01 December 2022

A poster in the round

When I was stumbling around Figshare for non-English posters, I found this poster. It is in English, which i not what I was looking for, but is unlike any other poster I have ever seen.

The authors describe it as a “tondo,” and I had to look that up. It means a round piece of art. Which this poster is.


Whether the team somehow managed to print this as a circle, or printed it on a white rectangular background, I could not tell you. Regardless, it makes for a striking design that would stand out from all the other rectangles in a typical poster session.

The poster also benefits from a disciplined colour palette, and containing mostly data visualizations and not much text.

The Figshare page notes this won a second place price at the Digital Humanities im deutschsprachigen Raum (Digital Humanities in German-Speaking Countries) conference where it was presented.

External links

Orlova T, Faynberg V, Fischer F, Lashchuk S, Palchikov G, Pozdniakov I et al. 2018. Chekhov Tondo (Poster Contribution to DHd2018). figshare. Poster. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.6410909.v1 

24 November 2022

Link roundup for November 2022

This month’s contestant for the coolest poster ever:

That’s a legitimate contender for the title. Every icon making up the wolf is something wolves have eaten.

From Voyageurs Wolf Project, spotted by Roland Kays.

• • • • •

I have been reliably informed that some time ago, someone knit their conference poster.

And it won a prize.

And I am deeply disappointed that nobody told me this before now! And that I don’t have any pictures to share.

It’s an indictment of our collective amnesia about posters that even something so outside the box is not well known in the academic community. That was an epic achievement that should be shared!

• • • • •

I generally recommend sans serif type for posters, but am always keeping an eye open for research on typeface performance. A new paper by Vecino and colleagues finds no differences in reading speed or user preference between a sans serif typeface (Roboto)...

Roboto text sample reading, "Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow!"

and a serif typeface (Roboto Serif).

Roboto Serif text sample reading, "Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow!"

There are always many qualifiers with studies like this. For instance, despite what the title says, the researchers did not test “serif versus sans serif” generally. They tested one particular pair of typefaces.

Another important consideration is that the viewing conditions for a website, and presumably one that was mainly viewed on phones, are very different than those for a poster!

Vecino S, Mehtali J, de Andrés J, Gonzalez-Rodriguez M, Fernandez-Lanvin D. 2022. How does serif vs sans serif typeface impact the usability of e-commerce websites? PeerJ Computer Science 8: e1139. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj-cs.1139

• • • • •

It seems most conferences in 2022 in North America having decided not to require mask mandates, it’s important to ask what the air quality on poster session floor is. Friend of the blog Dr. Becca tweeted that the carbon dioxide level on the floor was almost 1,000 parts per million (ppm).

Carbon dioxide meter reading 997 on Society for Neuroscience poster session floor.

This inspired me to search Twitter for other similar posts, and found one from Rommie Amaro reporting a Gordon Conference poster session with very high carbon dioxide levels.

Little did I know that LI-COR has been in the habit of tracking carbon dioxide concentrations at poster sessions because they have the tech sitting right in their booth!

Searching their Twitter archive for “poster” and “carbon or co2” is fascinating. The lowest recorded carbon dioxide level was 615 ppm, and their highest was 1,300 ppm. It looks like somewhere between 800 and 1,000 is the average.

• • • • •

A short paper about creating on online poster sessions. The solution, according to this? Short videos.

• • • • •

And that’s it for this month! Thanks for dropping by!

23 November 2022

Can you give the same poster twice? And should you?

Don’t let the “Twitter is dying” talk stop you, there are still many valuable discussions on the bird site!

Luisa Turbino Torres asked if people thought it was okay to present the same poster twice at conferences.

People had... opinions. They ranged close to a full 180­° from, “Sure, totally okay” to “That’s misconduct!”

Turbino Torres summarized the responses in this thread. Here is an edited excerpt:


Short answer: it depends.

Social sciences use conferences to workshop ideas in different stages. Other fields present ready-to-publish research (that is often officially published in conference proceedings).

If you present something that is in progress, as long as there is progress (i.e., posters are similar, not identical. - ZF), it should be okay to present at another one. But if you present a final draft that just needs a few tweaks before publishing, it seems less productive.

It is not a bad idea to present (a poster) in more than one space because you are making your work known and disseminating it to different audiences. If you do interdisciplinary work, it seems okay and desirable to present to different audiences.

(But) maybe don’t present the exact same abstract at the exact same conference in a consecutive year. Some conferences ask you not have presented the same abstract previously (emphasis added). 

Some institutions and organizations might not fund the same abstract twice. But they might only check the title or actually check the abstract, it depends on the institution.

