The problem with conference posters is that when people think of posters, they think of things like these:
The Lord Kitchener recruitment poster from World War I.
Rosie the Riveter from World War II.
1960s concert posters.
“Iconic” is an overused compliment, but damnit, the Jaws poster is iconic.
Those posters are all brilliant works of art. Thus, it is highly tempting for academics to think their conference posters should also be works of art.
They are not.
Conference posters are documents. Large and illustrated documents, but documents nevertheless. They are just as much documents as technical reports, executive summaries, personal statements, or journal manuscripts. Thinking of conference posters as documents clarifies the task at hand.
First, people associate “art” with creativity and personal expression, not realizing how much craft and discipline are necessary for the job at hand. It really does help to learn something about grids, type, colours, and so on. It does not help to start making a poster with an attitude of “anything goes.”
Second, the posters above work so well partly because they are simple. They convey one statement. Research posters will never be so simple. When we think about conveying sophisticated information, we think of “documents,” so it will help if you think of your conference poster in those terms. Own up to the complexity of your research.
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