24 June 2022

Better Posters email newsletter

I hear old email newsletters are the new hot thing again. If, like nobody else, you don’t get enough emails and would like even more email, you can subscribe to Better Posters on Substack. There s no exclusive content planned for the newsletter. The newsletter is just a way for people to read the blog if they find remembering to visit the blog too annoying.

No subscription charged, in keeping with the ethos that the ideas are free.

23 June 2022

The TikTok test for poster talks

TikTok logo
Try making a TikTok video of yourself presenting your poster. It doesn’t matter if the poster isn’t done yet. This is purely a tool for you, so it’s okay.

TikTok, the world’s most popular website, now lets people upload videos up to ten minutes long.

Most people want to spend about five minutes at a poster.

So if you couldn’t walk through your poster in one TikTok video, you’re talking too much. Way too much. You’ve either:

  1. Got too much stuff (likely) or,
  2. Not rehearsed your presentation of the poster enough.

16 June 2022

Eye tracking

Webpage selling shoes with superimposed heatmap showing time spent looking at parts of the image
Eye tracking is a research tool that has not, as far as I know, been applied to conference posters yet.

In the past, this required some specialized, expensive equipment like custom glasses. But as with so many things, the increased access to laptop computers and high resolution digital cameras means that this is now within reach of many more people.

This blog post from a company that produces eye tracking software (iMotion) compiles and assesses ten free eye tracking tools. Unsurprisingly, it points out that the free stuff is more limited than the commercial stuff. Some of the links are already rotted out, but this is not a bad place to start.

Some other eye tracking options that only require webcams include:

Eye tracking might provide a way for you to do a quick internal test of whether people are looking at what you think they are looking at on your poster.

And I’m sure there are some eye tracking research waiting to be done on conference posters. 

External links

10 free eye tracking software programs [Pros and Cons]

Eye tracking and usability: How does it work?

09 June 2022

Hung punctuation

Below is a recent cover of The Lancet.

Lancet cover that reads, "if the US Supreme Court confirms its draft decision, women will die. The Justices who vote to strike down Roe will not succeed in ending abortion, they will only succeed in ending safe abortion. Alito and his supporters will have women's blood on their hands."

The Lancet does a pull quote (an excerpt from an article inside) on every cover. I just wanted to draw your attention to a little detail that shows this is done by pros.

The opening quotation mark. Look at how it’s placed compared to the text below it. It pokes out a bit compared to the lines below.

Text with line showing the placement of the opening quote to the left of the text.

This is “hung punctuation.” The idea is that is enhances the sense of alignment and prevents unwanted spacing at the start of a line. This is one of those little details that professionals do, but that isn’t built into apps like Microsoft Office.

Here’s part of the quote done in PowerPoint so you can see where the opening quotation mark sits.

Text block reading, "“If the Supreme Court confirms itsdraft decision, women will die. TheJustices who vote to strike down Roewill not succeed in ending abortion," with the opening quote in alignment with other letters below it rather than the first letter of the quote.

While it’s probably not all that critical for body text, it is a nice little thing to keep in mind if you are ever using a pull quote.

External links

Type talk: To hang or not to hang...

06 June 2022

Listen to the ABT TIme podcast

ABT Time podcast. The world never has to be boring.
The most recent podcast interview to cover the Better Posters book is on the ABT Time podcast, episode 39, hosted by Randy Olson.

“ABT” in ABT Time is the abbreviation for “And, but, therefore” – the key words for making a concise narrative.

The ABT structure features prominently in Better Posters because it is an powerful tool for encapsulating a project in a sentence. It’s often hard at the start of a project to know what the most important thing will be, and you have a lot of narrative chaff at first. An ABT sentence just cuts away the chaff.

As with some of the other podcasts, this one is more wide ranging than just posters and just narrative. I’ve crossed paths with Randy a few times, so we got to have a little fun in the conversation.

The ABT Time podcast should be available wherever you get your podcasts (Apple, Spotify, YouTube, etc.).

External Links

ABT Time #39 on ABT Agenda

02 June 2022

“Rage quit” and poster designs

In an upcoming interview for the Scholarly Communications podcast, I was reminded of an argument I made in the Better Posters book about relevance.

What someone thinks is “relevant” to them isn’t fixed, but varies.

"Rage quit" over image of person throwing game controller at screen.

But I didn’t have an example in the book, so here’s a concrete example of this principle. It’s a well known phenomenon among video game players: the rage quit.

When someone starts playing a video game, you have to think that they are pretty invested in that process. Games are expensive, complex, and take a long time to complete. Players want to work through the game.

Some people try a game, decide quickly that this isn’t for them, and stop.

But many players invest a lot of time playing the game. Then, they reach a point where the game suddenly gets harder. A lot harder.

Players know that games are not supposed to be easy. Part of the fun is overcoming challenges and obstacles. But there is a big difference between feeling, “This is hard” and “This is impossible.”

When players feel it is impossible to continue in the game, they’ll quit. And this is rarely a detached, emotional decision of, “I have reached my peak skill level, therefore it is pointless to continue.” No, that decision comes after long hours of frustration, trying to do the same thing repeatedly and failing. 

