20 October 2011

Critique: Stellar populations

It’s a great thing to get an email like this one:

I am sending you the last poster I did, which I am finally proud of.

That was from Natalia Asari, who was kind enough to share her poster with us. I am particularly pleased to get this one, not just because of her pride in it, but because I know full well that many scientific disciplines are not well represented on this blog (yet!). An astronomy poster is such a nice change of pace.

Even before you click to enlarge, you’ll notice that it’s in “portrait” orientation (taller than wide). I personally find such posters to be very tricky to lay out, because my first response is to create a grid of vertical columns, and tall posters result in very skinny columns. Natalia beats that problem by putting everything in one column, with clear horizontal divisions to mark the different sections of evidence. The data are consistently on the left, and explanatory text is consistently on the right, and they have the same width throughout the poster, reinforcing a secondary grid.

The poster gets high marks for using so many colours without being distracting or jarring. I think part of the reason that this works is that the bright colours are confined to thin lines on a white background, so they are not competing for attention with the main body of the poster. The larger blocks of colour are subdued, neutral tones.

There is not a heck of a lot to critique in this poster, but I will highlight a few things in the next picture.

The use of the icons adds a light, almost humourous touch to the piece. The potential downside is that they can be too memorable. I always thought of this poster as having a dinosaur on it, which might be a trifle misleading, because there are no dinosaur data in the paper!

The icons are responsible for what I would see as the one “error” on the poster: on the bottom three, the brown banner behind the poster bleeds into the transparent white space within the icons. The icons would be stronger if the white space inside was opaque, so the brown behind was not visible within the icon.

Natalia made this poster in Papers Pages, which is not software I am familiar with. Has anyone else made posters with this software?

She described the reaction to this poster thus:

I did it for one of the Symposia in the last IAU General Assembly, in 2009, when I was finishing my Ph.D. It raised some eyebrows and I felt some people had a hard time taking it seriously. Once I started explaining the science to them however, they got over the shock of seeing such a different poster.

This is a great reminder that there can be pressure – perhaps subtle – to make the same old poster that everyone else has. One of the great things about posters is that there are so few rules. There main one is, “Make it fit on the posterboard.” Beyond that, don’t let people stop you from trying something better.

Thanks to Natalia for her generosity in sharing this stellar poster!


Natalia Vale Asari said...

Thanks for all the tips! I will bear them in mind as I am preparing another poster right now. I realize the dinosaur was too bold a move. :)

Sorry for a Freudian slip of mine -- I meant to say I used Apple Pages, not Papers, to do it. (I am in the processing of moving away from Papers to organize articles, so that is probably why it managed to crawl into my explanatory e-mail.)

I also realised I made a typo: "started explained", which should be "started explaining". Sorry for that too!

I am not sure if portrait orientation is standard in all Astronomy meetings, but that was the case in all the ones I attended. Poster stands usually hold an A0 portrait poster, but only an A1 landscape poster. It is probably done to save space and fit more posters per square meter.

Cheers and sorry again for the incorrect info on the software I used!

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised to find that the poster is made in Papers. I use Papers2 mostly as a repository for any and all papers I find and download. Although I have not used it for any manuscript writing, I know that it's powerful for citation management and such. I tried to look up on how to actually make anything in Papers and had very little success (even after consulting the Mekentosj website). So if anyone has an idea I would love to know. Thanks!!

Zen Faulkes said...

Natalia: I’ve heard that the vertical poster format is more common in European meetings than in North American ones. Have you been to astronomy meetings in North America?

(And I’ve fixed the typos!)

Natalia Vale Asari said...

nightstrigiformes: Sorry again! It was a slip of the tongue, I used Pages. :)

Zen: Thanks! Re: portrait vs landscape, that must be it. I have only been to conferences in South America and Europe -- and once in China. I will ask some American astronomers how it is like in the US.

Katie Collette said...

What a great looking poster!

Natalia Vale Asari said...

Thanks, katiedid!

I am back with some anecdata: apparently in the US Astronomy meetings it is either a square or a landscape format indeed. :)