23 September 2023

Why does my poster look different when it’s printed full size?

Maureen Stone was on a recent episode of the Policy Vis podcast talking about the intricacies of colour. 

I’ve talked here about how designing a poster on a computer screen is so different from a printed poster. The light source is a big difference, and the resolution of screen is too. But I hadn’t often considered the size of the screen.

That was brought up in this segment of the interview:

Maureen Stone: Well, so I call that problem color and size, and it’s a really well known color perception phenomenon. So I’m going to give people a little bit of a geek definition, color is not how you create it, it’s not the RGB value, it’s how you perceive it; and how you perceive it depends on a lot of factors, we know it depends on background; and it turns out, size is a huge factor, so if you ever think about, you know, you ever go paint a room, and you got the little paint chips, so that’s a good color, and then you spread a bunch on the wall and say… 

Joel Schwabish: Yeah, have experienced several times, yes. 

Maureen Stone: Well, I didn’t know that it would apply to DataViz, but, in fact, it does. 

Joel Schwabish: Right.

Maureen Stone: And so, the real problem is technically what happens is that as the stimulus is the thing you’re looking at gets smaller, the color appears less vivid, less colorful, okay? And as you shrink them way down, pretty soon you’re just getting kind of warm, cool colors.

We see bigger colours as brighter colours.

A computer screen might be what, two feet wide? A printed poster might be four, six, or eight feet wide.

So something that might seem appropriately subtle on your small computer screen could seem garish when its area is four to eight to sixteen times bigger.

One way to test this might be to print just a small letter sized piece of the poster, but print it at full size, so you can get a better sense of how the colours will play.

External links

 Policy Viz podcast #244: Maureen Stone

16 September 2023

Review: The Little Guide to Giving Poster Presentations

Cover to "The Little Guide to Giving Poster Presentations"
The Little Guide to Giving Poster Presentations is well named. It is, indeed, little.

Perhaps too little.

John Bond’s book weighs in at 150 pages, and they are kind of small pages, too. A fast reader can probably skim through this in a day without too much trouble. That this is a quick read is not necessarily a bad thing. Part of it is because Bond’s prose is clear.

Unfortunately, the book’s treatment of its subject also encourages skimming, because sometimes there isn’t as much depth as you would hope for.

Posters are a visual medium, so you might that a book about posters would be illustrated. But you don’t get to a diagram until Chapter 11. There’s one more figure in that chapter, and then nothing. And they aren’t in colour, either.

Sometimes, Bond even draws attention to the “little” of the title. In Chapter 21, he writes:

Information regarding color choices for charts and graphs could fill a whole chapter or even a book (and likely does).

But then, having drawn our attention to the rich subject of colour use in data visualizations, Bond ends the chapter a couple of pages later. Without pointers to other resources. (The book’s references are few and far between.)

There are some bright spots. This is the first book about conference posters that mentions the changes to the academic conference scene wrought by the ongoing covid pandemic. I also appreciated a section about how to estimate costs of attending conference, which I don’t remember seeing in other poster making resources.

While I craved more depth, I don’t fault most of the recommendations that Bond makes. The advice is consistently good. Bond feels more comfortable with writing: the book devotes three sections about planning and writing, but only one section to design, and one to presenting.

Bond’s book will help those who read it, and I am sure some readers will appreciate its readily digestible format. And the book contributes to the push to try to get people to take posters more seriously. There were next to no books to conference posters for so long that I’m pleased to see more arriving in this space


Bond J. 2023. The Little Guide to Giving Poster Presentations. Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781475870152/The-Little-Guide-to-Giving-Poster-Presentations-Simple-Steps-to-Success

07 September 2023

You are not “too good” to give a poster

Recently, Franck Marchis wrote:

Received an email from a senior scientist (over 65 years) suggesting he might skip a prominent international conference if given a poster presentation. The sense of entitlement was palpable.

Posters are not just for early career researchers. And if you ever think you don’t want to do a poster because you are just beyond that point now... please check your ego.

Case in point.

Nobel laureate John O'Keefe presenting a poster at Neuroscience meeting in 2016

This is from the 2016 Nueroscience meeting, and the gentelman presenting the poster is John O’Keefe. For those of you not in the neurobiz, he won a Nobel prize in medicine or physiology a little less than two years before this picture was taken.

  Picture by Lucie Low.

And lest you think this was some weird, on off event... no! It was not! Here is O’Keefe again just last year:

Nobel laureate John O'Keefe presenting a poster at Neuroscience meeting in 2022

Picture by Timothy Bredy.

I don’t know how I missed these.