The best advice I got from this from Keith Schnakenberg: “You should keep presenting the same paper until the comments are almost all predictable and then you can submit the paper.”

TL;DR: Familiarize yourself with the unspoken rules of your discipline and department / institution (by asking a mentor or advisor, for example), but do not be too attached to them.

I discuss this in the Better Posters book. Chapter 25 begins with a short section on “Encore presentations” (pages 248-249). I wrote that reusing the exact same identical poster is not ideal. It’s good to be up front about it if you do.

Since we are coming up on the holiday season, this is a good time for me to remind you that the Better Posters book makes a great addition to your wishlist or your giving list!

17 November 2022

An interactive poster with sound and paper magic: Q & A with Nicola Harman

Nicola Harman recently tweeted a short video of a poster that invited the viewer to reach out and touch it.

This year my poster is interactive and has a voice recording of the poster walk through.” Take a look:

I reached out to Nicola for more information, and she graciously took the time to answer some questions (lightly edited).

• • • • •

Nicole Harman presenting her poster.Q: What has your conference and poster session experience before this meeting?

A: I’ve presented both oral and poster presentations at national and international conferences. I also won a poster prize back in 2008 just after finishing my PhD. Although I’ve been to a few conferences now I’m always revisiting how best to share information and this extends to my current research in clinical trials methodology too.

Q: The recorded tour was something I’ve never seen done before. What was the inspiration and how did you do it?

A: I think accessibility of information is really important. A typical poster relies on someone reading the information, but offering an audio description opened the poster content up to people who preferred to listen or found listening easier. It also meant that someone could listen even if I wasn’t at the poster at the time.

I kept the recording to just under 2 minutes assuming that’s about as long as someone has to spend with each poster. 

The kit I used was an mp3 chip from a UK company called Talking Products, it costs around £12, is really easy to use and can hold a 4 megabyte file (about 4 minutes of playback). You could also use an mp3 module with a microcontroller like an Arduino or Raspberry Pi if you wanted a longer recording.

Q: Can you tell me about the inspiration for the papercraft and how you created it?

Cover to "Paper Magic" by Harry Houdini
A: I really enjoy making stuff and paper is a great medium to work with. I’ve been reading Harry Houdini’s book Paper Magic and felt inspired by how simple paper folds and cuts could create a sense of wonder and excitement. I thought it would be interesting to see how this might work on a poster and what sorts of paper methods I could use. I essentially wanted things that created excitement, made things easier to read, and were a little bit magic.

I used three different techniques on the poster:

The Introduction section had a circular reveal. I hoped that this would have the exciting magic element and also make things easier to read as I could maintain a good font size by essentially doubling the space available.

The Methods section used a Turkish map fold to share a categorization system. Again, this method meant that I could have extra space and make the table much larger.

The Results section used an acetate reveal (I’m not sure if that’s actually what it’s called!). Essentially, the results table was layered so that the graph was empty until you pulled it up to reveal the content. I think this was mostly magic!

I designed the poster to scale in Adobe Illustrator, printed components using a Canon ip8750 that could print at A3, cut some elements using a Silhouette portrait and then printed the main poster at A0 using the university printing services.

Everything was mounted on a foam core board so that I could embed the speaker and mp3 chip together with some magnets that helped keep the Turkish map table open and hold up the Results tab.

Q: Interactive features could fray or fail with repeated use. The video makes it seem that the “voice tour” button was a bit hard to press because the board wobbled. How long did the poster session run for, and how well did the poster hold up?

A: The poster was available to view over two and a half days. It was in the same room as the coffee breaks so typically had the most footfall then. I was worried about the paper elements too, so tested a few out before finalizing the design. 

One technique that I loved was a woven paper reveal but that wasn’t going to hold up over the conference, so I put it to one side. 

Overall the poster held up really well, the circular reveal was the bit that needed a little bit of repair afterwards but if constructed a little differently this shouldn’t be a problem. The other two elements were fine and didn’t need any repair afterwards.

The battery pack did mean that the poster wasn’t flush to the board so I’d probably re-think its positioning next time. There was also a tiny delay in the audio file starting after pressing the button which is why my colleague pressed it again, the third time was to switch it off.

Q. I tried to see the survey, but it was closed. What was on the survey?

A: I’m a trials methodologist so I was keen to evaluate the methods used in the poster. I used a QR code to link to an online survey that had twelve short questions with a five point Likert scale response. The questions were grouped into two main categories:

Questions about the poster design: For example, did the interactive elements help to highlight information? Did you enjoy engaging with the elements? Did the interactive components motivate you to talk to colleagues about the poster?

Questions about the content: Was the content easy to understand? Did it flow well? Did the interactive elements help you to remember the content/key messages?

