The fuzzy line between cognitive psychology and rhetoric with PowerPoint advice as an example

One of the many MANY things I need to think about dealing with on my lengthy “to do” list is to start getting my presentation for this conference I’m going to in mid-April. It’s a little early to start planning, but my intention is to put together an elaborate PowerPoint presentation with lots of cute and clever slides so that it can move at a fast pace, etc. I’ve done this sort of thing before; I’m not as good as Lessig is at it, but it’s fun to do nonetheless.

Anyway, this crossed my mind again today because I came across this (via boing boing), “How Cognitive Science Can Improve Your PowerPoint Presentations,” via a blog called i09. It is a summary of some of the work of cognitive psychologist Stephen M. Kosslyn and his book Clear and to the Point, which is about psychological principles and PowerPoint. Go read the blog post, but basically, the four rules discussed here are The Goldilocks Rule (the “just right” amount of information on a slide), The Rudolph Rule (make important things on a slide stand out), The Rule of Four (no more than four pieces of information on a slide), and the Birds of a Feather Rule (if you want things to be identified as being together, group them in terms of colors and proximity and the like).

Now, this is all fine and good, and I realize that I am only looking at a very brief summary of some principles that, for all I know, might be a lot more complicated than this. But I have to wonder: is this psychology or is this rhetoric? I’ve wondered this before about things like “usability design” for web sites. As far as I can tell, a lot of the usability folks out in industry see this as something that is (in terms of an academic pursuit) about psychology, but from my point of view, this stuff is clearly about texts, literacies, and rhetorics. So what’s the scoop?

Maybe in my next academic life/pursuit, I’ll try to study up on psychology and have a better answer to these questions.

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