09 April 2020

Critique: The world belongs to squirrels now

I’m always fascinated to see show presentations of a project change. Today we have two posters from Sarah Westrick. Click to enlarge! This is the first one, chronologically, from the 2019 Animal Behavior Society meeting.

This one was from the 2020 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting.

Sarah wrote:

Lately, I’ve been trying poster designs that are different from my usual grid-like structure. For the Animal Behavior Society, I was able to focus specifically on one study which made it a lot easier to fit everything in that I wanted to. For SICB, I was advised to include more of the work we’ve done, so it was a challenge to fit the various studies together and still be concise.

The lack of grid structure generally works on both posters, and it works best when it’s clear that it’s a deliberate choice. The bottom text box in the Animal Behavior Society (“Offspring from...”) is a good example, because the text box is solidly far past the edge of the underlying box for the graph.

The text box above it (“Highly attentive moms...”) is less successful because the overlap is so much smaller. It’s enough to convince you it was deliberately instead of incidentally placed there, but just barely. I might have expanded the white box the graphs are sitting in to the left, so that the text box has more overlap, imitating the box below.

The “hero” shot of the squirrel by Erin Siracusa in both posters adds visual appeal. In fact, it’s because of these that I first saw Sarah’s work.

The drawback with edge to edge photographs is that it can be difficult to keep the text readable.

In the first poster for Animal Behavior Society, the white text on a dark background used for the title and the two main boxes fares much better than the dark text. In one way, that is good, because the two main conclusions “pop” compared to the rest. It highlights the things you want people to remember!

The second poster for Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, the results on the right are not quite as successful as standing out as in the previous poster. It’s partly a matter of text size. The result summaries are physically smaller on the page.

But the lack of text “pop” is not helped by the complexity of the box, either.

The text boxes used for the main results have four overlapping layers:

  1. The text in foreground.
  2. The semi-transparent text box under the text.
  3. The large number “1” under the text box.
  4. The photo in the background.

Particularly around the word “predicted” in the excerpt above, your eye has to make sense of all four of those layers right next to each other. While I like the “wayfinding” provided by the big numerals, there might be some other ways of accomplishing that. Even moving the numbers out from the text boxes might help.

I’m not sure that centering all the text has any particular advantage. I would suggest left aligning most of it.

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