11 October 2018

Critique: Virtual conferencing

Today’s contribution comes from Parisa Mehran, PhD student at Osaka University. This poster was presented at EUROCALL2018, but talks a lot about what went down at EUROCALL2017. You can read that story here, but as for the poster itself? Click to enlarge!


The upper left side is blank on purpose to hold some documents that Parisa clipped to the poster. You can see this in her picture below, from her Facebook post about this:


The poster’s biggest successes are the organization and the colours.

The poster is clearly meant to be read in rows. Using gray bars to separate elements within rows means that the break between them is less conspicuous than the black bars between rows, so your eyes group the rows together.

Yellow has the advantage of being a bright colour that is naturally light enough that you can readily read black text on top of it. The boldness of colour fits with the boldness of the thick sans serif type.

I like the type choice here so much that I wish it was used throughout more consistently. “Live streaming” and “No ban no wall” are in the same compressed sans serif style, but they aren’t the same font. Those sorts of “almost but not quite the same” elements are risky, because people wonder if it’s deliberate or a mistake.

The words “Develop” and “Design” in the bottom work well, because those are so obviously different. The geometric type used to spell out “Design” evokes the concept the word expresses.

The flowcharts in the bottom left section would benefit from some elements having higher contrast. The “Development” box is almost vanishing from view because it it is a light, warm orange that is close to the background.

The poster’s QR codes might benefit from a little more indication of what scanning them would get you. The top one is not bad, because it ties into the “Denied yet present” title next to it, suggesting you’re going to the “memoir.” The bottom one’s description, “Behind the scenes: All about OUGEO” is more cryptic.

In fact, I wouldn’t have minded getting a little more explanation of the material across the board. I bet this is a great aid when Parisa is there to tell her story, but as a stand alone document, it is a little difficult to work out what the narrative is.

This is the latest award-winning poster to be featured here! Best PhD student poster award, to be exact.



Picture from Shannon Sauro, showing Parisa getting her award. Congratulations, Parisa!

04 October 2018

Critique: Marked frogs

Today’s contributor is A.Z. Andis, who is sharing an award-winning poster presented at Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. Click to enlarge!


This won the Victor Hutchinson Outstanding Poster award in the most popular category!

What leaps (no frog pun intended) out at you with this poster is the discipline in the colour palette. We are using black, and we are using green, the text is white, and you will like it! This brings so much cohesion to the poster.

The first section of the poster (“Introduction”) is placed further right than the second section (“Experiment”), which violates our normal reading expectation. But at least readers get warned of this, because the sections are numbered.

The varying widths of the text and images takes away a little of the cleanliness of the layout. Visually, it is unclear if the box with the white background belongs to the “Experiment” section or the “Results” section.

The rotation of words is an interesting way of emphasizing key words in the title.

The creator wrote (lightly edited):

This is the first real conference poster I’ve made. I worked as a communications director for a non-profit and taught myself the Adobe suite and basic design principles. Even with some design background, crafting this poster made it exceedingly clear that design is really a minor part of the final product. For me, succinctly communicating science that I’ve worked on for months without rewriting my paper in poster-form was the biggest struggle.

Editing is hard.

It might be that when you know something about design, the design part seems easy.

27 September 2018

Link roundup for September 2018

Always fascinated by what happens to posters after the conference, particularly posters in the hands of crafty people. Beth Stuart says of her poster quilt:

I’m not sure this version is any worse at communicating science than the original.


Hat tip to Katy Kennedy.

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As part of a larger argument about public engagement, Bex writes:

Imagine if our poster sessions were held in public transport stations and you had to explain your research to commuters - and have an eye-catching poster!

If anyone does this experiment, let me know!

• • • • •

Nice thread from Tracey Weissgerber on graph design. It’s based on this article from 2015, so I’ve probably mentioned it before in this blog.

• • • • •

Speaking of complex graphs, Predromics has purrfected the box-and-whisker plot:

Hat tip to Ai Lyn Tan.

• • • • •

I’m had to ask Alisha Oshlack what a “rapid fire poster” is. But the Genome International 2018 meeting had them! It was a super short talk – one, single slide – that a person could give to advertise and pump up interest in their poster.

I’m not sure about this. It seems to be more work for minimal benefit. Bit if any Genome International presenters like them, let me know! Hat tip to Melissa Wilson Sayres.

20 September 2018

Critique: Enemy myna

Today’s poster comes from Jennifer Pannell. Click to enlarge!


Before I get into some details, Jennifer noted that this poster isn’t exactly the way she wanted it to look:

I had some problems with the font, though. Scribus won’t embed them and so they look terrible unless you zoom in 100%, so it might look terrible as a png.

I don’t know if the export problem might explain a few little issues, like dumb quotes instead of curly quotes. Or that there are lines after paragraphs on the left, but not the bottom right. “Fig” should probably have a period after it throughout.