Q: How many people clicked on the QR code and did the survey?

A: There were fifteen responses to the QR code survey which was quite a low response rate taking into account the conference size and the number of people that I spoke to. It was still valuable information though and the response rate has also given me a few things to think about in terms of methods to collect feedback in this sort of busy environment, especially when competing with coffee, pastries and chatting to friends!

Vistors to Nicole Harman's COSMID conference poster.
Q: What was the audience reaction like on the poster session floor?

A: The audience reaction was great, lots of people engaged with the poster and then told their colleagues about it so they could try it out too. It created a really fun atmosphere. Reflecting on it personally I engaged with more people than ever at a poster session/conference. It helped to establish a two way dialogue with others, including those who’s research area was very different to my own, so was a great way to share my research, learn about others research and make new connections.

Q: Your tweet got thousands of likes and the video in it was viewed tens of thousands of times. Did you expect that much of a reaction? Was that online response been similar to the face-to-face response?

A: I did not expect that reaction to the tweet. If I had known I might have spent a little more time on the video! It was fantastic to get such a positive reaction both online and face-to-face and I feel inspired to take this further and think about academic applications beyond poster presentations. I’m currently working on a zine about it to summarize what I did but also share some more inspiration and resources. 

• • • • • 

Thanks again to Nicola for sharing your experience and for daring to be different!

Book cover from here

External links

Turkish map fold with a square sheet of paper

Houdini’s Paper Magic summary 

10 November 2022

Wanted: Posters not in English

I’ve been interested in seeing (and showing) posters in languages other than English for a while. No contributions so far. Jay Patel suggested I search Figshare. There, I stumbled upon this poster in Russian by Pozhvanov and colleagues:

Conference poster in Russian

And a pretty interesting one in graphic design terms, too. Do I know what it’s about? From the graphics, maybe space agriculture?

Google Translate says the title is, “Organization of the actin cytoskeleton in the root of Arabidopsis in microgravity simulation.” Okay, so the visuals were reasonably helpful!

But I would love to show many more posters in languages besides English! If you know of one or have made one, please let me know. Email me at BetterPosters@gmail.com.

External links

Pozhvanov G, Sharova E, Medvedev S. 2019. Организация актинового цитоскелета в корне арабидопсиса при моделировании микрогравитации. figshare. Poster. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.11028815.v2

27 October 2022

Link roundup for October 2022

A quick and animated guide to typography. Hat tip to Biochem Belle.

• • • • •

And that’s it for this month!

08 September 2022

Box plot makeover

This is a figure in a journal.

Box plot with four boxes, each a different colour. X axis categories are "Unwashed control, washed control, unwashed experimental, washed experimental."

This is simple data that is much harder to interpret than it needs to be.

At a glance, it looks like it’s showing one variable with four groups. But it isn’t. To get that, you have to read each of the four labels on the horizontal axis very carefully.

Then you realize that the graph is showing two variables. It’s a 2⨉2 experimental design. One variable is environment and one variable is washing.

To make the relevant comparisons, I have to keep checking the axis label, because there is no other clue as to which box pairs with any box.

Significant differences are shown by three lines with asterisks above them. But the differences can be summarized in one statement: “Third from the left is higher than all the others.”

Here’s a quick and dirty graph makeover. As is so often the case, problems are solved by making things simpler.

Box plot with 4 groups. X axis: "Control" under two left boxes, "experimental" under two right boxes. Blue boxes labeled unwashed, purple boxes labeled washed. All boxes have an "a" above them except the third from the left.

First, I reduced the axis labels from four to two, one for each “environment.” Fewer labels also means larger labels, both of which make the axis easier to read. It more clearly shows what the adjacent boxes are comparing.

Second, I reduced the number of colours from four to two, one for each “wash” condition. This more clearly shows which non-adjacent boxes should be compared. (The colour and legend could be better. Remember, this is a quick makeover.)

Third, I swapped the lines for letters. The rule is, “groups with the same letter don’t differ.” This does lose a little information. The original has some comparisons with three asterisks, some with two, which usually indicates different p values. But that level of detail can be put in the text if it’s that important. It usually is not.

(Aside: The graphing program OriginLab has “paired comparisons” as a built in option.)

The design principles at play in this makeover? 

First, be cautious of templates. The original graph looks like someone just used the default settings in a graphing program. (R studio, maybe ggplot2?) 

Second, simplify. 

Third, make related things similar. Usually, I say, “Keep related things together”, referring to similar positions in space. That is in play here with the axis labels. But related things are also shown by other similarities: colour, shape, and so on.

External links

Original Twitter thread