28 June 2018

Link roundup for July, 2018

Starting off this month with a “Done in one” advice article on poster design by Tullio Rossi. I disagree with a few very minor points (bullet points are not your friend), but overall very good!


Hat tip to Anna Clemens.

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A five tweet thread from Tolpa Studies from the recent Twitter conference, #BTCon18, about visual literacy.

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This guide on making graphs more readable is very good. One of the key things in this graph makeover and why it works is the designer listened to what the scientists said about it. They used the expertise to defined the graph’s “talking points”, so to speak.


Hat tip to Garr Reynolds.

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I recommend against tables on posters almost always. But if you must have a table, make it a nice table. This is a nice animated makeover of a table by Joey Cherderchuk from Dark HOrse Analytics.


Hat tip to Catherine Crompton

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Picture in Portal is a course for making scientific graphics. Hat tip to B. Haas.

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Lauren Oldach invites us to look and contribute lab logos in this Twitter thread.

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Julia Jones liked this poster:


I like the simplicity, but I am not a fan of how I have to read the poster in a reverse “S” pattern.

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Richard McElreath shared this lo-fi poster, saying:

In a world of look-alike LaTeX conference posters, the hand-written manifesto gets my eyes every time.


Hat tip to Jarrett Byrnes.

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Tom Patterson describes a situation where text is preferable to graphics.

My boss recently asked me to design a symbol for Clothing Optional Beach, a challenge that I gleefully accepted. But I couldn’t come up with a clear and tasteful solution. In this case, conveying the message with text worked best. It also kept me out of trouble.

Hat tip to NeuroPolarBear.

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A Twitter thread about posters on screens versus posters on paper, particularly with regards to the issue of waste. Andrew Pruszynski calls screens:

Massive environmental burden for effectively no gain.

The thread is lively. Hat tip to Justin Kiggins.

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Another poster that appeared in my Twitter timeline, by Adam Stone. It’s an excellent pastiche of a favourite science web comic. Click to enlarge!


Hat tip to Lorna Quandt.

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You normally have to submit an abstract when you register for a poster. Hilda Bastian has tip for how to write a good abstract.

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The only good way to do 3D charts.


Hat tip to Hadley Wickham.

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How to make a colour palette in R. Hat tip to Flo Débarre and Meghan Duffy.

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I made one.


21 June 2018

Critique: Sciencing on eggshells

A colleague of mine was at the 9th Bird Working Group Meeting, The archaeology of human-bird interactions. He snapped a pic of a poster by Beatrice Demarchi which he thought would interest me. It did. I contacted Bea... who thought I was punking her.

I almost binned the message thinking that it was a joke then I figured that it must have been real as not many people know about the Bird Working Group! :)

She was nice enough to send along a better version of the poster. Click to enlarge!


I love the clarity and simplicity of vision here. I love how text and visuals, instead of being two separate elements, are fused into one element. The words are the picture.

I was impressed, because I had tried to design something similar – text forming the outline of a shape – for a t-shirt. I was not able to make the text fit the shape anywhere near as well as Bea did. She explained how she did it (lightly edited):

I popped an image of the bird into Adobe Illustrator, and then text that sort of stopped at the boundaries of the image. I then deleted the image below and voila! It took me 30-40 minutes, plus a bit of tinkering, which is precisely why I resorted to this type of presentation. I had no time!

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and constraints are a friend to creativity.
 I can see how the horizontal lines of text would be easy to fit the outline. The last curving line forming the auk’s chest might have been a little more challenging if you were starting from scratch. It would probably be quick if you fit text to paths all the time.

I suppose if I am being a typographic and editorial purist, I might grumble that the text could be hyphenated. But the lines are so short, and the outline so unusual, and not surrounded by any other nearby text blocks, that I can live without hyphens. Just this once.

External links

9th Bird Working Group Meeting, The archaeology of human-bird interactions.

14 June 2018

Critique: Future work

Today’s poster is contributed by Bayo Adeniji. Click to enlarge!


Bayo wrote (lightly edited):

Can you spot the influence of the Better Posters blog in the poster?

