26 March 2020

Link roundup for March, 2020

The big news about poster sessions this month is that... there are not going to be very many of them any time soon.

Conference after conference has been cancelled in response to the threat of COVID-19. Even those that are still a few months away have pulled the plug rather than face the uncertainty.

So far, some of the largest meetings in fall, and some conferences in summer, are still pressing forward, but this could be “the year without a conference” worldwide.

• • • • •

So what else is there to do but make infographics about social distancing?

Two people separated by the length of a lion

From Dani Rabiotti.

Two people separated by the length of a tapir

From Niall McCann.

Two people separated by the length of a turkey vulture

From Stefany.


From Alena Ebeling-Schuld. Hat tip to Gaius Augustus.


From Milton Tan.


From aedecost. Hat tip to Fran Officialdegui.

Ikea instructions for staying home. Door closed: yes. Door open: no.


From Ikea Israel. Hat tip to Amy Spiro and Prachee Avasthi.
• • • • •

Chloe Christenson shows sarcastic fringehead papercraft that could very easily be adapted to a poster!

Because Twitter sucks at letting you download video, you’ll either have to view the tweet or settle for these screen grabs:

Pencil sketch of sarcastic fringehead with mouth closed

Pencil sketch of sarcastic fringehead with mouth closed

Hat tip to Echo Rivera, who rightly points out this sort of thing could be incorporated onto posters a lot more often.

• • • • •

The genome engineering company Sythego has short post on how to make an effective scientific poster. And at least in late January, they were offering a chance to pick up a free poster tube!

Green transluscent poster tube with Synthego logo

This is one of the cooler and more useful bits of conference swag I’ve seen in a while! Hat tip to Meenakshi Prabhune.

• • • • •

This image of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a wonderful visualization of the invisible threat to us.


Anna-Maria Meister asked a great question about how that visual was made.

(A)nyone know the story behind the #covid19 representation? Especially the one with the red spikes? It’s a thing of beauty, and I wonder what the aesthetic choices behind it are, and why and how they translate between cultures.

Robin Wolfe Scheffler found an article with the creators of the illustration, Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins. Robin pulled this great quote:

“We used color and contrast to help distinguish the structures, provide emphasis and help enhance emotional response in order to demonstrate the gravity of the virus and the situation.

It’s great to have these kind of thoughtful individuals making these images.

• • • • •

Rosamund Pike plays Marie Curie in a new biopic, Radioactive.


The Nature podcast has an interview with her that is quite interesting, and touches on the importance and difficulty of making science visual. At 3:30 in the interview, Lizzy Gibney asks why Pike learned about the science for the role.

Well, I knew I couldn’t play Marie Curie unless I had some inkling of what was going on in her brain, outside of the lines of the script. You know, science isn't necessarily, as probably your listeners know, the most visually seductive subject for a film – as are many very interesting pursuits. Thinking is one of the hardest things to convey cinematically. It’s not like there’s a huge lot of drama in the lead-up to their discoveries. There’s drama afterwards, but the actual having of an idea, having of a position, all the things you try before you hit on the right solution, all of that is not essentially cinematic. So we have to create beauty out of it, and interest.

I have to know the practical application of how they might have measured, how they might have distilled, evaporated, done any of the procedures they did in the journey to isolating these elements. As well as one the spectrometer. Exactly what those readings showed, and how, when you saw the little graph, that a certain piece of uranium ore had a higher quantity of this unknown element. I had to be able to look at these readings with knowledge and accuracy, because you know, the film camera is in your eye. They're close ups. They're seeing the activity of your brain. I had to be able to look like my brain was processing – and it’s more exciting if your brain is processing accurate information. It's not just thinking about what you’re going to have for breakfast. It's obviously more enticing and exciting.

(Emphasis added.)

12 March 2020

Critique: Dirty, dirty flies

Today’s contribution comes from Gowri Rajaratnam and was presented at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting back in January. Click to enlarge!


I saw this browsing the session, liked it, and reached out to Gowri. Gowri had this to say (lightly edited):

I created this poster using a free account in Canva. It was actually inspired by the Mike Morrison better poster template. I was trying to modify my usual wordy, traditional-format poster design into something that was more appealing. Most of the time, when I attend poster sessions, I’m put off by posters with chunks of text in tiny fonts because it looks like its going to take me more time and effort to infer the key points of the poster.

I tried to do the opposite by including only the bare bones of the research project. I used the QR code to include videos and more details on the study (methods, results, etcetera) so that anyone who couldn’t talk to me at the poster session would still be able to get the whole picture.

I think it worked in catching people’s eyes. I got a few compliments on the sexy title and design.

The main graphic of the flies is an excellent entry point, showing what the poster is about instantly. And the light touch on text is always appreciated. It’s those two things that made me stop and look at the poster instead of passing it by.

The type follows the good idea of using two typefaces: one for title and headings, and one for main text. The elaborate ampersand give the title a particularly nice little flourish.

While I would prefer sentences instead of bullet points, these bulleted lists at least have consistent punctuation and spacing.

The attention to alignment is my biggest issue.

Each section has a hard, dark shadow which draws attention to the misaligned edges. The only reason not to have the two bottom sections aligned is because of the superfluous logo. Here’s a revision with the logo removed and the “Take-away” section aligned to those on either side:


The scattered placement of the data in the results is bothering me, too.


Here’s a quick revision of that:


Not perfect by any means, but I think it demonstrates a direction to head towards to clean it up. I want to put the species name above the images instead of below them, too.

I’m not sure the icons in the corner of each section are in tune with the aesthetic of the rest of the poster. They’re cartoonish, when the rest of the poster is not. I’m not sure how a brain in a jar is supposed to suggest “Background.” I’m also a little perturbed that all of the icons are in the same corner – upper right – except one.

Still, the overall effect is strong enough that it does the main thing a poster has to do: stop a viewer from walking on to the next one!

05 March 2020

Eleven years on


March is anniversary month! The Better Posters blog has been running, improbably and incredibly, for eleven years now!

To celebrate, this project is expanding again. Better Posters is now on Instagram if that’s your thing, and will be following the #conferenceposter and #academicposter hashtags there.

This is also a good time to announce I’ll also be curating the IAmSciComm Twitter account this month! I will be talking poster design (and maybe a few other things) from 16-21 March 2020!

An update on the book that I announced last year. The manuscript was delivered at the end of October. I just finished copyediting and some revisions near the end of February. I’ve even seen a couple of draft cover designs. It’s going to happen!

Thank you for your support! Readers – that’s you! – have helped make this blog into the resource it is. That’s you.


Thank you for recommending this blog to others, submitting posters for critique, and just reading a good ol’ fashioned blog. Your continued generosity means the world to me.

External links

BetterPosters on Instagram

Photo by Roberto La Forgia on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.