17 July 2014

Critique: a poster about posters

This was up at this year’s annual American Association of Law Libraries conference: a poster about a poster (click to enlarge).



I like the idea of this, but I don’t see it as a terribly well designed poster. Too many colours, and too few elements are aligned. The reading order is chaotic, starting with a column, then flipping to rows.

The big red suitcase dominates the poster, but it seems to be one of the less important points of information.

Some of the content is also weak. “Choose software for layout,” for example, has little indication of what software is better than others, or why. Why not use Microsoft Word? (At least, I’m guessing that is what they are trying to convey with the barred red circle.) Further, I have no idea what the middle two icons are.

The poster is 41 inches high, and the (sideways) text on the right suggests that it couldn't be carried on several American airlines. Most of my posters are 42 inches tall (width of our plotter printer in our building), and I’ve never had to check my poster tube.

The fabric poster shows why I still prefer paper posters: fabrics are hard to get to hand as cleanly as paper posters.

Hat tip to Megan Lynch for drawing my attention to this, and to Sarah Glassmeyer for taking the picture.

10 July 2014

Your title is 90% of your poster

I’m riffing off of this post by Randy Olson (click to enlarge):


In today’s short attention-spanned world, headlines are about 90% of your communication effort (the text is just a bunch of stuff to justify the headline, meant only for people with a lot of time on their hands).
If someone were to read just your poster title, would they know what you wanted them to know?

03 July 2014

Lessons from Facebook: use more photos


People like photographs. Here’s some evidence from Social Bakers. This graph shows the most popular posts on Facebook: overwhelmingly, they’re photos.


That wasn’t because 87% of Facebook posts are photographs, either: only 75% of Facebook posts are photos.

You can also check out how Google Plus users use that network. Watch how photos get more and more popular.




This suggests that if you want people to stop at your poster, you should work hard to find relevant photos. Make those photos big and prominent.

And I do specifically mean photos, not just pictures. Graphs probably are not going to have the same attention grabbing impact.

Hat tip to Joanne Manaster.

External links

Photos Are Still King on Facebook 
10 Significant Things You Likely Didn't Know About Social Media But Should

Photo by Marla Elena on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

26 June 2014

Link roundup for June 2014

Points for honesty. Hat tip to Alan Rice.


The Science of Comic Sans is an interesting article on research about type, and how type has, for lack of a better word, “personality.” (Comic Sans is apparently the Upworthy-esque keyword that makes people click links about type.) Hat tip to Mary Canady.

Studies done in the past decade or so have identified the range of type traits with more precision. Broadly speaking, serif types are more focused and organized and calm than sans serifs – and much more than scripts. Rounder types elicit happiness; sharper types, anger. Odd spacing can be interesting but aggressive; consistent spacing feels professional but boring. Some work argues that most typefaces can fit into three personality groups: elegant, friendly, and direct.

It seems a little early to do a “2014 trends” article, but here’s one on logo design this year (so far). I had no idea pom pom logos were big this year. Hat tip to Mike Weytjens.


“Then” and “now” in design always make for interesting points of comparison. How does the humble pop can fare? Not to well, alas. Hat tip to Sleestak.


This painted type is here purely as eye candy.


19 June 2014

Critique: Skin, close up

Today’s contribution comes from Edgar Guevara, and is shown with permission. Click to enlarge!


The clean layout of this poster makes the reading order so clear that you don’t really need the circled numbers in the heading. I like the circled numbers as a bit of a design, though. But they would be even better if they were used consistently: the fourth column gets a “Cont” heading, but not the second.

The major concern I have is that the text has almost no margins around it. The letters at the start and end of each line are practically kissing the background image. I did a very quick and dirty attempt to widen out the margins:


If I were to keep at this, I would try to move the columns up, so that the white boxes weren’t scraping the edge of the paper, and even out the spacing between the columns. But I think this shows that a slightly wider margin improves the look of the text within the columns.

The graphics, while generally nice, are mostly down in the bottom half of the poster. I would be trying to move those images up closer to eye level if possible.