External links

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2014 press release

31 August 2023

Link roundup for August 2023

I wouldn’t have pegged the British Association of Drama Therapists as being into conference posters, but here we are.

Unfortunately, I do think this presentation’s suggestions lead to some very common traps: emphasis on trying to put in a complete story over something that will start conversations.

• • • • •

Speaking of videos, here is another from Mattias Rillig:

I mostly agree with the advice here, apart from the recommendation to make all the text into bullet points. Short text? Yes. But save bullets for true lists. See my most recent blog post on bullet points.

• • • • •

Inkscape has two advantages for making conference posters.

  1. Vector graphics.
  2. Free.

Here’s a tutorial that shows the basics of Inkspace in the context of creating a poster. 

Screenshots of Inkscape highlighting tools.

Same author delves into writing abstracts for conferences.

I reviewed an earlier version of Inkscape some time ago. I found it super fiddly at the time, but that was many updates ago.

• • • • •

Font seller Monotype delves into the subtleties of legibility of type. Excerpt:

 What makes a font legible, and how do I find one?

Like many design questions, the recipe for this answer is a blend of art and science and is governed less by rules than by best practices.

• • • • •

Lisa Muth explores the power of gray in graphs over at the Datawrapper blog.  Excerpt:•

(G)ray is special and should be treated as such.

Very good article that summarizes a lot of what I have been thinking about in graphing lately. Recommended.

• • • • •

A couple of general papers on communication

A paper on science communication in The Journal of Experimental Biology  and a preprint on communicating to the general public in PsyArXiv.

• • • • •

How to convince your boss that a conference isn’t a vacation in disguise. Excerpt:

I understood the need to justify the expense. ... But (the CEO) implied that suspicion should be the default. These sneaky scientists. Always pretending they need to go to conferences for intellectual betterment, when they’re really just looking for the next sweet lanyard to hang from the corner of their bookshelf.

Hat tip to Hiroshi Ishkawa.


• • • • •

That’s the roundup! Thanks for joining me!

18 August 2023

“Nobody will stop you”: The viral machine learning poster

You’ve probably already seen this poster:

Poster titled, "You can just put up a poster at ICML and no one will stop you"

“You can just put up a poster at ICML (International Conference on Machine Learning - ZF) and nobody will stop you.” 

Hail Eris!

Daniel Severo’s tweet about this poster has a couple of million views, and was also tweeted out by Nature’s Twitter account.

What is not easy to see in a typical online photo size it what the paper to the right of the poster says. It’s a gmail address. So of course I had to see if it worked.

And you know what, it did!

I asked for the story behind the poster:

The story’s basically what you might guess: a few sarcastic students at an international conference get to thinking that their field could use a little healthy lampooning and execute a quick turnaround on a satirical poster. The jokes are all ribbing on tropes of ML research.

There are two lessons from this poster.

The first is that there are no poster police. While conference organizers often direct presenters to make posters a particular way on their instructions, or tell people not to do things in the poster session (like the “No photos!” rule at Neuroscience meetings), the reality on the ground is, shall we say, more laissez-faire.

It's still the wild west out there.

The second is that the unexpected is a strong predictor something going viral online. Just doing something different gives you an edge for attention.

What poster would you make if you weren’t worried about someone else telling you, “No”? (Common sense and good taste should still apply!)

Related posts

Let anarchy reign!

27 July 2023

Link roundup for July 2023

Margaret Hinkle is this month’s “poster reuse” winner:

Baby in the office and you don’t have a blanket for tummy time? Turns out a poster is the perfect fix! Also doubles as a changing pad! Academic parenting win for the day.

She goes on:

(Don’t worry, students who made this poster - this one had some typos so it never made it to prime time!)

Hat tip to Zanethia Barnett.

• • • • •

Creative, right? Matthias Rillig outlines techniques for using poster session viewing as a tool for creativity. Excerpt:

How can we maximize this sort of connection? One has to more actively consume the material on the posters and turn them over in one’s mind, trying to directly connect them to other problems. I think this would require maybe two passes through a poster session, one to try to absorb the information per se, the ‘normal poster session mode’, and another pass, the ‘creativity mode’ to actively try to make such connections.

Hat tip to Paperpile.

• • • • •

It is summer and thus peak conference season!

The title says “presentations” but the abstract is mostly about posters.

Willis LD. 2023. How to present your research findings at a scientific meeting. Respiratory Care: respcare.11226. https://doi.org/

21 July 2023

How to win a poster competition on Hello PhD

The hosts of Hello PhD were generous enough to ask me back for a second kick at the can 🥫!  This time, the topic was poster competitions.

Have a listen to Episode 196 wherever you get your postcasts, or at the main Hello PhD site: