I wish I could better explain the complete environment, history, and challenge(s) here, hehe. I appreciate all the input, but I don't have any really new info yet.
I don't think a graphics app program workflow would be an improvement on what we're doing now. It does give *more*flexibility in design, which could be a good thing if expert designers were involved, but since the opposite is true, more flexibility is actually dangerous.
There are also missing features like a "presenter" view that shows note. And almost everything else mentioned in this workflow is actually easier in Powerpoint already, e.g. rearranging slides, etc. If I were looking for a super simple, low-budget solution, an image-based slideshow is certainly a viable option however.
I know how to use Master Slides, and there are some notable improvements in that for 2007 which are very welcome. However there are a lot of problems with the implementation, at least for our needs. First and foremost you can't (as far as I know) easily use the same master slide design in multiple presentations. Of course you can copy the master slides from one to another and build your presentation on them, but if you ever make a change in them, you have to go through each one and re-apply. A way to manage styles centrally would be very welcome.
The way that content area formatting and copy/paste is handled also seems to be problematic. For instance a lot of our content developers might initially create their base content in another app, or be using at least some info from it. When you copy/paste, often times the source formatting is maintained, Powerpoint doesn't necessarily enforce its master slide content formatting. Now in some cases this is obvious, like the text being a totally different color or something, but often times it will just be a subtle difference in font types (or at least subtle to a non-designer, many of whom can't easily tell the difference between Times New Roman and Arial at a glance).
Even assuming the master slide functionality worked well and enforced standards, there are further issues. For one thing, different slides need different layouts. So you create multiple child master slides. Except then people need to actually use them properly, and they seldom do. Defining the slide layouts in advance of the content authoring is problematic in itself, but even once that's in place people often find it too restrictive and, since the formatting tools are there at their disposal, they just start tweaking until they get what they want. Often it's not even an aesthetic thing so much as "I need the photo to go here instead of over there so I can fit all my content in". Now here is the point where you probably think "If there's a problem fitting the content on, they're probably not using Powerpoint right", and you'd probably be correct. But such is the environment I'm dealing with - it's seldom within the power of the IT department to enforce standards of content authorship (i.e. "Use Powerpoint the *right* way or don't use it at all"), much as I would like to.
Ultimately I'm sure it's clear by now that this is a human problem, but I'm looking for a technological solution since I can't easily change all the humans in the equation.
You may say training will address these issues, but I've tried that, and it's only a partial solution. People often just forget to use the right layout, or don't reference the style guide for particular design choices, whether willfully or simply by accident.
I think the reality, as I alluded to above, is that the more options you give people, the worse it often is. I'm envisioning kind of my ideal system right now, and it looks to me like a super stripped down HTML editor, with 1, maybe 2 font choices, 6 (maximum) text size options, 1 "box" item (for adding boxes), an "add photo" function that automatically ads a copyright attribution when enabled, and has limited position options within the content frame (and text areas will be automatically adjusted based on where you place the photo), maybe 5 pre-chosen color options, no overlapping allowed, etc. *Maybe* they'd have the option of choosing a few template layout options, but ideally the main content area would just be adjusted between a few very simple designs based on what elements were added by the content author and where they were placed, i.e. the photo option above. All the styling would be driven by a CSS file, so I could easily change it across all presentations instantly. It would be super limiting, but it would enforce a clean design, and if these people didn't know there was an option to have more freedom, they wouldn't really miss it.
Now there are plenty of WYSWIYG HTML editors out there, but none that are that customizable as far as I know, nor do they necessarily fulfill all the above requirements. Does anyone have an idea of what else might even come close to this?
Eoin, Beamer looks cool, but way overcomplicated for this.
Thanks for all the input thus far. As I suspected it's looking so far like there is nothing that can really improve on Powerpoint (though I'm curious about alternatives like Keynote - anyone have any experience?). I'm also curious if anyone has any experience with or advice on what might be used to help guide a class *instead* of a traditional Powerpoint-type presentation.
I think for now the best thing I can do is just continue working on education and best possible enforcement of appropriate standards and styles, using master slides and style guides. It's just a lot of work to do this, and we don't have a Powerpoint expert on staff besides myself (I wouldn't really call myself an expert), so there's no one with the right combination of design and technical knowledge to do it "right". The one person we had - my girlfriend as an intern - quickly got fed up with the haphazard lack of adherence to standards here and decided not to work on these projects.