09 August 2018

You have options for numbers (PowerPoint users need not apply)

If you must  have a table on your poster, look into what options you have for your numbers. Many fonts have number variants.

Proportional numbers have skinny numbers (e.g., 1) and wide numbers (e.g., 0). Two numbers differ in width depending on what numbers they have. But tabular numbers are all the same width. So decimal places and dividers will line up if the numbers are lined up, as they are in a table.

If you have a table, it only makes sense to use tabular numbers if you can. They are explicitly designed to make your tables more readable! But tabular numbers will only do so if you follow a couple of other good practices:

  • Make your numbers right aligned.
  • Use the same number of decimal places in each column.

You may also find a couple of other options. numbers can be either lining numbers (all the same height) or oldstyle (with ascenders and descenders, like upper and lower-case letters). That means you have four options for many fonts.


In Microsoft Office, these options are sometimes buried. In Word, open Fonts and then look under the Advanced tab. In some Office components, number options are flat out unavailable. I’m looking at you, PowerPoint! The image in this post is a PowerPoint slide, but the numbers were made in a different graphics program (CorelDraw), exported to a WMF file, and then imported into PowerPoint.

To make things more confusing, which numbers a font shows by default are not standard. In the sample above, Corbel uses proportional numbers as its default, while Times New Roman uses tabular numbers as its default.

External links

Web typography: Designing tables to be read, not looked at.
Design better data tables

02 August 2018

Critique: Alfree

Andrzej Zielezinski‏ was proud of this poster, made entirely in the freeware package Inkscape. Impressive to me, because I struggled with Inkscape. Click to enlarge!


One of the most interesting aspects of the poster is the diagrams on the diagonal. As Ellen Lupton notes in the book How Posters Work, many great posters use diagonals to bring action and life into a design. Here’s how Andrzej did it:

I drew all 5 main elements (home page, 2 diagrams, ROC curves and navigation) in 2D. The image showing a guy on the mountain was also pasted in 2D. Then I skewed each element -63* horizontally and -27* vertically (Inkscape menu - Object - Transform - Skew). Shadows are just skewed and black rectangulars with some transparency (RGBA: 42424248) and blur set to 2.7.

An issue with that diagonal, though, is that because the figure reaches up into the upper right corner, the title can’t reach over into that space. So the title seems a little small to me. And when the title is 90% of your communication effort...

But this does a great job of making the images strong focal points that if the title was bigger, it would weaken the figure. It might be a case of swings and roundabouts: you might be able to make those two things different, but not necessarily better. Andrzej agreed:

You perfectly pointed the issue with the small title. I spent very long time trying different font sizes and locations of the title. At the beginning the title was larger and reached almost the right corner. But it seemed not right to me, so I decided to justify the text.

The bold heading for each callout works well, and the difference between the heading and paragraph under it is strong and clearly distinguishes the two. But the main text of the callouts use a very lightweight type and fades away slightly. I’m wondering if the weight on the callout text could be just one step heavier to make it a little more visible from a distance. But this is the sort of thing that I can only guess at. If the callout text was heavier, it might mess up the nice contrast between the heading and the text below. Again, Andrzej and I are on the same page:

I also had many trials with the weight of the text in abstract. I started with heavy font, but as you noticed, I was loosing the contrast between the text and the heading. Also, a less heavier font seemed somehow more elegant to me.

Another little detail I like is that this is one of the few times I’ve seen some text right justified, with the left edges ragged.

I like that the background isn’t perfectly white.

The QR codes and logo are not only placed unobtrusively in the bottom, but they are perfectly aligned and distributed. It helps that the funding agency logo is square, like the QR codes.

26 July 2018

Link roundup for July, 2018

Paul Frankland compares the electronic poster session to the traditional paper poster session at the 11th Federation Of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) Forum of Neuroscience. Here are electronic posters:


And here are the paper posters:


I think this may be a “attendance vortex.” If the number of e-posters is small, there will be few people browsing no matter how good the posters are. People will go where there are people, which reinforces the poor attendance.

Electronic posters were courtesy Morressier, according to Gemma.

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You are going to have to click through to see the video of this poster from the lab of Prosanta Chakrabarty. It... spins. Like Wheel of Fortune spins. This serves no communicative purpose. But it is fun.

Hat tip to Tidepool Ann.

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The littlest poster presenter, at the International Congress for Neuroethology.


Courtesy of Dr. Paloma.
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Dr. Petra has a Twitter thread about taking pictures at conferences. While it’s mostly about photographing oral presentations, much of it applies to poster presenters, too. (Lightly edited.)

As it's conference season I'm seeing loads of pics of people presenting. Some are really great, but often the photos are shocking - blurring, bad angles, massively unflattering pics of presenters and slides you can't make out (but are encouraged to read). So here are some tips about photographing and sharing conferences/presentations/events. ...

