31 December 2009

The Better Posters checklist

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a quick way to know if people will walk past your poster, or to know if all your friends are just too polite to tell you that your poster needs an intervention?

To help diagnose whether your poster is ready to print or ready to trash, I’ve devised a Better Posters checklist. You can click to enlarge. The enlarged checklist is readable, but I suspect what you really want is the high quality, printable PDF version.

This checklist was based on and inspired by the Glance Test for slides created by Nancy Duarte and Glenn Hughes. Steal from the best, I always say.

I hope that this tool will help you fulfill what should be a New Year’s resolution:

“No more ugly conference posters!”

24 December 2009

Breathing design

BreezeDesign is like air.

It’s invisible.

It’s everywhere.

You only notice it when there’s something wrong with it.

Photo by Shery Han on Flickr. Used under a Creative Common license.

17 December 2009

Hold that spot: Placeholder text

Lorem ipsumMaybe want to start laying out your posters, but you haven’t written the text yet. Maybe you want to see how a new typeface will look. There are lots of little situations where you might want some words for a temporary placeholder.

There’s a solution for you. It’s called “Lorem ipsum.” It’s somewhat corrupted Latin text that has roughly the average length of words in typical English paragraphs, so it makes a good temporary stand-in for text that hasn’t been written yet. The Straight Dope provides a summary of its use, history, and meaning.

There are various “Lorem ipsum” generators that can give you the amount of text you think you need for a particular task.

10 December 2009

Leading thoughts

“Not enough room between lines” is listed as the number one mistake on this list of common typographic errors. Many of the others are aimed at books and web pages rather than large posters, so keep that in mind when scanning the rest of the list – particularly when you see, “Large body copy” listed as a mistake.

The space between lines in known in the typography business as leading (rhymes with “sledding”). What should you consider when looking at leading on a poster?

First, look at how long your lines of text are. The lines are often quite long on posters, even though this can be mitigated by the reader being some distance away. When you reach the end of the line you’re reading, you have to scan back and down to the next line. The further you have to scan back to the beginning of the next line, the more likely it is that you will lose your place. Increasing the leading helps make each line distinct in long text.

Second, look at the typeface you have. If you have a typeface with very long ascenders (the part that is taller than most lowercase letters, like the pointing up bits on l, k, and t) and descenders (the dropping down bits on letters like p, g, and y), increase the leading. You don’t want your words colliding!

Lowercase letters can pose more a subtle problem. If you have a typeface where the lower case letters are very close to the upper case letters in height (known as a large x-height), again, you’ll want to increase the space between the lines. Letters with a large x-height tend to form swaths of gray if placed too close together.

Incidentally, one more reason not to use PowerPoint to make a poster is that it tends to automatically squish the leading down to make text fit. If you’re not paying attention, your single-spaced text will change without warning to 0.9 spaced text or smaller.

03 December 2009

The eye loves the circle

Enso circleKimberly Elam wrote:

The human eye loves the circle and embraces it.

While I am a strong advocate of laying out posters on a grid, you can end up with a poster that is relentlessly rectangular. A circle can be a strong antidote to a poster filled with right angles.

Circles can be used to draw attention. It is no accident that circles are used in those ubiquitous bullet lists.

Circles can create tension. Like a ball, they suggest something that is mobile and not static.

Circles can be used to create white space. As everyone knows, a round peg will not fit into a square hole without leaving spaces.

Because they do tend to break, rather than reinforce, grids, circles are probably best used in small doses on a poster. A poster without a circle will not be noticeably missing anything. But it’s a useful exercise to consider how you might work a circle into a poster grid.


Elam K. 2004. Grid Systems. Princeton Architectural Press: New York. Amazon

Photo by user Oranguthingy on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

01 December 2009

Compare and contrast: Japanese advertising posters

“With clutter ubiquitous, emptiness gets attention.”

Check Garr Reynold’s Posterous blog for a look at two very different approaches to getting attention with posters.

Conferences are visually frantic environments. Everyone is competing for attention. People’s typical response is to go for louder, bigger, brighter... and those work. But sometimes, going against the grain may be effective, too.