20 October 2016

Critique: Catching a DRAGON

Today’s poster is from Athanasios Psaltis, in my old stomping grounds in in Canada (McMaster University, to be exact). This poster was shown at a school on “Origin of nuclei in the universe,” and appears here with his permission. Click to enlarge!

I appreciated immediately was that I could read everything on this poster, even shrunk down on the computer screen. You only have to go back a week on this blog to see that this doesn’t always happen.

The mix of red, or bold, or red and bold for emphasis would be better replaced with just one style. I liked the use of red bolding for emphasis on the left introductory material, and wish it was carried over on the right side (e.g., “transmission” and “efficiency” in the “Testing the DRAGON” section). Athanasios agreed.

The bullet points in the introduction are adding space, but not much clarity, at least for me. The “1, 2, 3” numbering under “Wanajo” works, though, and I would leave that.

Dashes or hyphens should have spaces on both sides, or neither. Seeing spaces on only one side of the dash in the pointers to the figures (e.g., “Figure 1- Right”) is making me crazy in an obsessive type nerd way.

The ticks in the Figure 1 graphs are a bit obtrusive. I understand log scales need a lot of ticks, but they don’t need to be protruding so far into the graph. They could be shorter. I would try removing the top and right axes, too. Or, if the top and right lines stay, remove the tick marks.

13 October 2016

Critique: Cubic slip-systems

Today’s poster is from Danyel Cavasoz. Now, although I live in a region with a large Hispanic population, my Spanish is pretty bad. But based on the arXiv notice in his poster, I am reasonably confident this is a physics poster. Alas, my physics is also bad, since I’m not sure what a “cubic slip-system” is. He’s been kind enough to give permission to share this. Click to enlarge!

I love the individual graphics here. They evoke the feel of being hand drawn, but are never sloppy.

The muted colours all work well together. The darker background allows some of the red and blue in those diagrams to stand out.

My major concern is the main text. When I see the poster at a small size, like the thumbnail here on the blog, the text is almost unreadable. There are three things contributing here. The first is whether the background is dark enough to make white text stand out. The second is the point size of the text (it’s 22 point, according to Danyel). The third is a bit more subtle.

Danyel used Century Gothic. This geometric typeface has very even strokes and similar shapes throughout, which is making it hard to distinguish letter shapes. Let’s have a closer look at it:

Notice how many letters are based on an almost identical circle? The a, c, d, e, g, o, p, and q: that’s eight letters, almost a third of the alphabet, built on the same shape. By comparison, let’s look at another famous geometric sans serif, Futura:

The round letters are similar, but not as much as in the one above. You can see the line width varying, such as where the round parts meet the descenders in p and g.

When you move into a serif font like Sitka, you see the letters are even less similar:

By the way, “Quack Beep God” is the name of my new indie band.

Danyel wrote:

I can safely say that one can read it standing 2 m away from it. Now that I think about it, the light gray might be too light indeed for a room illuminated under a very white light.

    07 October 2016

    Critique: On spec(trographic)

    Today’s contribution come from Michael Young. This will be shown at this year’s Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems conference, but he’s given me permission to show you as preview. Click to enlarge!

    Because the poster is intended to show off the website, it features near the middle of the poster, which is appropriate placement.

    Michael’s own assessment of the poster is that despite much editing, it is still too wordy. I agree, but the good news is that the typography is clean and understandable, apart from a tenuous touch of the institution name with the title bar. The descender on the “y” in “University” is killing me.

    I also the colour combination of blues and tans. It’s consistent throughout. The blues provides a good contrast to the logo, appropriately situated out of the way, unobtrusive and quiet.

    The underlying structure of this portrait style poster is a solid two row grid:

    I might have preferred a little more space between the rows to separate them, but the space between each row is not the biggest problem here. You might not notice the simple two row layout because of the placement of everything in those rows. Let’s highlight the pictures and sidebars:

    Just to make it a little more obvious, here’s the position of all those elements without the distraction of the poster contents:

    Now it looks just a bit like a Mondrian painting.

    The point, though, is to highlight that there’s no underlying plan for those pictures. Almost no two are the same size. They’re only aligned if they happen to be along the poster’s edge.

    Consequently, the reading order of the poster, while clear (thanks to the underlying two row grid), is circuitous. You have to wind and wend your way around all those pictures.

