated relationship with PowerPoint doesn’t change the fact that it’s become “the most ubiquitous presentation software in the world” since launching in 1987. Many companies have offered up alternatives (Google Slides, Keynote, and Prezi, for example), but there’s something about PowerPoint that keeps us coming back. Entrepreneur Christian Reber has a knack for finding more compelling solutions to problems that have seemingly already been solved; that’s how he came up with the idea for Wunderlist, the productivity app he sold to Microsoft in 2015. After this sale, he cofounded Pitch and set out to solve the presentation problem once and for all.
Pitch has raised $50 million to-date in funding from Silicon Valley’s biggest players, which speaks to the collective desperation of being at the mercy of presentation software that just doesn’t work. After years of following each other’s work online, Christian and MetaLab’s founder, Andrew Wilkinson, finally joined forces when we were asked to help build Pitch from the ground up.
Pitch's ask for us was a bit unconventional. Rather than have us tackle the full product or lead the charge on a defined feature set, they wanted us to operate as an extension of their internal design team so that we could challenge their thinking and provide fresh perspectives.
To get at the heart of what makes presentation software so frustrating (and so hard to leave behind), we asked four focus groups of consultants, analysts, entrepreneurs, and designers to write down their struggles. From this exercise, we learned that people weren’t disappointed by core functionality as much as they were by a sum of parts — specifically, a limited capacity to support presentation creation, slide consistency, and collaboration.
If we wanted to create converts, we’d have to build an evolution of these tools rather than a complete departure from what people already knew: familiar in all the right ways and refreshingly different in ways that felt intuitive and invisible.
We put our “evolution, not revolution” hypothesis to the test in our creative exploration of Pitch’s visual identity. We wanted to represent the modern, energetic potential of what presentation software could be while honoring its practical, pragmatic legacy. Ultimately, we proposed a happy medium between the two, relying on a gradient and custom iconography for visual interest and personalization without going overboard on playfulness.
Together with Pitch, we fostered a creative environment where it was safe to poke holes in the status quo.
Pitch is a cloud-based presentation tool that aims to make everyone a power user. Without the stress of formatting fonts, colors, or layouts from scratch, people are free to focus on creating beautiful, on-brand work.
To create an experience that would cater to a diversity of thinkers and prioritize ease of use, we created a set of shortcut commands. People could use these commands to create presentation outlines as quickly as possible without lifting their fingers off the keyboard. This helped build a bridge between content and design while relying more on the software itself to foster flow and not interrupt or limit people’s thought processes.
We zeroed in on the design panel as having the most potential to create a more supportive design environment. Presentation software can tend to feature an overwhelming number of options, often causing confusion for the user. Yet if we designed a UI that leaned too far in the other direction, it might feel sparse and not powerful enough for those wanting to flex their design muscles.
Having an inline editor maximizes the canvas size and declutters the interface while putting useful tools at people’s disposal to make their slides simple but engaging.
We knew that those giant, red “WIP” boxes littered throughout other presentation software weren’t going to cut it when it came to bringing others in. Without any live editing or built-in collaboration functionality, versioning chaos was inevitable and collaboration was near impossible. A defining marker of success for Pitch would be its ability to facilitate statuses, task-assignment, and to-dos.
We did a lot of prototyping to identify the paradigm that made the most sense for all three and would deliver the right levels of specificity and control. In an attempt to infuse the experience with a bit of fun and remind people that they were working alongside other humans, we made reactions part of the collaborative feature set as well.
If we learned anything, it’s that the world is ready for Pitch. With its sizable investment from reputable investors, Pitch is poised to corner the billion-dollar productivity software market and has piqued the interest of thousands of companies with their limited preview. And, according to feedback from their early-stage beta users such as Slack, Superhuman, and Framer, the overall experience is already exceeding expectations and living up to the hype. We may be biased, but it’s clear that this cloud-based presentation software is shaping up to be what productivity dreams are made of.
I learned a huge amount about world-class product design processes through our project with MetaLab.