  1. If you’re going to take pics, ask if people are okay with this. They may be, but they may not (and it’s not your business to question this).
  2. Even if they are okay with being photographed, check they’re also okay with that being shared on social media. And if their slides or any aspect of their presentation identifies others (patients or participants, etc), either don’t photograph or don’t show this aspect.
  3. Remember not to interrupt or otherwise get in the way of someone’s talk because you want to film or photograph it. Audience members may struggle to follow if you’re in the way.
  4. Really liked a speaker or slide? Want to promote yourself or a friend? If time allows, ask them to pose by said slide(s) at close of talk. Chairs? Allow time for this during questions. This also means you can take a few snaps to ensure the photo is good quality.
  5. If you’ve taken a pic of someone presenting, look at it and imagine it was of you and was about to be shared across social media. If you wouldn't be happy with a grotty image of yourself going out, don’t do it to someone else.
  6. So yes, appearance shouldn’t matter, but unfortunately in may ways it does. Which means if you're okay to be photographed, it might be worth checking you’re happy with how you look from all angles. (Trust me. I’ve learned the hard way on this.)
  7. This also applies to your slides, posters, etc. They’re not just there to appeal or be accessible to your immediate audience. If you’re okay with being filmed or photographed, they also need to translate to folk who're not present. (You can do this, by the way! It’s just a shift in focus)
  8. Again, if you're photographing people's work and you want others to see it (and you’re sure that's okay), then take a few snaps so you can pick the most clear, accessible, or understandable one (and annotate or explain if context is needed).
  9. If, after you’ve shared an image the presenter asks you to remove it, do them a solid and take it down. They may have very good reasons (including personal safety or safeguarding participants) for this to happen.
  10. Also, don’t be a conference creep. Seen other delegates at dinner, the conference disco or some other venue? Don’t sneakily snap and share. Certainly don’t snap, share and shame.

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Posters will be getting their own museum next year: Poster House. But it already has some cool online stories, including this one about how the Woodstock was made.

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Nominee for best poster title: “wtf causes aneuploidy”. (Pretty sure wtf is a gene or protein.) Hat tip to Ethan Perlstein.

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Rock on Doctor Freeride:

If you're a senior(ish) academic who wishes there was more space for new voices at your professional conferences, consider submitting your own research to the poster session rather than as a talk.

• • • • •

I blundered across this stirring defense of typography on Project Gutenberg:

(Typography) is Noble... because it is the nurse and preserver of all other arts and sciences; and is unquestionably the most important as well as the most beneficial invention the world has ever seen. It is the disseminator of every other discovery; the commemorator of all other inventions: it hands down to posterity every important event; immortalizes the actions of the great and good; and requires, moreover, in all who would thoroughly excel in its practice, the highest attainable combination of mental alacrity, educated intelligence, and expert manual dexterity.

I almost wanted to applaud when I read this. By William Skeen in 1872.

25 July 2018

A T-shirt tangent

If I may be permitted a moment of self-indulgence, I would like to share this:


This is a T-shirt design I entered into a contest for the International Association of Astacology. And it won!

  • First place: “Astacus fluviatilis” by Zen Faulkes
  • Second place: “Euastacus,” front and back design by Premek Hamr
  • Third place: “Astacolic” by Alexa Ballinger

I can now say the Better Posters blog is written and curated by an award-winning graphic designer.  😉

Over at the NeuroDojo blog, I wrote about the design of the shirt, other designs I made that I like even more but that didn’t win, and my newfound admiration for Rösel von Rosenhof.

External links

Crayfish clothing contest conqueror!

19 July 2018

Critique: The eyes have it – as inspired by xkcd

Adam Stone was kind enough to share this poster from the Third International Conference on Sign Language Acquisition in Istanbul, Turkey. You’ll definitely want to click to enlarge this one!


This is the second comics-inspired poster in as many month (the first was here). I was a little caught off guard when I read there was a connection between them, as Adam explained:

I was inspired by this tweet by my colleague who saw a comic-inspired poster at LREC.

So this poster is a direct descendant of the one featured on the blog last month!

Adam continues with how he made the poster (lightly edited).

I love xkcd so I went with that. I used vectormagic.com to vectorize the stick figures so I could resize them easily. It’ll be nice to have a graphics tablet to draw more fine-tuned artwork instead of hacking it out in PowerPoint.

I added eyes to them because my postdoc supervisor and co-author Rain said, “These are deaf people, right? And it’s about eye tracking, so the characters should have eyes!” And I’m glad we did that.
 With a comic-inspired poster, you really need to get the comic panels/storyboard locked down first, then do the artwork second. I made an entire draft of the poster, complete with text and artwork. But then we had to make many not-trivial revisions to it, which was painful after all the time I had already put into it. Lesson learned!

The response to it has been phenomenal. Infant and child language/education advocates want to hang the posters in their offices/waiting rooms, and others have proclaimed that all scientific posters should be produced in comic format.

While there's room for all types of expression in science publications, I think comic-inspired posters do well in making scientific discoveries accessible to the public. Just look at xkcd or PhD Comics or many of the other science comics out there!

This poster is another great example of the power of pastiche. If you can find something that you like, design wise, imitating aspects of it helps prevent complete disaster. You’re not starting from scratch, and you have to pay attention to what are the design elements that make the thing recognizable. Even if don’t follow it perfectly, and find that sometimes, you just gotta add eyes to stick figures.

12 July 2018

What your graph palette says about you

Errant Science is on form again:


I loved this, but I thought it didn’t include options I see surprisingly often, at least for bar graphs. Click to enlarge!



Hat tip to Justin Kiggins.

05 July 2018

When white space makes you well up

Last Thursday, there was a shooting in the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.

On Friday, the Gazette put out a damn paper, and ran this as its editorial page.

Capital Gazette editorial: Today, we are speechless. This page is intentionally left blank today to commemorate victims of Thursday’s shooting in our office.

Today, we are speechless. This page is intentionally left blank today to commemorate victims of Thursday’s shooting in our office.

I nearly cried looking at this. What gives it power is not just the words. It’s the space around the words.

Imagine if that powerful statement had appeared like this:


There’s no impact at all.

I’m always telling people, “Don’t fill up your poster! You don’t need to cover every inch with stuff!” This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about.