14 June 2018

Critique: Future work

Today’s poster is contributed by Bayo Adeniji. Click to enlarge!


Bayo wrote (lightly edited):

Can you spot the influence of the Better Posters blog in the poster?

I hoped to create a poster that was uncluttered and which had a clear message devoid of management theory jargon. My PhD is multi-disciplinary, and I’m learning to straddle the divide so I don’t alienate either fields. My worry though, is the issue of oversimplification.

I replied:

I think “oversimplification” is a worry too many people have. It's the kind of thing that makes undergraduates reach for a thesaurus when writing essays, n the mistaken belief longer, rarer words make them sound smarter. They are judged less intelligent by readers when they do that. Simple does not mean stupid.

While Bayo was nice enough to say this blog influenced the poster, I never would have made a poster that looks like this. It’s very much Bayo’s own creation. I’ve talked before about using circles to break up the monotony of rectangles, and using a few intense colours to make a bold aesthetic. There is no obsession filling of every inch of the poster.

I would think about how to change the width of the “Background” text. The first five lines that make up the bulk of the text have an average of 22.8 words in them, which is about double what typesetters usually aim for.

So if it’s twice as wide as what you would normally read, there is one thing to try: chop it into two pieces.

Because you need a margin between the two columns, you will either have to use up a little more vertical space, or make the point size slightly smaller.

And if I had the ability, I would try to make the text in the circles circular to avoid that “bubble pop” feeling.

Bayo got back to me about the response.

The feedback about the poster was also quite interesting. The designers seemed to like it, and a few even took pictures. But the manufacturing engineers, not so much. My second supervisor, who is from an engineering department, said my non-use of pictures, bold colours and technically worded title is the reason (ha!). One good thing though, is that the university’s Deputy-Vice Chancellor of Research was there, and he loved it!

As the saying goes, you can please all of the people some of the time, and please some of the people all of the time, but you can't please all the people all the time!

Related posts

Coming round the corner

08 June 2018

Critique: Hansard

Asad Sayeed nominated this poster for a design award. You really need to click to enlarge this one to appreciate it:


You can see it in pieces in first author Gavin Abercrombie’s Twitter feed.

“Lessons from comics” is something of a recurring theme on this blog. And I’ve featured posters that used the vocabulary of comics before, but this might be one of the best examples I’ve seen.

The poster makes the “row by row” reading order clear because the panel heights are all identical, so there is a straight horizontal gutter marking out each row. The panel widths vary, so there is no white gutter running down the page that suggests “columns” to your eyes.

The one area where I would try a few things differently is the title. I’d use one typeface for the title instead of two. The two styles are just similar enough that the combination looks like it could be a mistake instead of a choice. I’d also like to see the looser, freehand style used through the rest of the poster reflected in the title, too. The generic Arial-style type used for the “‘Aye’ or ‘No’?” line looks uncomfortable and out of place with everything else on the poster. I think the same font is used for the author credit, but that is less noticeable and bothersome because it is so small.

I reached out to Gavin about the making of the poster. He wrote (lightly edited):

This was the third poster I have made. For the previous two, I had focused on trying to use as few words as possible on the page (bearing in mind that language and text are the object of my research).

This time, I had the idea that comics might be a great medium for scientific posters. Comics comprise image driven communication of ideas with a fairly limited use of text to help tell the story, and they also naturally focus on the narrative – which is generally a good move for science communication.

I used mainly Adobe Illustrator and a little Photoshop. Here’s the process I used:

  1. I made a list of comic cells based on the key points I wanted to make, and wrote the text content for each cell.
  2. I sketched out rough storyboard.
  3. I laid out titles and story cells in Illustrator.
  4. I drew images in Illustrator, mainly using the shape, line, pen and fill tools. The only exception is the second cell image, which is a photo altered in Adobe Photoshop using the color halftone filter.
  5. I created speech bubbles and narration boxes, and added text using fonts I found on Google Fonts.

