22 April 2010

Critique: Crustacean nociception

These are two poster versions of a new paper I co-authored that just came out this week in PLoS ONE* They provide a nice “before and after” snapshot of my progress: the first poster was done about a year before I started this blog, and the second poster was done about a year after I started it.

The first was done for a summer meeting of The Crustacean Society in 2008. This was printed at 48” × 42”. (Click to enlarge.)

In hindsight, the problem with this first version of the story is easy. Too much text! We definitely fell prey to the “Thinking it out on the page” syndrome. Too gray, too intimidating, too tight. Only half an inch between columns? What was I thinking?

This new version was done for a local biomedical ethics conference that took place last week. (Click to enlarge.)

I made both posters in Microsoft Publisher, starting with a three column grid. But that’s almost where the similarities end. I’m much happier with this new version. There are a few experiments for me on this poster; I tried some things that I’d only blogged about. I’m still trying to figure out how many worked.

The print size for this second one actually smaller; 48” × 36”. And it has more data. But by cutting the text down, using more white space, larger text, larger graphics, and using the space better, it looks roomier that its predecessor.

The lobster picture in the upper right provides an entry point into the study that is easier to understand than a paragraph of text, and is a good conversation starter. And thank goodness for Creative Commons licenses, which allowed me to use the picture from Flickr.

Remembering how professional typesetters complain that most amateurs don’t leave enough space between the lines, the spacing is 1.25 lines apart rather than single spaced.

I tried the trick of highlighting a few key phrases to make the poster easier to scan quickly. For instance, you’ll see “pain is complicated” in the introduction, and “no evidence of nociceptors” in the discussion set in bold. I thought about putting those highlight phrases in different colours, but decided that could be too gaudy.

While I usually recommend using a white background, I took a risk and put in a very light backdrop of swirls. It's sufficiently subtle that it’s barely visible on the reduced image here, although you can almost make it out as a light texture. I’m still not convinced I got it quite right, but I think it adheres to the “do no harm” maxim, at least.

The biggest weakness is the data in the right-most column, which is smaller than I’d like. It would have taken three rather fiddly adjustments to get it to where I wanted it. First, I would have shrunk the Acknowledgments and References text. Second, I'd have moved the two figure (each a 3 × 3 grid itself) from sitting beside each other to being on top of the other. That would undoubtedly have not fit, given their current proportions, so I'd have to go back to the original files and resize both of them to be shorter.

Another little subtlety that I would fix (though you may not be able to see it) is that most of the poster text is set in Gill Sans. The exception is the figures, which are in Arial. This was not deliberate; it was because the figures were made for the PLoS ONE paper, which requests Arial. I just forgot to change from Arial to Gill Sans, which I should have done. Having everything in one typeface would make it more cohesive.

I’m reasonably happy with how it turned out, but I was under a time constraint, so this poster is not as polished as I’d like. Every time I look at the poster, I see more little ways that it could be improved. To paraphrase something once said of art, "A conference poster is never finished, merely abandoned.”

* If the topic interests you, the paper is open access, and freely available for all to read. I’m doing more blogging about the science in this paper, and some of the associated “backstory,” at my other blog, NeuroDojo.


Puri S, Faulkes Z. 2010. Do decapod crustaceans have nociceptors for extreme pH? PLoS One 5(4): e10244. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010244

No comments: