Prezi’s gentle hacker


Editor’s note: Kimon Keramidas is Associate Professor and Director of the Digital Media Lab at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City. (As Director of the Digital Media Lab at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City, Professor Kimon Keramidas finds new and unintended uses for software.) 

Kimon Keramidas is, in his own words, a gentle hacker; that is, he finds new and often unintended uses for digital technology. Prezi is one of Professor Keramidas’ favorite tools that he has repurposed for his job as a professor of design and visual culture. In a recent article for the tech blog ProfHacker, Kimon discussed the flexibility of Prezi as a visual and educational tool.

When a student first brought his attention to Prezi four years ago, Kimon discovered a tool that could be quite easily hacked, or repurposed and used for much more than making presentations. “This student had hi-res images, and he wanted to be able to zoom into them, to see them juxtaposed. It’s the kind of visual culture work that we do a lot of here.” Kimon and his student found that Prezi’s zooming capabilities and canvas layout facilitated the kinds of interactions with images and information that they wanted to produce. Now, rather than creating presentations, many of Kimon’s students are using Prezi for prototyping and to build thought maps or visual catalogues.

Kimon explains, “Prezi is very similar to what we would do just on the table, lay out pictures and move them around. It allows us to do that kind of visual sketching.”

In addition to serving as a digital sketchpad, Prezi allows Kimon and his colleagues to develop interactive collections of images. When I was teaching a scenic design class, I built a visual syllabus out of three prezis, with over two thousand images in them. The professor utilized Prezi’s collaborative feature, allowing his students to add content regularly to the prezis. “The syllabus wasn’t as much of a one-way street as it was a collaboratively built tool.”

One of Prezi’s greatest strengths according to Kimon is its simplicity. I don’t need to teach workshops on Prezi anymore. I just tell the students to try it and if they’re having trouble or questions to come ask me, because it’s so intuitive. For students who are unfamiliar with more complicated visual software, Prezi is an easy alternative. “We have students who aren’t here for a media arts degree, but we want them to start experimenting with digital tools. It’s hard to get them to start using tools like the Adobe Creative Suite, because they’re only here for two years, and it can take them two years to learn a tool like Illustrator or Flash.”

Kimon loves that a student can learn how to make a prezi very quickly and almost immediately start using it to prototype projects that would be much more complex to create in other software. “I’m always looking for tools that have a low barrier of entry and shallow learning curves, so you can start using the tool right away and become a master very quickly.” The Bard Graduate Center even uses Prezi to storyboard interactive programs that will ultimately be created in Flash for its exhibition and gallery spaces.

When he began using Prezi with his students, Kimon wasn’t sure how it would be received by his colleagues. I told all the students,” he remembers, “that if you wanted to use it, you really had to make sure you had permission from the professors and had to show them an example.” Four years later, Prezi is widely accepted at the Bard Graduate Center as a valuable tool in the study of design and art history.

Kimon feels that both students and professors have developed an appreciation for how to build appealing and well-organized prezis. “We are a design institution, and people want to design something that looks good and that has a good feel and experience. That’s always something that helps us in the creative practice, especially when doing something digital.” Prezi offers Kimon and his students a unique tool for tackling visual questions and problems, a means by which ideas are not only shared but also created.