All in all, it was quite a lot of work, but this is a three-year PhD project, so I anticipate being able to reuse quite a lot of this for future presentations.

Hat tip to Mary Ellen Foster.

External links

Google Fonts FAQ (How to download fonts is not obvious)

Related posts

Learning from Superman
Scott McCloud’s “Big triangle” and poster design
Critique: Protein biosynthesis
Don’t hold my handCritique and makeover: Captain Canuck

31 May 2018

Coming round the corner

Regular readers will know of my distaste for boxes around things on posters. But that’s doubled for boxes with round corners.

There is a “square peg in a round hole” problem. Blocks of text typically “want” to be rectangular. The corners of the rectangle implied by the text fight with the round corners of the box.


Most graphs want to be rectangular, too. And most photographs.

PowerPoint has some sort of algorithm that rounds the corners more for bigger boxes. So if your boxes are different sizes – which they almost always are on posters – your corners are going to be rounded off by different amounts. Click to enlarge!


You can fix this tweaking the corners by hand. There’s a yellow dot near one corner of the box that you can drag to make the corner more or less rounded. The problem is that to do this, you have to recognize it as a problem!

24 May 2018

Link roundup for May, 2018

Poster season has started, so we have people tweeting the coolest ones. Here is one by Alison Wardlow:


She starts with a blank page, then draws the poster while explaining her theory. Bold move. And people told me it couldn’t be done when I suggested this years ago! Hat tip to Nancy Chen and Emily Austen. and B. Haas.

• • • • • •

The biggest debate in typography rears its ugly head again. One space or two after a period? I’ll save you a click.
  • The effects are small – at best.
  • The study was done with a monospaced font, which you rarely see any more. It may not apply to most typefaces you will see.

• • • • • •

Confession: I’ve been interested in conference badges since I read this article about them in American Scientist. I keep scans of my badges from meetings I’ve been to.


So I was interested in this website, which does for conference badges what this blog tries to do for posters (though it doesn’t seem to be updated). It sprung out of this post on how to make a better conference badge. Hat tip to Michael Hoffman.

• • • • • •

Vintage IBM posters from the 1970s.

The posters were a creative outlet for imaginative minds working in a corporate job. Even projects that were clearly made for internal use only – like a Family Day at the local fair grounds – became artistic experimentation.

So much Helvetica. Hat tip to Doctor Becca.

17 May 2018

Fighting the fade

I get emails! Yesterday, I got email asking, “How can I stop posters from fading over time?” I’ve touched on this in the blog briefly, but did a little more digging.

I remembered from working with people who supervised our departmental plotter printers was that there were different inks available for the printer. Some were billed as more fade resistant than others.

But I quickly found the situation is more complicated than that, based on this page about consumer inkjet printers. The printer manufacturer and the paper and the ink are all important variables in determining fade resistance.

To start, there are various paper types. Microporous paper is more fade resistant that cast coated paper. Matte paper holds colour longer than glossy paper, according to this page.Which, again, is a trade off. Personally, I think glossy finishes looks sharper and better than matte finishes in the short term.

Ink types also come in a few different varieties. This page divided inks into dye- and pigment-based inks (pigment being more fade-resistant, because the colour comes from solid particles). This one further subdivided inks into water- and solvent- based (solvent being more fade-resistant). The trade off is that dye-based inks are brighter and look better in the short term. And there are even more types of inks.

To make matters worse, there is controversy about how to compare the longevity of printed materials. “Archival” is an advertising term that has no particular meaning consumers can rely on.

One independent testing agency, Wilhelm Imaging Research, as been working on these issues since at least 1998. A quick visit to their website is... not a quick visit to their website. There is a lot of material on their website, and it’s not organized in such a way you can quickly dip your toe in and grab some answers. It’s clearly a deep and ongoing issue.

Even knowing all of this, however, may not be information that the average conference goer can leverage for their own use. If you print in your department, the choice of printer, paper, and ink may not be up to you. Someone else probably handles purchasing and isn’t necessarily concerned about whether someone’s poster meets archival standards or not. If you are working with a commercial printer, the options they present to their customers might be limited.

The amount of fading can be reduced if you cover the poster. You might use some sort of lamination. You could frame your poster, but that will probably cost a lot more than the poster is worth.

There is only one partial solution for fading that I know: put up your poster someplace with dim light. That's why museums and art galleries are often dimly lit. If there’s no light, there’s no fading.

I know that’s not very helpful. Curse you, physics.

Related posts

Fade out

External links

Inkjet print longevity
Wilhelm Imaging Research

10 May 2018

Critique: Not following protocol

Today’s poster is courtesy of Catherine Chen. Click to enlarge!


The “Background” section is good, because it explains a lot in very little space. I was confused by the “Key Points” until I read the “Background.” I would take those “Key Points” and replace the “Conclusions” with them.

Eight “Future Directions” seemed like a lot. When I read them in detail, two points stood out as candidates for editing: the ones written in past tense. “A screening questionnaire has been added” is not a direction for the future. It’s done.It’s done and dusted.

This combination of typeface and subject runs into a kerning problem. Look at the word “CIWA” in the title.


There’s a bigger gap between the “W” and “A” than the other letters. This is something typesetters know about and watch for. “A” and “V” is another combination where this is a problem. It’s not as bad in the main text, because the point size is smaller, so the gap is less noticeable. But ideally, they should be closer together.“Tight but not touching” is a common typesetter’s instruction.


Always look at common words in your text when selecting a typeface.

Catherine did her poster in PowerPoint. In PowerPoint, this can be fixed by selecting two letters, going into “Home” tab on the ribbon, then the “Font,” pop-up menu, the “Character Spacing” tab, picking “Condensed” from the drop down menu, and fiddling a bit.

If possible, it would be great if you could get those middle charts all aligned horizontally. In particular, the rightmost “Nursing survey” pie chart, the circle sits noticeably lower than the other three pies. It’s distracting. Same with the two bar graphs underneath. They’re so similar in shape and colour that it draws your attention to one being higher than the other.



I wasn’t able to do much with the middle graphs, which would require going back to the original plots, but I tried tidying up the outer columns and title, and all the kerning issues with “CIWA.”


03 May 2018

Critique: Generic python

Today’s poster is from Leonardo Uieda. This was presented at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting last year. Click to enlarge!

A modern Python interface for generic mapping tools

Leonardo explains:

It’s about a software project I’m working on and not really about research results. That’s why it has no results figures (though the background of the poster was generated by the first code block on the right, so it serves as a kind of result).

The message I was trying to get across is: “We’re building this thing. This is what we currently have. Come help us!”

It’s always tough to have a poster that is just text. I might have tried to bring some element of the map off the background and somewhere into the foreground. The subtlety of the background enhances the legibility of the text, but at a glance, I can’t see anything that says, “maps.”

Leonardo continues:

I expect that my main talking points during the presentation will be around the code. Each line was put there so that it would represent an idea in our design and why we think it’s a good choice. The online demo and websites have a lot more information for people to read.

Colour coding the text in the code block is another nice touch that adds to the visual interest of the poster. I have no idea if the colour highlight consistent elements of the code, but that would be the principle to look for.

Finally, Leonardo says:

After printing, I realized that I should have made the margins wider, particularly between the two halves of the poster.

I agree with Leonardo that a bit more white space between the halves would be a good idea. But luckily, the text on the two sides only approach each other at about two points, so this is not a horrible problem.

There are two QR codes. Leonardo is good enough to give brief descriptions of what they are, which is excellent. I might want a little more detail about what the demo consists of, though. Can I run it on my phone? Is it interactive? Is it a video?

This poster shows a lot of good decisions. I just wonder if there are enough people browsing during the conference who would recognize and care about “Python” or “Generic Mapping Tools” to come and chat.

External links

Poster: A modern Python interface for the Generic Mapping Tools