The background image is simple, so it doesn’t detract too much from the main content of the poster.

Although the logos are tastefully contained in the bottom corner, there are so many that they do start to look a little like a car in NASCAR.

12 June 2014

Critique: German chamomile

Today’s contribution comes from Reyna Gutierrez Rivera, and is used with permission. Click to enlarge!


On the plus side, the “Finding” box at top works well in providing a clear take-home message. The methods flow chart is also a good idea, although it could benefit from being smaller, because...

Everything is too close together! This poster needs wider margins between the columns, between the graphs, just everywhere. Making text smaller or cut some material will be worth it. The place where the poster needs the most clean-up is in the results. You kind of have two columns, but nothing lines up, so it looks disorganized. For instance, the figure and table legends don't line up with their data above them.

Given how much is crowded below, a lot of space can be freed up by putting the institutional address on one line. It's chewing up a lot of space.

Tables are always a problem on posters, because they are not very visual. Can you think of a way to show this graphically? If not, Table 1 would benefit from being wider (or a graph), so you don't have so many words hyphenated. Also, try removing the vertical lines in the table so you don't have a "data prison".

Figure 2 is squashed; the text in the axes give it away.

05 June 2014

Can it be too simple? Plus, critique and revision: number processing


Andrea Quintero asked:

Can a poster be too boring/simple?

Before I answer, I want to distinguish that posters are about both form and content. In the context of this question, I think “simple” is mostly about the form of the poster – the layout and the graphic elements – not the content. Having too little content doesn’t make a poster “simple”: it makes it stupid.

If you read regularly, you’ve probably realized that I am a believer in simplicity. “Take out the trash” is often my first response to trying to make a poster better. Can a poster be too simple?

I was little surprised to realize that my answer is, “Yes.”

Posters are visual displays. So, a poster with no visual elements is too simple. Here’s something that doesn’t have much business being a poster:

A title and a bunch of paragraphs (even cleanly laid out ones) do not a poster make.

Here’s Andrea’s poster:


She noted that it was influenced in some ways by posters here on the blog. I think the dropped caps may have come from here, as I’ve used them occasionally, but haven’t seen too many other people use. On this poster, the dropped caps are causing problems. From a distance, they “pop” as random letters. This is one symptom of this poster’s need for a stronger sense of hierarchy.

The title, which should always be the most visible and important thing from a distance (it’s your highway sign) is getting lost. The “Attention Network Test,” “Enumeration,” and “Magnitude comparison” headings are popping out first.

Speaking of which, the words “Attention Network Test,” “Enumeration,” and “Magnitude comparison” are doing double duty here. They are both acting as headings, and they are part of a sentence. But the rest of the sentence is lined up at the top of the headings, which breaks our normal expectations.

Let me change the size of the text in this sentence. See how everything lines up at the bottom of the letters along the baseline, not the top?

Anytime you want to use different size text in a sentence, it’s better to line up the bottom than top.

I suggested using slightly more subdued colours for the graphs, rather than the bright primary colours.

The central rows of data are not a bad idea, but they look crowded and busy. The text on the ends bracketing them also look dense.

Andrea wrote that the poster has most of my dissertation work, and that “It is all precious and important to me.” That can be a warning sign. Writers have a saying:

You have to kill your darlings.

That is, there is stuff you might love for some reason. But you often have to edit out stuff you love because it just doesn’t work in the larger context of the story you’re trying to tell, or the time constraints of the medium, or what have you. You have to be ruthless.

After our discussion on Twitter, Andrea went away and created this revision:


I think this is a much improved version. The dark colour band of the title gives it some visual weight, so it’s clearly signifying it as important without increasing the font size. The “popping” dropped caps are gone, and the colours in the graphs aren’t fighting with each other any more. I think the poster still needs a stronger hierachy in the text, but there’s no doubt in my mind that this revision is the better poster.

The poster went well, and Andrea wrote:
I got many compliments on my design. Thanks for the advice!