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Pattern: Emergence


Also Known As

Animation for Learning


Use motion, transitions, highlights, and other presentation effects to gradually reveal pieces or details of the big thing you’re ultimately going to show.


Seeing all of a large, complex entity at once is overwhelming. By revealing it a small part at a time, you can discuss each piece in turn, building up to the whole to clarify the grand objective.


If you have the feeling that “this is a big thing to talk about”—and the big thing is portrayed in diagrammatic, photographic, formulaic, or programming-code form—your presentation deserves application of this pattern. Using Emergence, a presentation can take small, digestible steps toward revelation of the whole.

Audience members will stay attentive during the piecewise revelations because you’ll provide an interesting piece of exposition for each detail. At the end, they’ll have a good grasp of the big picture.


The implementation for this pattern is the same for both Keynote and PowerPoint: use animations and transitions to obscure part of the entire context, gradually revealing it by removing the obscuring elements. The most popular device for this purpose is the “duct tape” for presentations: the borderless white box.

If you are required to create Slideuments, be forewarned that this pattern will require extra work. A goal of Slideuments is to be able to print the final state of your slides. When you use Emergence, most of the elements are obscured in the beginning state. To be able to print the final version of the slide yet still use Emergence, you set up the slide in the way you normally would and then add some additional animations to control what the elements look like when printed:

  1. Place the boxes or other obscuring elements in place as you normally would.
  2. Set the opacity of the obscuring elements to 0 percent, rendering them invisible. You now have the printable state of the slide.
  3. Add an animation for each box, setting its opacity to 100 percent. Move these animations above the entrance animation for the main subject of the slide and set their duration to be as short as possible. Basically, you’re sneaking an animation in before the main subject shows up, making the obscuring elements opaque again. When your main subject appears, it will be behind the now visible obscuring elements, which you can animate away when appropriate.

You can implement Emergence in Keynote by using magic move to move a large box as the slide or interslide transition. It will glide gracefully from the piece you’re showing to the one you reveal next. You can also implement it with a white or partially opaque block that hinders, blurs, or otherwise obscures the portions of the full entity that are yet to be revealed or are not currently under discussion.

Related Patterns

Traveling Highlights has a similar objective: highlighting parts of a bigger picture one piece at a time.

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