10 March 2011

Critique: Texas crayfish

This is a poster I made for the 114th annual meeting of the Texas Academy of Science, which was held last week in Austin, Texas. Though I say it myself, I think it’s one of my best. (As usual, you may click to enlarge.)

I tried yet again to push myself and apply some more of the ideas I’ve talked about here in the blog (oddly, I often write about things before I have a chance to put them into practice).

A compact title; not quite as short as a comic book title, but closer than many.

A big, recognizable picture in the top left as an entry point. This poster also benefited a lot because the whole point of the study was to generate maps. The maps almost act as another entry point, and certainly don’t need a lot of explanation.

The tones in the picture, particularly the clay pots the crayfish is on, helped determine the colour palette for the rest of the poster. It’s carried through the text and the maps. I’m partial to brick red, anyway.

I limited myself to two typefaces; Bernhard Mod for the title and drop caps (which I’d been using as the logo for the Marmorkrebs.org website for some time now), and Gill Sans for the body text. Gill Sans has rapidly become one of my favourite typefaces for posters: it always reads clearly, even some distance away.

One of the more daring ideas I had was to completely get rid of the usual section headings (Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion). I did this almost by accident when I started playing around with the “Drop cap” tool in Publisher, and decided that I liked the result. Upon reflection, I reasoned that the drop caps could signal the different sections as well as using actual headings.

I also took a risk in using uneven columns. I tried to use my preferred format, three equally wide columns, and failed. I created a more complex grid of six columns, and ended up with sections of varying width, but I think it worked well. The strong underlying grid gave structure and regularity to something that could have looked chaotic and unplanned.

I also continued experimenting with putting a light texture in the background. It is still very tricky to find one that does not interfere with the legibility of the text, but this one seemed light enough to be fine.

The only two things that are problems are the thumbnail choropleth maps to the upper right of the large map of Texas. Although the high end of the scale works, the yellow on the low end, which takes up much of the map, is too far from the rest of the colours on the poster. And the legends are too small to read. I was hoping they’d be okay on the full size version (48 inches wide by 42 inches high), but they should be bigger.

This poster is about 85% of the way to what I think an excellent conference poster might look like. And all it took was two years of non-stop blogging to warm up to it. I’m very happy with how this one turned out.


Feria TP, Faulkes Z. Forecasting the distribution of Marmorkrebs, a parthenogenetic crayfish with high invasive potential, in Madagascar, Europe, and North America. Aquatic Invasions 6(1): In press. http://www.aquaticinvasions.net/2011/AI_2011_6_1_Feria_Faulkes_correctedproof.pdf (Preprint)


Bronwyn said...

Very nice poster in general - BUT - having fully justified type has given you some horribly stretched words at the beginnings of the "W" and "T" paragraphs. You are spot on with most of your critiques (I shall be using your advice in some things that I hadn't thought of), but I don't understand how you can bear the various nasties that come with justified type on posters.

Zen Faulkes said...

Not much more to say than what I said here: http://betterposters.blogspot.com/2010/03/love-my-justify.html

There’s a trade off. Pretty sure I tried both ways before deciding that the clean edges were worth more to me than some wide spacing.

Bronwyn said...

Fair enough - I hate hyphenation too, so am pretty anti full justification in small columns. Wide columns, yes. A lot of our students love it, but I tend to think it's like using every colour and every font - they do it because they can.
Maybe it's because I am a fast reader. I can't read slowly so anything that interrupts my scanning of text makes it very difficult to make sense of.

Another thing, I'm interested that you recommend landscape rather than portrait posters. I don't disagree with you on that, but the vast majority of meetings I make posters for (I'm a biochemist by education but ended up doing graphics and database stuff for our dept) demand portrait posters. These are meetings all over the world, so it's not specific to where I live. Where do you find the meetings that allow enough space for landscape posters? I mean, we COULD make landscape ones, but they'd still have to fit into 900mm or so wide so would be much smaller than we can use for portrait.

Zen Faulkes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zen Faulkes said...

I don’t recommend landscape over portrait, really. It’s just that:

1. Most of the meetings I go to use landscape format. Judging from the requests for critiques I get, this is not unusual. My readership is probably biased toward biology, though.

2. I find laying out landscape posters easier than portrait ones.

I get the impression that portrait format posters are more common in Europe than North America. It wouldn’t surprise me it that also varies from discipline to discipline.