03 May 2012

Critique: Bird songs and brains

Today’s poster comes from Justin Kiggins (a.k.a. Neuromusic), and is used here with his permission. You want to see it larger and more clearly? Then click, I say! Click!

This are many good design decisions here. There are clear columns. The colours have been chosen and deployed with deliberation.

But this poster is struggling to handle an enormous amount of information. The “Too long, didn’t read” section on the right is almost the authors’ way of admitting with a sigh, “Yeah. We know. It’s a lot of stuff.”

Given this, the first solution is to edit if possible. It can be hard, but sometimes, not every data point needs to be shown on the poster.

If, however, you want to leave all of that information on there, what else could be done to try to cure the intimidation factor?

First, I would try to create more white space. The margins between the three main columns are not much bigger than the margins between the two or three sections within them. This means that the columns tend to blur together, and the whole thing looks less structured and organized as a result.

I stuck this into my image editor, shrunk each of the three main columns by 5%, and spaced them out more. You can more readily see the three columns, particularly in the small version (but you can click to enlarge).

You can get away with this without losing visibility because this poster is huge: 88 inches across. The text and images are likewise big, which is great.

While the main columns only needed a slight tweaking of the margins, the arrangement within each column is much less disciplined. This is important, because the columns are wide, and are meant to be read in rows within the main columns. This could be okay, because the reading pattern is consistent.

In the left column, each row has three sections... but none of them are the same width or height. The middle column is a little cleaner, except perhaps at the top. The left column starts lower than the other two, and has an asymmetric subdivision that doesn't line up.

Again, more attention paid to alignment (that the second line of the title doesn’t line up with the institutional affiliation bugs me) and more clearly defined margins between each section would help. Here’s a version where I’ve laid down a partial grid. Ideally, each red line should not touch a graph or text underneath it. The middle column comes out almost unscathed, but the ones on either side don’t fare as well.

Finally, there’s the issues of the colours. As far as I can tell, they were chosen deliberately. I think the orange is representing physiological data; purple consistent is linked to “context,” and blue to “target,” etc. But there’s a lot of colours there. Even though they are well chosen and fairly subdued, they end up fighting with each other a bit. This might not be such a problem if the material were given more generous margins. Plus, the link between the colour and the concept is not intuitive; it would have to be explained. Rather than five separate colours, different shades of one or two colours might have accomplished the same thing.

The more information is on a poster, the more critical the space between that information becomes.


Kristina Killgrove said...

I love the tl;dr section. It made me smile.

Al Dove said...

I think having a TL;DR is genius

Paul said...

what font did they use?

Zen Faulkes said...

You’d have to ask Justin. It’s a humanist sans serif, but I can’t peg the exact one. Identifying typefaces is an art in itself.

Paul said...

Thanks just thought I'd post back here in case others were interested. Justin says the font is Midiet Sans: