15 August 2019

Critique: Nucleus versus cytoplasm

Today’s contributions (we have two!) come to us courtesy of Colin Cheng. Click to enlarge!


I always like to see how people refine their presentation from one version of a poster to the next. Colin says of the first poster, above:

This was for a cross-faculty PhD student seminar within my school, and is meant to propose my long-term project for the next few years. I wanted to give a more general introduction for the non-virologists, so my intro was both ‘verbal’ and ‘pictorial’.

Because my project is about nuclear versus cytoplasmic NS5, I thought the yin and yang analogy was cool.

I like the use of the yin / yang symbol. I might have maybe tried to push it even further. If you're going to run with that, run all the way. I might have placed the inside "dots" closer to their traditional position in the curve -- they look too close to the edge. And I might have considered centering the text exactly on the curve dividing line.


Yes, the readability drops a little because of the letters changing colour. But I think with the right text size and weight, this would not be a huge drop. It makes the graphic element more conspicuous and deliberate. You never want your design choices to look accidental or timid.

Here’s round two of this topic:


After looking at his first poster, Colin made changes:

I realised it didn’t make sense to detach the words from the diagram (keep related things together…); indeed, it was redundant to even have most of the words. So I was happy dispensing the verbal intro for the second poster.

I think that was a good choice, and poster 2 is stronger for it.

The yin and yang symbol, while cool, was reincarnated in another form:

I realised after presenting to a few people that it was more helpful to have a cartoon to remind people where the various NS5s are localised. Having placed it in the top right corner, I’m still not sure that people are aware of it enough to refer to it as they go through the data below.

My solution would be to flip the positions of the diagram and logo. Put the diagram on the left, where it gets more attention. Upper left is where we look first.

Colin asked me about using the photo of contributors in the second poster. My question is: is there value in that photo for the viewer? People do like to look at faces, and it’s easier to look at a picture than read words. So that helps, though the difference is not huge.

Colin is a reader of the blog and read some of my posts on boxes. Colin wrote that boxes helped him to organise ideas, which is great. But the question I asked before remains: even if the boxes help you, do they help the reader? Colin wasn’t convinced boxes hurt the reader’s experience, and here, I agree.

The boxes here are done fairly well. I like “signposting” the reading order with the numbers in orange circle. (And it’s not escaped notice that the poster is making nice use of blue and orange as complementary colours.)

In box 2, I would remove the blue lines around the orange boxes entirely. The contrast between the orange and white is so great the box will still clearly read as a box.

For the major numbered boxes, I would keep the blue lines, but make them thinner – perhaps shrinking them almost to hairline width. The contrast between white and the background is not as big as the orange and white, so having a line help make box be visible, but it doesn't need much help.

I like the orange line under the title bar, but wish there was a little more room between it and the top of boxes 1 and 2. I wish the vertical space between the boxes was about the width of the horizontal space between them.

While the main boxes are well aligned, I would like to see more alignment and organization within those boxes. For example, the fine print word “Unpublished” in box 4 seems to align with bullets above it. It would be better aligned with the words above it. In box 3, “Unpublished” doesn’t align with anything else in the box.

Colin wrote:

I wish I could encapsulate my project in a single photo the way lobsters or anther flowers do.

These posters come closer than many! The cell illustrations here are very good. That’s the kind of visual that you want to include when possible.

08 August 2019

Poster vandalism

In part of a discussion about authorship and ownership of projects, Keira Lucas mentioned this anecdote:

I had a previous disgruntled employee crumble up one of my biologist’s poster at a conference because he felt entitled to the data.

Coincidentally enough, this was one day after I heard a story about a presenter who had a poster that was stolen during the conference.

I was gobsmacked. Stealing a poster? Why? I mean, a conference poster isn’t exactly a Monet.

And the morals of the story are:

Conference organizers should have some sort of security plan in case people behave badly.

Conference organizers should have some plan to help people recover from disasters. This can be as simple as asking if there is a large format printer at the conference site or nearby.

Third, conference presenters should have a digital version of their poster that is accessible to them. This might be on a flash drive, on a tablet, laptop, emailing a copy to themselves, a cloud storage service like OneDrive or Dropbox, and many other ideas.

Update, 19 August 2019: A poster was defaced at the 2019 Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. A PDF of the report provides some details. I’ve removed the name of the faculty member from this post because it’s irrelevant to the point.

There were rumors... that [a faculty member] had bullied a postdoc (originally reported as a student) into changing his poster. After reviewing the discussion with the poster presenter and a witness, this was determined to not be the case. In fact, the presenter was upset to find out that these false rumors had begun and has sought to bring the facts to the Ombud. The postdoc’s poster was indeed later defaced by others, but [the faculty member] had nothing to do with this incident, and was not even present when it happened.

While this statement is intended to “clear the air”, it could be improved. There is no way to know from the PDF which meeting this is about (by which I mean the year), or when the PDF was created. So someone who stumbles across it would have no way of knowing if this was last week or years ago.

Hat tip to David Shiffman.

Related posts

01 August 2019

Critique: Beach plastics

I promised this as the end of May, and I finally delivered! Today’s poster comes to us via Fabian Roger on Twitter. Fabian called this poster by Therese Karlsson “absolutely brilliant.” Click to enlarge!


This was presented at the 2019 European meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). Therese said, “Never had as much fun making a poster as this one!”

Comic-inspired posters get good responses from viewers. I think this is because they are:

  • Different. It is difficult to break out of the mold with posters. They usually have the same kind of text structure (following the IMRAD format of journals) and standard presentations of data. Comics break that monotony.
  • Visual. Many posters are, in their heart of hearts, text-based documents. They may be cut back to a minimum, but I think most posters are verbal instead of pictoral. Comics put images first, and text second.
  • Short. Because more of the poster is used for pictures, you have to cut back on the words, and it becomes a more attractive thing to stand and scan for a few moments.