21 August 2014

Critique: Megafauna

This week’s poster is from Benjamin Seliger, and is used with his permission. Click to enlarge... or perhaps I should say, “megasize.”

I would stop at this poster if I saw it at a conference. There is much to like about the design. The visuals are very strong and very prominent. I love the pictures of the megafauna, the plants, and the maps. There is not too much text.

This poster accidentally demonstrates the power of proximity and white space. When I glanced at this poster, I thought, “This is a very nice two column layout.” But I should have thought, “This is a nice two row layout.” This poster is meant to be read across first, not down, which is the opposite of what I thought from a glance.

I am supposed to see the poster elements in this grouping:

But instead I see this grouping:

The problem arises because there is a wide, generous margin between the columns, but almost none between the rows. We group things that are close together. The authors have tried to signal that these are in rows using horizontal dividers, but the “signal” from the wide margin in the middle is completely overpowering that from those skinny little lines.

That the headings are not that much bigger in size than the subheadings is not helping matters. Compare the size of “The data” to “Joshua tree” underneath it. The “Joshua tree” and “Honey mesquite” subheadings are reinforcing that this is a two column layout instead of a two row layout. I also wonder if flipping the text position (above the animal picture, but below the plant picture in the top row) is contributing.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. Make the margins between the rows bigger than the divisions between the columns. Here’s a quick and dirty revision:

Margins beat lines and boxes in signalling the organization of your material.

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