27 May 2010

No more slidesters, part 5: The specialist, PosterGenius 1.5

Poster Genius annoyed me a bit by putting ads in the Pimp my poster group on Flickr in the place where an actual poster should go. But I didn’t let it dissuade me from trying their free trial version. A few features are limited in the trial version, and it places a large notice that the poster was created using the trial version in the background of the poster. This review is based on the trial version of PosterGenius version 1.5.

I was immediately struck by how it plods through a very rigid input sequence. The PosterGenius strategy is to allow users very limited freedom. For example, you can only separate authors in the title section with a comma. You can’t put “Author and Author,” or “Author & Author.”

The layout? “Your poster vill have equally spaced vertical columns und you vill like it!

The initial poster creation wizard runs like this:

  1. Enter dimensions
  2. Enter authors
  3. Create sections
  4. Pick a template

After you’ve run through the Wizard, you get a series of sections along the left. You can rearrange sections by dragging and dropping within this pane. Each section ends up functioning much like a PowerPoint slide in a deck: it is a self-contained set of text and graphics.

You enter text and pictures for each section in boxes along the bottom, in boxes that look like the “Notes” for individual PowerPoint slides. (Although I saw “left” and “bottom” here, that’s only the default view; you can change the position of these input screens somewhat.)

Many simple functions are surprisingly difficult to locate – particularly if you miss your chance to specify them during the Wizard set-up.

For example, if you insert a new section of text, it’s damn hard to figure out how to get rid of it. you can’t find an option in the pull down menus that says, “Delete section.” You can’t select it and hit the delete key on the keyboard. You can’t select it and right click it for a context-sensitive menu. I finally discovered that you can hit the delete button (a big red “X”) in the toolbar, but this seems to be the only thing that works.

Similarly, you are asked to pick the poster size in the initial set-up. But unlike almost every other program I’ve used of this sort, there’s no “page set up” option to be found in the pull down menus to allow you to change page size. Again, it’s (only?) in the toolbar. And page size is only in nearest whole centimeters. 100.5 cm? 48 inches? Forget it.

The combination of the walk-through creation and the surprisingly fussy controls makes the process of creating a poster feel like David Pogue’s “type a word” Wizard in this talk (fast forward to 7 minutes and 50 seconds).

As I mentioned briefly above, PosterGenius makes you lay out your poster in equally wide vertical columns. Everything must be contained in each column. No wide pictures that straddle two columns, for instance. This limitation will save many posters from turning into train wrecks.

The ability to change the number of columns quickly is sweet. Three columns not working? Change it to four and boom! Everything is automatically rescaled to the new narrower columns.

This is an opportune time to mention that PosterGenius doesn’t redraw the screen live. You have to hit a refresh button in the toolbar every time you want to see the changes you’ve made.

Going back to managing columns, when you change the number of columns, you may find the sections falling into inconvenient places. For example, you may find the “Results” heading sitting alone at the bottom of column 1, instead of appearing at the top of column 2. You can force sections to appear in the next column. The option is hidden under the “Advanced” section underneath where you type in the text for your section.

A “Typography” button allows you to set the font size, colour, and so on. You can set everything for each section individually, or all sections at once.

The available templates feature designs that look very much like those you’d find in PowerPoint. Some are simple and straightforward. Some have very generic “science-y” photo backdrops. There are medical backgrounds with syringes, people in a surgical masks, an IV unit, or a bunch of pills. There are math equations against a starry exploding background for the physicists. Bridges and powerlines for engineers. Many of the photo elements in the templates scream, “I visited iStock photo.” Several templates have music staffs. Do musicians often do posters?

Unfortunately, the PosterGenius templates facilitate putting “logo bookends” around the title. I think they’re mostly pointless, but at least most of the templates make the logos somewhat well spaced and modestly sized.

Another very nice feature is that there is a button that creates a printout for distribution. This is not fitting the poster on a standard letter sized piece of paper; this takes the contexts of the poster, and formats it as a proper document, like something that you’d make in Word.

There’s a series of things that Poster Genius can’t do in its current version.

  • No spell check. In this day and age, this alone is close to a deal-breaker.
  • You can’t import any vector-based file format. You’re stuck with jpg, gif, bmp, tif, and png, which is a good, albeit limited, set of choices.
  • You can’t crop a picture. You would have to do this in another graphic editor, then import it.
  • You can’t easily reorder pictures. You have to delete it (which can’t be undone), then insert it again.
  • You don’t get to control where the poster is saved. Big drawback.
  • If you include too much stuff, PosterGenius will generate a second page rather than warning you it won’t fit. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with an entire wasted page when printing.

All of these seem to be fairly simple things to fix over time. This software could be a thing of beauty by version 3 or so.

The bottom line

Poster Genius is a serious attempt to give academics great poster-making software. It’s a far better tool making posters than PowerPoint. (There’s your pull quote, Scigen Technologies!) Anyone who has never used anything other than PowerPoint to make a poster should check it out immediately. Anyone who already has a good grasp on high-end graphics software (e.g., Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw!) might want to check it out, but I expect they might not find it worth switching to PosterGenius quite yet.

Additional, and conflict of interest statement

I had written all of the above before I mentioned on Twitter that this review would be coming this month. Following that, I was emailed by a rep from Scigen out of the blue who gave me a license to use the full version. Despite my “There’s your pull quote” joke above, they didn’t ask for anything. I guess they really want me to kick the tires on the full and complete version. I may come back and do an update on this after I’ve spent more time with the full version.


Rob Oakes said...

How does the system deal with plots and graphs? Is there any internal plotting engine which will match the theme of my charts to the theme of the poster presentation? Or am I stuck importing JPEGs and PNGs from whatever program I use to generate data? And in that same line of thought, how does it handle tables for data?

Zen Faulkes said...

I'm going to do a follow-up review at some point, but I think the answer to both of those is that you create them elsewhere and import them.

Unknown said...

Oooh, music staffs (I do research on music entertainment robots) ;)

Anonymous said...

The version for Mac is nowhere to be found :(

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wonderful blog, Zen.

Did you get to review the full version? Any updates on features since your above review. I am considering Poster Genius student edition and would be useful to know how they fare now.

Also, are there other poster softwares you'd recommend?


Zen Faulkes said...

I didn't find much to add from using the full version. And their website says the version number is still 1.5, so I don't think there's been any major changes yet.

Cova said...

Esta fenomenal pero en mi compu no lo puedo utilizar pues alahora de utilizarlo me dice que la configuracion actual de seguridad no me permite la descarga de archivos y ya no se utiliza... saben que puedo hacer?¡

Zen Faulkes said...

Rafael, I think you wrote: "This great but in my computer I can not use because I use it alahora says current security settings will not allow me to download files and is no longer used ... know I can do?"

No, I do not.