28 October 2010

Eye tracking

The skeptical poster maker reading this blog might say, “But this design stuff... well, it’s all a bit... loosey-goosey, innit?

“Even you yourself ‘ave said that some of the stuff designers say doesn’t stand up. Like the idea that it’s easier to read lowercase because of the shape of the words.”

You want research? Okay, here’s some research on how people read large pages that combine text and images. These are newspapers, not posters, but there’s little doubt that the two are fairly similar reading tasks. Some key findings from older studies:

  • Photos attracted attention. ... Color was a powerful tool that pulled the eye toward various parts of a page(.)
  • Eyes followed a common pattern of navigation. The majority of readers entered all pages through the dominant photo or illustration, then traveled to the dominant headline, then to teasers and cutlines, and finally to text.
  • Images were viewed more than text. Photos and artwork were looked at the most, followed by headlines and advertising, then briefs and cutlines. Text was read the least.

There are also more recent studies that look more at websites, but these also confirm some of the basic design ideas I’ve blogged about here.

  • Alternative story forms (including Q&As, timelines, lists and fact boxes) helped readers remember facts.
  • Large photos and documentary photos drew more eyes than small photos or staged photos. Mug shots received relatively little attention.

Now, you might kvetch that I’m not linking to peer-reviewed journals, but there are similar things in peer reviewed papers, like those listed in the references below. A quick peek at Holmqvist and Wartenberg (2005) reveals, for example, the number one factor that influences what people look at first and how long they stay looking at something?

Large size.

So make everything bigger, blast you!

It probably is the case that private companies are doing a lot of reports that are maybe not making it into the traditional academic literature. A lot of this kind of research seems to be in conference proceedings, which I understand is more traditional method of publication for engineering and the like.

Lots of interesting reading on what makes something readable and memorable!

Related papers

Chu S, Paul N, Ruel L. 2009. Using eye tracking technology to examine the effectiveness of design elements on news websites. Information Design Journal 17(1): 31-43. http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/idj.17.1.04chu

Holmqvist K, Wartenberg C. 2005. The role of local design factors for newspaper reading behaviour – an eye-tracking perspective. Lund University Cognitive Studies 127: 1-21. http://www.lucs.lu.se/LUCS/127/LUCS.127.pdf

Hat tip to Ben Goldacre.

21 October 2010

What poster viewers are thinking

There was a very small but high powered poster session this week. I wasn’t personally there, but a few photos found their way out, and here’s what I expect the viewer is thinking as he looks at some of these posters.

“Is that Comic Sans?”
“Couldn’t they have put the interesting data near the top of the poster?”
“Does everything have to be in a separate box?”
Whoops, forgot to mention who was in the audience above, looking at the posters...

Poster aficionado Barack Obama
These pictures are from the science fair held at the U.S. White House on 18 October 2010, courtesy of Matt Blum, writing on the GeekDad blog. Read more of Matt’s impressions of the event here.

Pictures used under a Creative Commons license.

19 October 2010

Paper is more portable than stone tablets

Tales of the Genomic Repairman presents 10 commandments for poster presentations. Lots of nice bits in there.

I will say in regards to number 7, though...

7th Commandment:  Have thy references.  Look if you reference a paper in your poster, bring a hardcopy of each with you and just leave it on the ground.  If someone is arguing a point with you that way you can yank the journal shot them the figure and tell em to eat crow.  Oh and have about no more than 10 references in your poster.

 ... that I’ve never had a conversation in front of a poster that would have been advanced by whipping out a reprint.

17 October 2010

The secret history of type

The Guardian has a lovely extract from a new book called Just my Type by Simon Garfield.

I look forward to checking it out, despite the Amazon blurb “why it's okay to like Comic Sans.”

And on reflection, I’d agree with that. It’s okay to like Comic Sans. It’s just not okay to use it.

14 October 2010

I’m looking through you

A coloured background can make a poster pop &ndash when done carefully.

To make a coloured background work, pick your figures carefully. These are the big three pixel-based image formats.

JPG: This is the most popular and familiar format. It is used on the web routinely because it has a wider color range than previous formats (24 bit), and generally has smaller file sizes than other formats.

GIF: This format is older than JPG. It can’t render as many colours as a JPG (8 bit). You can also create short animated images in GIF format, though you couldn’t use that on a poster.

PNG: This GIF successor can render 24 bit colour.

One important difference between these formats is transparency. Here’s a demonstration:

The JPG on the left looks shoddy compared to the GIF on the right.

JPG images can’t do transparencies. Every pixel must be coloured. Images that fine against a white background, like a white sheet of paper, can suddenly be floating in a white rectangle on top of your beautiful poster background. And suddenly, you have started down the road to boxism.

GIF and PNG images can do transparencies, which can allow any underlying colour to show through. It’s not automatic; you do have to watch the setting when you’re saving the image.

If you have an existing JPG that you like, one workaround is to match the space around your image with your poster background. This isn’t difficult if you have a simple background colour, but quickly becomes a headache if you want textured or shaded background.

But if you’re going to go to that much effort to edit the picture, you might as well mask out the background areas, then save a copy in PNG format. This can take a little fiddling in your graphics editor to do, but the result is worth it.

Related posts

Will it scale?
Never let them see your pixels

External links

Wednesday Surgery on Jim Campbell’s Comic Book Lettering Blog

07 October 2010

Overcoming your fears in poster sessions

Over at the Women in Wetlands blog, Dr. Doyenne has been doing a wonderful series of posts looking at self-promotion. In a recent post, Socially Inept Scientists, she talks about how poster sessions are invaluable for those who are uncertain or shy. And let’s face it... that describes a lot of academics, and particularly scientists. I’ve added a little emphasis to her quote.

One very easy and less painful way to meet people is during the poster sessions. There are lots of people standing by their posters expecting (hoping) others will approach them. It’s very awkward for poster presenters to stand there waiting for someone to approach. So they will often be relieved when someone comes along and starts up a conversation. You also have lots of opportunities to meet many people – especially people doing work in your field. However, I’ve found it’s sometimes easier to talk to people who work on topics I know little about. By confiding to the poster presenter that you don’t know anything about their field puts them at ease. Students and young scientists are especially afraid some expert is going to come along and ask them a question they can’t answer or will disparage their work. So, they will be especially open to someone who knows little about their topic. Ask them to explain their work to you (you can say you’ve always been fascinated with the topic, but that it is outside your field). By doing so, you put them into the role of expert and you in the role of interested listener. Few people can resist an opportunity to be looked upon as the more knowledgeable in a conversation.

The rest of her series on self-promotion is wonderful, useful stuff. Check it out. Start with To Brag or Not to Brag, and carry through the rest of the September posts, and continuing through October.

Photo by TeodoraS on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

05 October 2010

Coral reef science

Malaria, Bed Bugs, Sea Lice, & Sunsets, has an interesting gallery of posters from the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium, from July of this year.

Some are an overkill of words. Others let the data do the talking. And then some are just simply beautiful works of art, in my opinion.