Jennifer’s poster has a clear two column format, with some attractive graphics to bring the casual browsers on board.

There are some positioning choices I find odd, though. There is more open space on this poster than many I see, which is good, yet somehow items still seem to end up feeling crammed together. For example, here’s a close up on the upper right corner:


There is open space around the images of the bird, and that’s good. But there are at least three points of things touching or almost touching that makes it uncomfortable to look at. Two of those could be fixed by making the birds about 90-95% of the size they are now.

  1. The “g” in “findings” in the title is almost touching the “J” below it.
  2. The upper wingtip is almost touching the institutional address. Why the address is split over two lines I cannot say. It seems like there is enough space to put it on one line.
  3. Most seriously, the beak of the lower bird is overlapping with a data table and partially obscuring a number. (A statistically significant one, no less!)


Speaking of the table, I have mixed feelings about having the table and figures on white backgrounds. If you’re going to use a gray background, I’d be tempted to use that gray throughout. Instead of white, I might have tried either a transparent background or a very light gray (maybe 10%) to make the figure edges less obvious.

The gray background is an interesting choice. It means that you can use either back or white as text and it will still be readable, which makes it more visually interesting and open up some options. But the contrast is half what it would be if the background was solid white or solid black.

Figure 3 is missing some information needed to interpret it. There are no standards for what box plots show. Is the line dividing the box the mean or the median? What does the box show? 50% of data? Do the whiskers show a calculation of variation (like standard deviation) or a representation of actual data (95% of data)?

I do like the big circle acting as a way in to the poster, and the little decorative touches like the branches in the left column.

14 September 2018

Critique: Keep the home fire burning

Today’s contribution is a prize-winning poster from Alexandra Lai! This was presented at the International Aerosol Conference. Click to enlarge!

Poster: Chamical composition of cookstove emissions

The title bar is particularly well done. It’s an excellent example of a clear visual hierarchy: the title is biggest and in bold. A subtitle is big, but not bold. The authors are smaller, and the affiliations are smaller yet. And the type is fits the space, so there isn’t a lot of empty space on the right corner.

The colour scheme is a little busy, but generally works. The main oranges in the title and callout boxes and blue in the background are contrast colours. The colurs in the graphs might benefit from being a little more harmonized with the two main colours. Some of the greens and pinks don’t seem to fit that well.

Alexnadra has done a good job with the typography here. The font is clean, the emphasis is clear, and the table is not a mess of lines. In the Methods, I might like to see fewer words, but the words are set out in a very readable way.

The main body of the poster has a generally good foundation, but creating a grid and aligning objects would have improved the poster dramatically.

Poster: Commented version of "Chamical composition of cookstove emissions"

The graphs in the upper right need the most reworking. A reader has to do too much zigzagging in that section to read everything. There are two problems.

First, the graphs are not arranged in any sensible way. There are six graphs there. Either laying them out as two rows of three, or three rows of two graphs would have helped.

Second, and possibly worse, is that the figure legends to the graphs are pretty much in every place they could possibly be. Sometimes, there is a big description on top and a legend underneath. Sometimes both are on the left of the graph. Sometimes both are on the right of the graph. Pick one and commit to it!

Of course, another solution would be to cut down the number of graphs. Alexandra wrote:

I realized as I was presenting it that I only had time to discuss about half the plots, but otherwise I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

As Alexandra should be!

06 September 2018

Posters are like muffins

Posters are like muffins.

The top is so much better than the bottom.

In muffins, the top is better because of the wonders of caramelization, and because that’s where it’s the easiest to put on ingredients like chocolate chips, glaze, fruit peeling, cream cheese, or what have you.

The bottom of muffins are just okay in comparison.

It’s not surprising that there are many products that are designed to give people only the delicious muffin tops and not the less appetizing muffin stumps.

In posters, the top half is better because it’s sitting at or above eye level. The title is above eye level, which is important because it moves the title above most people’s heads so it can be seen from a long way away. The space underneath the title sits right around typical eye levels, and that’s where people look the most.

Put as much of the good stuff on your poster in that top half. Your big, important question, hypothesis, or prediction. Your sexist, biggest result. Your bold interpretation or conclusion.

05 September 2018

#SICB2019 poster class plan

Wordmark for Society for Intengrative and Comparative Biology
Besides writing this blog, I am currently the chair of the Student and Postdoctoral Affairs Committee (SPDAC) for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB).

Today was the abstract deadline for the next meeting in January 2019 in Tampa, Florida. Did you put in a poster abstract?

If you did, I want to help! I am planning on doing a short online class to have SICB students and post-docs make posters that rock.

If you are interested in taking a short online class to improve your poster for the Tampa meeting, click here to go to a form! I need to judge interest so I can plan on the best way of making the class happen.

Please reply by 1 November 2019!

External links

Information form for SICB poster class planning