04 June 2015

Critique: Many-body dispersion

This week’s poster comes from Jan Hermann, and is used with permission. Click to enlarge:

This is quite lovely. Everything is aligned. The text boxes are not enclosed in heavy lines. The colours are attractive and subdued. Even the institutional logo is done in a way that doesn’t detract from the rest of the poster.

There’s just one thing that I have mixed feelings about: that big “Summary & outlook” box.

There are several visual cues that this bit is important. The box is placed right in the middle. Its dark brown background contrasts with the much lighter background surrounding it. This is a well known trick for drawing attention. Look at this example (from here).

The summary box is like the Volkswagon in the ad above: it’s hard not to be drawn to it first. In some ways, this is good. Because it is a summary, you want people to be drawn back to that point.

There are some down sides to this. The summary box breaks the expected reading flow. You tend to look at the summary first, which is good. It’s not too hard to figure out where to go next: upper left corner. So far, so good.

Where the summary box loses some of its appeal is when I’m making my way back though the results. It creates a break. Two related text sections are forced far apart:

When I hit the left text box highlighted in the image above, the next thing I expect to look at, based of its place in the poster, is the top figure (1).

But the position of the graphs is not closely related to their references in the text. The call to examine Figure 1 is closer to Figure 2, and Figure 2 appears in the reading order before you reach the reference to it.

Thus, I have to do a bit of work to connect that text box split across two columns, because of that summary box in the middle. It’s certainly not a fatal flaw. The benefits of that strong summary may outweigh the inconvenience of trying to work out the reading order.

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