06 August 2015

Critique and makeover: Shrimp MoGs (rhymes with “rogues”)

Ladies and gentlemen, as hard as it may be to believe, I was not always the poster design guy you see before you now.

Rewind back to late 2007, when I was preparing a poster for the meeting of Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB). I’ve hauled out the poster I made then because the paper has finally been published (Faulkes 2015).

This... is gonna hurt. Click to enlarge.

Oh boy.

Clearly I had not yet taken on board the lesson of editing. This was a problem in a lot of my old posters I made before I started this blog; see here and here in particular.

Yes, there’s even an abstract. The one thing I will say in my defense is that the instructions specifically said to include the abstract, and I was still a few years from realizing there are no poster police, and becoming an abstract anarchist as far as posters were concerned.

At the time, I was happy enough with this poster to have my picture taken with it. I can’t recall who I loaned my camera to, but I’m so grateful to him, because this is a favourite picture of me to this day. I felt like this picture showed my in my natural element.

My reaction to the poster now?

Not so much a critique as a cry of anguish.

Too much stuff and not enough space. I cringed when I looked at the guideline settings and saw the columns were only separated by half an inch. Nowhere near enough of a margin.

There were also a few blatant errors in the text that I never caught until now. No, I’m not going to tell you what they are. I shall leave that as an exercise for the reader, as they say.

I am happy that this poster is laid out in columns, with at least a major grid structuring the poster. I also learned something very important from doing this poster: rehearse the poster out loud. This is the poster that inspired this story:

For one poster I did, I had a figure that ended up in about column four, quite far to the right of the poster. (Black and white image at top of column four - ZF, 2015) I thought it made sense to put it there given the poster space. It felt fine when you read through the poster.

But when I gave people “tours” through the poster at the meeting, I kept referring to that picture very early on, when people were mostly examining stuff on the left side of the poster. People had to look way over to a different section of the poster, and it disrupted the flow of the presentation. (In that case, it was exacerbated by the poster being over two meters wide. People had to look a long way over to see the picture.)

Because this is one of my own posters, I was able to open up the original Publisher file and start editing. I didn’t give myself anything that I wouldn’t have had at the time, like new images. Here’s the revised version:

I made all the margins two inches. I hacked away a lot of the text, and replaced the stupid abstract with a picture of the study species, which people can more readily relate to and understand. That one key figure that threw off my narrative because it was too far over to the right got moved up to the introduction, too.

It’s better, but honestly, I can see this version is still struggling with the baggage from the first effort. I’m not sure those three tables are helping my cause. And there is still too much text. But I am not going to redo the poster from scratch because I have better things to do than completely remake a poster from a conference more than seven year ago. (But apparently I don’t have better things to do than write a blog post about it.)

If I were to design the poster again from scratch today, it might be a lot more like these graphics that I made to promote the paper on Twitter. None of these graphics could be a poster as is, but they give an idea of the approach I took in making a compact version of the paper.

The one above has the picture of the shrimp, which is nice, but it needs more detail for the results. Remember, the point of this is not to be complete, but as an enticement to get people to click a link to a longer article.

This next one below is probably closest to a working poster:

Nice, simple, straight head to head comparison between to species. Put in a title, a picture of the animals, and this is close to something you could hang up on the conference poster board.

This last one has a clear title and some more detail:

I worry that it has a little too much detail, but that central panel really drives home the difference between what was expected (two separate cell bodies on the side) and what I saw (massive, hard to tell apart cell bodies in the middle).

As much as it hurts to go back into your old work, it is nice to go back and see how far you’ve come.


Faulkes Z. 2007. Motor neurons involved in escape responses in white shrimp, Litopenaeus setiferus. Integrative and Comparative Biology 47(Supplement 1): e178. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/icb/icm105

Faulkes Z. 2015. Motor neurons in the escape response circuit of white shrimp (Litopenaeus setiferus). PeerJ 3: e1112. http://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.1112

Related posts

Critique: Crustacean nociception
Should your first presentation be a poster?
The one inch rule
Scripting a poster
Abstract abolition

External links

The most beautiful thing I’ve made in science
Shrimp FFMN FAC: social media exclusive!

No comments: