22 February 2018

Lab posters are not conference posters

When I wander through department hallways and professor offices, I often see posters like this, from Rottner and colleagues (2017; tweeted by journal here). Click to enlarge!


These sort of posters often feature cellular processes or biochemical pathways. They are often professionally done, attractive, and valuable teaching tools. But they are not good examples that conference poster makers should be trying to imitate.

A poster like this is meant for experts, so presumes a high level of knowledge. It is intended to be something you can look at for days, weeks, months, sometimes even years. They can show lots of fiddly little details that you can discover over that long period of time.

In a conference poster session, you have a few minutes for someone to absorb the work, not months. You can’t stuff in the same level of detail in conference poster that you can in a lab poster.

Hat tip to Prachee Avasthi.

Reference


Rottner K, Faix J, Bogdan S, Linder S, Kerkhoff E. 2017.

Link roundup for February 2018

Neuroskeptic asks whether conferences are hostile environments.

I have never been the target of a harsh question at a conference but one of my colleagues was, a couple of years ago.

08 February 2018

Critique: Sudden stop

Last week, I talked about the difference between gaudy and bold. Stacy Shield provides two examples of going bold in poster design. Click to enlarge!


Red, black, and white. Talk about a striking choice of colours. The limited colour palette gives this poster an almost “duotone” look:


It wouldn’t look out of place at a White Stripes concert:


Another poster from Stacy again showcases her strong sense of colour.


Stacy’s posters are not based on the same template, but are recognizably by the same person. It shows that you can develop a distinctive personal style in creating posters.

The colours are so strong and vibrant that they leap out at you. But they are selected carefully. There are not many colours; just three carefully chosen ones. They don’t look like an“all over the place” clash that can make a poster look gaudy.

I would like to see that same discipline that is brought to the colour choices also brought to the content. These posters feature a lot of text and small graphics. The posters would be even stronger if they had fewer words and bigger images.

Stacy has two tricks that almost hide the amount of text, though.

  1. She interspersed the text with lots of small graphics throughout the poster, so the impression of “big intimidating text blocks” is reduced.
  2. She changes the colours and size of the text, particularly in the spider poster. For example, the title has two colours and three font sizes. In the second column, “Explaining the” is smaller than “Motion of the Spider.” The words become a graphic element instead of a purely textual element.

The posters are well structured to make it clear what order they are read in. The first poster has strong bands of colour, with white diving lines, that make it clear to read across in rows. The second poster is not as clear cut, because it switches from reading across (“Background”) to reading down (“Methodology & Testing”).

You would be hard pressed to walk by either of these in a conference hall and not notice these posters. They command that you take a second look, which is critical in a conference setting. I’m still not entirely convinced I that would read the whole thing if the presenter wasn’t there, though.

If the presenter is there, you’re in luck. Having met Stacy at the last Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting, I will say that she is definitely worth talking to!

01 February 2018

Subtle, gaudy, and bold

Last week, I showed a sweet poster from Desi Quintans. Desi added a great question in his email that I thought deserved its own blog post:

I noticed that the posters that did well in real life were made with strong, almost gaudy colours. In particular, the ones with very large blocks of strong colour were quickly noticed compared to the understated ones like mine. How can one walk the line between elegant design and the reality of grabbing a person's attention in a room that's already visually and aurally noisy?

Let’s look as Desi’s poster again, just for context. Click to enlarge!


Desi calls this poster “understated,” which is an apt description. As I wrote last week, I like this power a lot, but I think Desi’s description is apt. You might also call it subtle. What are the characteristics that give it that look? (Click to enlarge.)


A lot has to do with the colour scheme. There are a lot of earthy tones, particularly up in the title. Even when using primary colours in the graphs, they are not saturated, intense colours.

The typography is a straighforward sans serif. It’s very readable, but there is nothing distinctive about it. Indeed, that is the point of many book typefaces: they are supposed to fade away so that you can focus on reading.

Now let’s consider what looks gaudy. Something like one of those unsolicited flyers you get in your mailbox would count:


The choice of colours contributes to the feeling of cheap. These are bright, primary colours that are hard to ignore.


But it’s not just bright colours. It’s the business of it all. There are so many things on the page! There are a lot of fonts, in a lot of sizes and colours.

This is one of the major factors that make so many academic posters look gaudy: too much stuff, too small, too crammed.

There’s the sense that everything on the page is screaming, “Look at me!” 

But the lesson from the above is not, “No bright colours.” Lots of great movie posters and magazine covers mastered the art of being bold without being gaudy, with no loss of their ability to command attention.

This movie poster has lots of bright blocks of colours, high contrast black and white shapes. But it looks classy, not gaudy.

A bold design has focus. It tries to do a few things, not everything.

Bold designs don’t necessarily use a gold font. There may not be a lot of words in such a design, but they can be set in typefaces that are exaggerated in some way. It could be narrow font, a cursive font, a wide font, an italic font, or an engraved font.


Bold designs use lots of space. There is no compulsion to fill every inch of the page with something.

Some designs mix elements styles. Here’s a movie I can’t wait to see:


And here is an alternate design:


The posters for The Shape of Water are both very subtle in their use of colour: the palette is limited, and the contrast is low. But it is also bold in how it focuses on a single, striking image.

Your poster should be bold, not gaudy. This means that you need to edit. You need to find, as much as possible, a strong image that can represent the major point you want to make. You need to give that image space around it to breathe.

Related posts

Critique: Bugs and beans

External links

The hand drawn journey of the ‘Shape of Water’ poster
Gaudy vs. Glam: Guide to Wearing costume Jewelry without looking tacky