We don’t often get questions that stump us, but we got one today at the Indy Chamber of Commerce. It came from an engineer. After we finished our program on improving business presentations, he asked: “On a PowerPoint slide that includes graphics and text, which side do the graphics go on—left or right?”
We found ourselves blinking. I generally place my text on the left and graphics on the right, but I’ve never thought why. I promised to go find the tribal wisdom on this subject.
I did not find much, but those who have looked at the question give this answer: it depends.
If your graphic acts as a descriptive summary (not just a filler image) then give it the place of honor on the top/left, where most people in the West begin their scan. But if your graphic is illustrative (like a metaphor) then place it at the right/bottom.
Substantively important things go left, where people look first. Clarification and emphasis go right, where people look last.
Of course, you’re free just to show the graphic and let the words come out of your mouth. And that may be the best of both worlds.