16 February 2012

Critique and makeover: Nanoparticles

This week’s poster was submitted by Xiaoxu Niu from the Graduate Materials Engineering Program at the University of Dayton. I thank him for permission to use this here. Click to enlarge the first version, or any of the revisions.

At very first glance, this poster looks promising, but a closer look showed major problems.

Reading order

With this nice, two column layout, people expect to read all the way down the left column, get to the bottom, then go back to the top of the right column. But below, I have tracked the order of items on the poster with a red line. The path careens back and forth worse than a drunk driver.

I don’t understand why sections numbered 3 and 4 were under the Conclusions header instead of the Results.

The good news was that this was super easy to fix. Because the poster was sort of cut into four quarters, it was easy to move the components around. I did a quick mock-up in Corel Photo-Paint:

And putting a red line over the order of items now shows a simpler pathway.


The poster isn’t confusing now, but it’s still not inviting, either. In its first form, it’s as gray as a tombstone, and about as appealing. Fine black text on a light gray background with medium gray headings complement the fine-line graphs – which are also mostly gray.

I’m a great believer in the power of black and white, but this is too neutral and flavourless. It would benefit from some colour and emphasizing some sections of the text.

For instance, Figure 5 has a curve fit line that is getting lost against the gray data points. Colouring or thickening the curve would make it more visible, although the data points are tight enough that maybe the curve could be left off entirely.

I appreciate that nanoengineering is a tough subject to find a way to “drag in” passers by. It’s hard to finding attractive pictures of molecules that everyone understands. Even so, looking at this from an outsider’s point of view, I didn’t have a clear understanding of what the goal of the project was. Is there any target application for this technique? I also suggested that text emphasis - like putting some key phrases in bold - might help highlight the important pieces.

QR code

It’s good to give a clue as to what a QR code leads to. A lab website? A CV of one of the authors? A reprint of the poster? I am much more likely to scan it if I have an idea where this will lead me.

After reading my suggestions, Niu sent back this revision:

We agreed that this was a big step up from where the poster started!


Holly said...

I am really loving the recent Makeovers section, and have been using it to "test" myself. I take a few minutes to look over the original, then try to guess what your suggestions will be. This exercise has changed me from someone who just accepts every poster that I see, to someone who critiques (in my head!) every poster that I see. This may or may not be a good thing...

Mike Taylor said...

Yes, this is a very useful exercise.

But I have to say that the super-saturated red #ff0000 headings in the final version are a bit of a stab in the eyeballs. Much better to use a toned-down colour like #800000.