So when people quit, they don’t go quietly. They are full on mad.

That’s a rage quit. (There are compilations of these moments on YouTube if you have a few minutes to kill watching other people be mad. Which can be strangely satisfying to watch.)

Even someone who is deeply motivated to do something like understand the scientific or academic content of your poster, will only take so much frustration. Everyone has a limit.

So making your poster easier for a reader, faster to grasp, more accessible, is going to help more viewers find your work relevant to them.

P.S.—If you have never completed a big adventure video game that takes dozens of hours... let me tell you, you’re missing out. It’s a very satisfying feeling of achievement.

26 May 2022

Link round-up for May 2022

Lots of great posters shown in winners of the 12th International Meeting on Visualizing Biological Data. Special congratulations to Mol Mir for the Best Scientific Poster award with this:

Poster titled, "Using illustration as a primer for interpreting cellular EM data"

Excellent use of colour and illustration here!

 • • • • •

Occlusion Grotesque is a typeface designed by a tree.

Occlusion Grotesque sample reading, "designed by a tree"

Plant biologists, I think you might need this for your next poster! Maybe not for the main text, because it might lack a few specialty characters, but for headings or a title? So. Perfect.

Fascinating project from Bjørn Karmann all round. Check out the whole post.

• • • • •

Sanjay Manohar shows that 3-D graphs shown as flat, static illustrations have an ambiguity problem:

3-D graphs are ambiguous without a projection. Each point has a whole ine of possible 3-D locations.

 Another solution besides drop lines is to present the graph as a stereo image.

• • • • •

Because of the attack on Ukraine, some popular typefaces –like Times New Roman – have been blocked in Russia. Hat tip to Peter Singer.

• • • • •

Tristan Long makes probably the nicest looking department seminar posters you’ve ever seen. They’re so nice, they got turned into a colouring book.

Seminar announcement featuring dragonfly in art nouveau style.

 Hat tip to Ryan Gregory.

• • • • •

Dawn DiPeri has an open access – which is to say, free – book on graphic design, aimed at instructors. It’s titled Graphic Design for Course Creators.

Cover for "Graphic Design for Course Creators"

I learned about this book on the Lecture Breakers podcast (episode 122, the one right after mine).

• • • • •

A new-to-me suggestion to make small groups discussions inviting to others.

The Pac-Man Rule

The rule is:

When standing as a group of people, always leave room for 1 person to join your group.

More memorably, stand like Pac-Man!

Pac-Man

From Eric Holscher, with a hat tip to Leonardo Collado-Torres.

• • • • •

Some neck craning seems to be required to read the poster spotted in the background of a conference snapshot:

It appears someone confused landscape dimensions and portrait dimensions. Could be conference organizers, could be poster creators, could be someone else.

• • • • •

An interesting typesetting effect that someone called “bionic reading.”

Two side by side text samples. The right is all in one weight. The left has the initial letters of words in bold.the

But this is only one sample. It’s not clear what is causing this effect. The sample on the left is pretty light weight text, and maybe it’s just more bold.

From Christophe Pasquier. Hat tip to  Moritz Stefaner.

• • • • •

New to me paper on the way colour combinations can signal emotions.

Bartram L, Patra A, Stone M. 2017. Affective color in visualization. Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Denver, Colorado, USA, Association for Computing Machinery: 1364–1374. https://doi.org/10.1145/3025453.3026041

Hat tip to Lisa Charlotte Muth.

• • • • •

This month’s best re-use of a poster, from Allison Herreid:

Allison Herreid sleeping with fabric poster as blanket and blindfold saying, "Wake me when we get to Queensland."

Hat tip to UNH Research.

• • • • •

It feels premature since the end of the pandemic is nowhere in sight, but Schreiner and Badawi debate whether research conferences should remain virtual after the pandemic ends. Excerpt from “Stay virtual” position:

(V)irtual meetings can be designed to cover all aspects of scientific and networking important for conferences. ... (I)t seems that the virtual conference is here to stay, at least as some component of all future conferences.

And on the “No more virtual” position:

(T)he most critical challenge for purely virtual conferences is the building of networks and the honing and synthesizing of new ideas, most of which takes place in animated conversations in front of posters, in serendipitous meetings in the corridors, and in the bar or over dinner. ... The sooner we are meeting face-to-face again, the better.


Schreiner LJ, Badawi R, Baldock C. The post-COVID future of research conferences should be virtual. Physical and Engineering Sciences in Medicine. In press. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13246-022-01138-y

• • • • •

Animate Your Science has a post on creating a poster template

But honestly, this isn’t so much about creating a “template” as it is doing the simple first steps towards laying out a poster. Set the paper size, set up a colour and font schemes, etc.

• • • • •

I will be vain and end this month with a link out to my own Twitter thread analyzing one of the best selling posters of all time (by the Hildebrandt Brothers) and the lessons it has for academics.

Star Wars poster by the Brothers Hildebrandt.

It was May the Fourth