02 October 2015

Posters in the humanties - Plus! Critique: Safety


Today’s poster comes from Joschka Haltaufderheid. Before I get to a critique of the posters, I want to start addressing something Joaschka wrote in the email accompanying the poster:

(F)or researchers in the humanities, making a good poster seems to be quite challenging. Normally we do not present empirical results but rather lines of arguments, considerations of pros and cons, ideas, etc. That makes it very hard to balance text and graphical elements in a proper way since we first need lots of words and second do not have any figures, tables or diagrams at hand.

This is something I’ve thought about more than I’ve written about. Different disciplines in the humanities will likely have different tools at their disposal. Historians might have images of artifacts. Those studying literature will have texts. Both might have representations of the people they are discussing.

But, if you are in a situation where your main tools are words, there are two skills you need to master: editing and typography.

I’ve talked before about how uninviting long blocks of text are. You must find ways to convey your key point in as few words as possible. You must be ruthless about editing your text. Try to find a few, choice, tweetable phrases, and highlight those. People love aphorisms.

You can turn words into graphic elements with good typography. Compare this bit of text:

Give thy thoughts no tongue. - Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3

Sure, you could put that bit of text on a poster like that. Or you could put it like this:


Magazines and newspapers turn words into graphic elements all the time. Pull quotes. Drop caps.The choice of typeface and colour. These are not simple techniques to master, but they can give a text-based poster a graphic appeal that a document does not.

On with Joschka’s poster, which is used with his permission. Click to enlarge!


The accompanying picture of the sign is a good attention getter, and a signal that viewers will understand. There may not be enough contrast between the sign and the text where the two overlap, however. Look at the words on top of the “TY” in “SAFETY”, for example. Some slight repositioning might allow you to keep the interesting overlap with less conflict between the image and text.

I love how the title is handled. It’s given plenty of white space around it so that nothing competes with it for attention.

The rest of the poster reminds me very much of international typographic style that was popular in the 1960s. It’s a very modernist look using a sans serif typeface and a strong grid.

A few changes in typesetting could make the text less intimidating. The “Background” section appears as one text block, the right indentation indicates its meant to be read as two paragraphs. These paragraphs might be separated by a bit more space, indents, or both.

Similarly, a little more space between the headings and the text below might be useful in emphasizing the headings.

The figures are helpful graphic elements and well placed, although the top of Figure 1 comes too close to touching the text above it.

Overall, this is a strong design. I’m intrigued that the design strikes me as very “European.” I wonder if I could have guessed where Joschka is writing from.

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