20 March 2014

Misplaced priorities on institutional templates

Commenter k brought my attention to this poster template from Iowa State University (click to enlarge).

The template gets it exactly wrong. The order of elements at the top is 180° away from what it should be.

This template reflects misguided priorities. It’s intended to do one thing: make sure the institution’s name is the most important thing on the poster. I repeat this from Garr Reynolds (my emphasis):

The logo won’t help make a sell or make a point, but the clutter it brings does add unnecessary noise and makes the presentation visuals look like a commercial. And people hate commercials or being sold to.

The most important thing on the poster should be the title. That is the most important information for people walking by at the conference. The principles of text hierarchy suggest that the title should be bigger than all other text, and at the top of the page, and possibly in colour. Instead, it’s the fourth thing on the page, small, and in black and white.

The second most important thing should be the people. Posters are social objects, meant to facilitate conversations between people. Names matter.

Department and institution names are the least important things for both the reader (who is the one this poster is for) and the presenter.

Worse, the template adds space for the conference name and the date up at the upper right. Of what possible use are those pieces of information? Presumably, people know what conference they are attending. They rarely just wander into a convention center just on a whim. And I am reasonably sure most people do not need a poster to tell them the date.

The “Acknowledgments” space at the end is a box that spans the entire width of the poster. This is not a good typesetting practice, because long lines are hard to read. Most typesetters recommend lines be about 10-12 words long.

What a template should do is to help someone make layout faster. A template that offered a precise, evenly spaced three column grid would save someone a lot of time trying to calculate the column width, including enough white space, and so on. Instead, this template has just a single word box with “Content.” That’s not helpful to the poster maker at all.

And the moral of the story is: Just because your institution suggests it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea!


Blake Humphrey said...

Branding is an institution’s ability to be identified in a marketplace. Research conferences, are in sort, a scientific marketplace where ideas rather than currency are exchanged. The logo serves to provide an identity from branding and allows the poster to make an exchange of scientific currency with other consumers. The logo says: “Our institution made this or sells this (in the sense of scientific production or consumption).”

While having a large oversized logo, like the Iowa State University template, may be overbearing, having a logo is essential when attempting to provide an identity for your posters at conferences. Also, a template is intended to be used to help standardize an identity or brand for users who are not trained in graphic design. Often users distort or misuse logos because of their ignorance of brand standards. The template attempts to alleviate errors by providing a standard that is easy to follow. In addition, many users complain of being forced into a three column layout for their content. This template, although not perfect, does allow the user freedom of layout within the content area while ensuring the branding is maintained.

Mike Taylor said...

Blake, your whole comment is predicated on the idea that someone, somewhere cares about brand. Well, I guess someone somewhere does (or they wouldn't have made the template) but sure as eggs is eggs, no-one at the conference does.