Ecologist Stephen S. Hale has written a field guide to conferences. His advice on posters is... memorable.
You have to compete for attention. Say you’re standing by your poster, hardly anyone has stopped by yet, and you’re trying not to look too anxious. How to get people to stop and talk to you rather than all those other poster people? You see someone come into your group of posters; she’s darting her eyes quickly over the various titles. You strain to read her name tag. If she edges closer, set the hook by smiling and asking “May I talk you through this?” Pretend you’re a male bowerbird; you’ve built this elaborate structure and you want to get a female to join you inside. The principle of sexual selection says that reproduction (of ideas, in this case) only occurs if the person you’re trying to attract chooses your structure over the many competing ones. So you’ve got to make your poster bold, colorful, and interesting.
If you’re wondering what a bowerbird is, look no further:
Methinks his profession may have coloured his perspective somewhat.
I think Seth Godin’s instruction here can apply to posters:
No one is going to read the whole thing, ever again. But we need to make it much easier to read the part of the thing that someone really cares about.
Check out Steven Hamblin, who describes his design process for making a poster If you haven’t done a poster yet, you should read this. It gives an excellent sense for why a poster is not something you knock out in an afternoon.
- 10:36 p.m. Am I seriously still in the lab? It’s time to go home.
We’ve all been there, Steven.
Ed Yong attacks jargon and leaves it in a body cast. There are a lot of lessons here in writing text for your poster. For instance (my emphasis):
Writing is a constant battle for attention. Filling prose with jargon, and failing to consider the all-important audience, ensures that you lose the battle before you’ve even published a pixel. Nobody has ever felt obliged to read. Don’t give them reasons to stop.