    What might have helped this poster is a stronger secondary grid. How is the row going to be divided? Could it be quartered, or otherwise sectioned into smaller pieces?

    Related posts

    Avoid the tenuous touch

    29 September 2016

    Link roundup for September 2016

    Quote of the month:

    A conference poster should be readable in 3 minutes, from 3 metres away, after 3 beers.

    The tweet is from Torsten Seemann, but It think he’s quoting Matthew Wakefield.

    Michael Skvarla has a nominee for the best poster title of this year’s International Congress of Entomology:

    Hat top to Megan Lynch.

    “There is  no substitute for a scatterplot, at least for relatively small sample sizes.” Also, stop plotting standard error of the mean (SEM).

    Conference organizers, watch out for bias.

    I’m not sure if I’ve linked to the Junk Charts blog before on this blog, but here it is, just in case. I know I haven’t linked out to this list of five great design blogs, though. Hat tip to The Old Reader.

    24 September 2016

    Avoid the tenuous touch

    There are two good choices for placing objects on a page. You can separate them.

    Or you can overlap them.

    But it’s a bad option is to have two objects almost touching...

    Or just barely touching.

    Of course, it can be worse. Having sharp edges and round edges almost touching creates a discomfort to your eyes that you can almost feel. You’re just waiting for the balloon to pop.

    You get the same effects with the rectangles you see more often on posters. Having objects very close, but with neither clear separation or overlap, feels much less comfortable

    Than clear overlap...

    Or distinct separation.

    Unless you are going for visual tension, make a choice. Split them apart or have one cover the other. Don’t have any tenuous touches. To sum up:

    15 September 2016

    Critique: Dynamic relationships (of amino acids)

    Inna Nikonorova is today’s kindly contributor, who let me share this on the blog. Click to enlarge!

    The poster is clear and readable, but I do think it could be improved.

    I like that the Introduction tries to provide a more organic look to some of the headings and images in it. But if you’re going to go that route, you have to commit to it. That weathered look isn’t anywhere else on the poster, so it looks a little odd. I would remove it to make the weathered paper and blackboard and the like to make the Introduction visually consistent with the rest of the poster. Of course, you could go the other way, and make the entire poster look more antique, but giving the rest of the poster that blackboard appearance will be harder and take longer.

    I would generally try to widen the margins between the text and the boxes they are in. It looks like this is only have a fraction of an inch between text and line in some places. It’s particularly noticeable in the Literature Cited section.

    Speaking of the Literature Cited, it is left aligned, as is the rest of the text in the poster. But because the text is so dense in the Lit Cited section, it makes the centered text in the Acknowledgements stand out like the proverbial sore thumb.

    The INSPIRE logo isn’t centered in its box. Neither is the Rutgers logo, come to think of it, but because the Rutgers logo is an irregular shape, it’s less noticeable.

    The mouse in the Methods might be flipped so it’s facing in, not out.

    Related posts

    Look into the poster: Gaze and graphics

    08 September 2016

    Reading gravity

    Great minds think alike; fools seldom differ.

    I recently learned that something I’ve called “the Cosmo principle” on this blog is an actual thing that proper designers talk about, except they have a different name for it. They call it “reading gravity.”

    The picture above is sometimes called a “Gutenberg diagram.” Apparently it was given that name by newspaper designer Edmond Arnold (interviewed here, where he refers to the “Gutenberg principle”). I’m not completely sure about this; need to do some more reading.

    What this image calls the “primary optical area,” I’ve usually called the “sex story,” because that’s invariably what occupies that position on every cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. The “terminal area” is usually what I’ve called the “take home message.”

    What I find usually ends up in the lower left corner, or “weak fallow area” as its called here, are my methods section. And that’s fine, because those are usually only of interest to the afficiandos.

    This diagram is worth thinking about as you lay out your poster. Is the most important stuff in the most important places? Too often I see critical material in the bottom, or the terminal area crowded up with references and acknowledgements. I’ve done the latter myself, but this diagram points out that the lower right corner is more important that I have sometimes given it credit for.

    Hat tip to Heather Sears.

    External links

    The Gutenberg Diagram in Web Design
    Understand how you can double the effectiveness of your publications in one simple move!
    Reading gravity goes out the window
    Getting back to basics with Ed Arnold

    Picture from here