09 August 2018

Critique and makeover: Bird timing

Today’s poster comes courtesy of contributor Carolyn Bauer. Her work has been featured before, and I’m pleased she liked the experience enough to come back for seconds! Click to enlarge this poster that was recently presented at the International Congress of Neuroendocrinology!


I like this. The illustration on the right is an approachable entry point. I also like the columns, one for each hypothesis.

What I wasn’t as crazy about was the title area. Two lines for the title and three for the authors was chewing up a lot of space than it needed. I changed the all capital names to regular letters, and dropped a lot of department affiliations and cities that I honestly think nobody cares about.

Some of my other revisions were my most common ones: to open up the margins, both around the border and between elements. In the revision below, there’s at least an inch around the edge.


I continued along with a few other changes. One of the things that bugged me was the birds are all facing to the right in the infographic... except one. So that bird got flipped! There were some other minor little movements to get the birds more in alignment in a column, too.

I also made a few little edits to the text to make the capitalization of the labels consistent. I tried a more condensed font and some light editing to make some of the labels fit the space a little better.


After those changes on the top and left, I still think the right side could use some improvement, but I’m not sure how. The “Hypothalamus / Pituitary / Gonads” labels essentially stick out into a margin between columns where nothing else is, and the look terribly intrusive. I’m not sure how to fix that. I might try rotating the words 90°.

Here are the changes in animated form:



Related posts

Critique and makeover: Migrating birds

You have options for numbers (PowerPoint users need not apply)

If you must  have a table on your poster, look into what options you have for your numbers. Many fonts have number variants.

Proportional numbers have skinny numbers (e.g., 1) and wide numbers (e.g., 0). Two numbers differ in width depending on what numbers they have. But tabular numbers are all the same width. So decimal places and dividers will line up if the numbers are lined up, as they are in a table.

If you have a table, it only makes sense to use tabular numbers if you can. They are explicitly designed to make your tables more readable! But tabular numbers will only do so if you follow a couple of other good practices:

  • Make your numbers right aligned.
  • Use the same number of decimal places in each column.

You may also find a couple of other options. numbers can be either lining numbers (all the same height) or oldstyle (with ascenders and descenders, like upper and lower-case letters). That means you have four options for many fonts.


In Microsoft Office, these options are sometimes buried. In Word, open Fonts and then look under the Advanced tab. In some Office components, number options are flat out unavailable. I’m looking at you, PowerPoint! The image in this post is a PowerPoint slide, but the numbers were made in a different graphics program (CorelDraw), exported to a WMF file, and then imported into PowerPoint.

To make things more confusing, which numbers a font shows by default are not standard. In the sample above, Corbel uses proportional numbers as its default, while Times New Roman uses tabular numbers as its default.

External links

Web typography: Designing tables to be read, not looked at.
Design better data tables

02 August 2018

Critique: Alfree

Andrzej Zielezinski‏ was proud of this poster, made entirely in the freeware package Inkscape. Impressive to me, because I struggled with Inkscape. Click to enlarge!


One of the most interesting aspects of the poster is the diagrams on the diagonal. As Ellen Lupton notes in the book How Posters Work, many great posters use diagonals to bring action and life into a design. Here’s how Andrzej did it:

I drew all 5 main elements (home page, 2 diagrams, ROC curves and navigation) in 2D. The image showing a guy on the mountain was also pasted in 2D. Then I skewed each element -63* horizontally and -27* vertically (Inkscape menu - Object - Transform - Skew). Shadows are just skewed and black rectangulars with some transparency (RGBA: 42424248) and blur set to 2.7.

An issue with that diagonal, though, is that because the figure reaches up into the upper right corner, the title can’t reach over into that space. So the title seems a little small to me. And when the title is 90% of your communication effort...

But this does a great job of making the images strong focal points that if the title was bigger, it would weaken the figure. It might be a case of swings and roundabouts: you might be able to make those two things different, but not necessarily better. Andrzej agreed:

You perfectly pointed the issue with the small title. I spent very long time trying different font sizes and locations of the title. At the beginning the title was larger and reached almost the right corner. But it seemed not right to me, so I decided to justify the text.

The bold heading for each callout works well, and the difference between the heading and paragraph under it is strong and clearly distinguishes the two. But the main text of the callouts use a very lightweight type and fades away slightly. I’m wondering if the weight on the callout text could be just one step heavier to make it a little more visible from a distance. But this is the sort of thing that I can only guess at. If the callout text was heavier, it might mess up the nice contrast between the heading and the text below. Again, Andrzej and I are on the same page:

I also had many trials with the weight of the text in abstract. I started with heavy font, but as you noticed, I was loosing the contrast between the text and the heading. Also, a less heavier font seemed somehow more elegant to me.

Another little detail I like is that this is one of the few times I’ve seen some text right justified, with the left edges ragged.

I like that the background isn’t perfectly white.

The QR codes and logo are not only placed unobtrusively in the bottom, but they are perfectly aligned and distributed. It helps that the funding agency logo is square, like the QR codes.