I hoped to create a poster that was uncluttered and which had a clear message devoid of management theory jargon. My PhD is multi-disciplinary, and I’m learning to straddle the divide so I don’t alienate either fields. My worry though, is the issue of oversimplification.

I replied:

I think “oversimplification” is a worry too many people have. It's the kind of thing that makes undergraduates reach for a thesaurus when writing essays, n the mistaken belief longer, rarer words make them sound smarter. They are judged less intelligent by readers when they do that. Simple does not mean stupid.

While Bayo was nice enough to say this blog influenced the poster, I never would have made a poster that looks like this. It’s very much Bayo’s own creation. I’ve talked before about using circles to break up the monotony of rectangles, and using a few intense colours to make a bold aesthetic. There is no obsession filling of every inch of the poster.

I would think about how to change the width of the “Background” text. The first five lines that make up the bulk of the text have an average of 22.8 words in them, which is about double what typesetters usually aim for.

So if it’s twice as wide as what you would normally read, there is one thing to try: chop it into two pieces.

Because you need a margin between the two columns, you will either have to use up a little more vertical space, or make the point size slightly smaller.

And if I had the ability, I would try to make the text in the circles circular to avoid that “bubble pop” feeling.

Bayo got back to me about the response.

The feedback about the poster was also quite interesting. The designers seemed to like it, and a few even took pictures. But the manufacturing engineers, not so much. My second supervisor, who is from an engineering department, said my non-use of pictures, bold colours and technically worded title is the reason (ha!). One good thing though, is that the university’s Deputy-Vice Chancellor of Research was there, and he loved it!

As the saying goes, you can please all of the people some of the time, and please some of the people all of the time, but you can't please all the people all the time!

Related posts

Coming round the corner

08 June 2018

Critique: Hansard

Asad Sayeed nominated this poster for a design award. You really need to click to enlarge this one to appreciate it:


You can see it in pieces in first author Gavin Abercrombie’s Twitter feed.

“Lessons from comics” is something of a recurring theme on this blog. And I’ve featured posters that used the vocabulary of comics before, but this might be one of the best examples I’ve seen.

The poster makes the “row by row” reading order clear because the panel heights are all identical, so there is a straight horizontal gutter marking out each row. The panel widths vary, so there is no white gutter running down the page that suggests “columns” to your eyes.

The one area where I would try a few things differently is the title. I’d use one typeface for the title instead of two. The two styles are just similar enough that the combination looks like it could be a mistake instead of a choice. I’d also like to see the looser, freehand style used through the rest of the poster reflected in the title, too. The generic Arial-style type used for the “‘Aye’ or ‘No’?” line looks uncomfortable and out of place with everything else on the poster. I think the same font is used for the author credit, but that is less noticeable and bothersome because it is so small.

I reached out to Gavin about the making of the poster. He wrote (lightly edited):

This was the third poster I have made. For the previous two, I had focused on trying to use as few words as possible on the page (bearing in mind that language and text are the object of my research).

This time, I had the idea that comics might be a great medium for scientific posters. Comics comprise image driven communication of ideas with a fairly limited use of text to help tell the story, and they also naturally focus on the narrative – which is generally a good move for science communication.

I used mainly Adobe Illustrator and a little Photoshop. Here’s the process I used:

  1. I made a list of comic cells based on the key points I wanted to make, and wrote the text content for each cell.
  2. I sketched out rough storyboard.
  3. I laid out titles and story cells in Illustrator.
  4. I drew images in Illustrator, mainly using the shape, line, pen and fill tools. The only exception is the second cell image, which is a photo altered in Adobe Photoshop using the color halftone filter.
  5. I created speech bubbles and narration boxes, and added text using fonts I found on Google Fonts.

All in all, it was quite a lot of work, but this is a three-year PhD project, so I anticipate being able to reuse quite a lot of this for future presentations.

Hat tip to Mary Ellen Foster.

External links

Google Fonts FAQ (How to download fonts is not obvious)

Related posts

Learning from Superman
Scott McCloud’s “Big triangle” and poster design
Critique: Protein biosynthesis
Don’t hold my handCritique and makeover: Captain Canuck