A huge number of posters will be put together and printed this week. For those who do not want to have to dig through the last two and a half years of posts, here is a super quick guide to making your poster better.
The big tips
Shut up.People want to read as little as possible. And at Neuroscience, who can blame them? There is more than any person can see, and big blocks of text scream, “This is going to take a long time!”
Show images whenever possible, especially pictures. Pictures of actual physical objects that people can recognize are always more inviting than graphs, which are generic and abstract.
Do your audience a favour: respect their time. Leave the fiddly bits for your dissertation or published paper.
Line up.For the love of humanity, make a grid. Divide your poster up into evenly spaced pieces. Draw lines. Make every piece of text, every chart, every thing line up along those lines. Don’t just stick things here and there, or make them “almost” align. It looks sloppy.
Size up.Make everything bigger. The text. The space between each line of text. The graphs. The labels on the graphs. Large size is a key factor in how long people will look at something. How do you know if it’s big enough? Does your poster pass the arm’s length test?
Free up.Drawing boxes around everything is like putting your poster in prison. Solitary confinement is cruel. When your poster is well organized, all you need is white space to separate the sections.
Those are my main requests that can help make most posters better. Even I, with a lot of posters under my belt, forget these basics sometimes.
The next tips are things that can be ignored with a little practice and thought, but are good places to start.
You can’t go too far wrong with...
Black text on a white backgroundBlack text on a white background works. You can do cool things with backgrounds if know what you are doing, but it’s easy to turn something looks horrible on a printed page. Most people should put away the gradient fills and the photo blow-ups, and stick with the tried and true colour scheme that you see in 99% of all books.
A three column layoutPhotographers learned long ago that dividing things into three is pleasing. For big, wide posters, like Neuroscience, three columns may be too wide. If that’s the case, either create an off number of columns (five or seven), or subdivide your grid into smaller sections.
Sans serif typeface for the main textSome suggestions for typefaces that are fairly easily available include Helvetica, Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, Gill Sans,and Calibri. You may think these are boring because everyone uses them, but there is a reason people use them so much: they get the job done.
Personally, I like Gill Sans on posters. Its readability holds up at a distance.
Calibri – while a fine typeface – does convey a subtle message: “I can’t be bothered to change the default settings in Microsoft Office.”
No frickin’ Comic SansComic Sans says, “amateur.” You might be going for “humourous” or “approachable,” but you achieve that at the complete loss of the “professional” trait.
I’m not against fonts with a hand-drawn look. I am a big comic book fan. Many people could make their posters better by learning the lessons of comic books. But there are better comic book typefaces out there.
Do you have a poster at Neuroscience that you are proud of? Want to show it off? Get feedback? Or just chat? Email me! I will be at Neuroscience from Saturday, 12 November, to Monday, 14 November (and maybe part of Tuesday morning).
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