28 May 2009

Critique: SoDA

The commercial printer, PhD Posters, has a gallery where this is described as, “One of the best I’ve ever seen – perfect balance of color and line. Even the figures match the color scheme!” (Click to enlarge.)

This is a very nice poster indeed. The consistent colour scheme is indeed a simple, but underused element of poster design. It indicates that the authors honed their graphics specifically with the poster in mind, and that they didn’t just dump figures prepared for a journal article or slide onto the poster.

Is there room for improvement? Maybe some small ones.

The column widths are uneven. The width of the first column is shown by the horizontal cyan bar in the left and center columns. Fortunately, in this case the unevenness is so slight that it’s not noticeable at first. Still, it’s surprising given how much attention has been paid to the poster.

Otherwise, the major question is whether so many lines are necessary. The layout is so crisp that nobody is likely to have any problems following the flow through, making the numbers unnecessary. Similarly, the horizontal diving lines seem to serve little purpose. The vertical dividers are more understandable, given that the authors chose to set their text ragged right.

Finally, some figures are set up in boxes, but others are not. And the line heaviness of the boxes are inconsistent, with the ones on the right more prominent that the one at bottom center.

Here’s the poster with some of these possibly extraneous elements removed.

I’m not sure whether the edited version is a substantial improvement, but I think it does point out that when the basic layout is solid, a reader doesn't need a lot of help in deciding what to read next and won’t be confused about which elements belong together.

The gallery has many other interesting posters, with some innovative layout designs.

21 May 2009

References on posters

Technical poster are often similar in their structure to technical manuscripts. But a big difference between technical presentations – posters or verbal – and technical papers is that there are very rarely any rules for posters other than, “Make it fit within the defined space on the poster board.” Technical manuscripts often have extraordinary obsessive and detailed rules.

Poster presentations have only a few loose, generally accepted practices. Everything else is up for grabs.

References are incredibly important in technical papers, but should they be handled the same way for posters? I know some of my colleagues who have said that if a poster doesn’t have any references, it’s an automatic fail. On the other hand, I have had some posters with no references (though not in a long time).

In general, you probably shouldn’t have as many references as in a full manuscript. A poster is not intended to be a complete literature review. The point of references is to give an indication that you’ve done due diligence in reading the literature. Audiences will rarely want to copy down the references to check up on them, which is often a major point of references in a paper.

Experiment with different ways of incorporating references. Instead of having Harvard style references with all the compiled references at the end, how about having short references in the main body of the text? Instead of putting (Faulkes 2006) in the main text and sticking the full reference at the end like this:

Faulkes Z. 2006. Digging mechanisms and substrate preferences of shovel nosed lobsters, Ibacus peronii (Decapoda: Scyllaridae). Journal of Crustacean Biology 26(1): 69-72.

Try something like this in the main text: (Faulkes 2006, J Crust Biol 26: 69). It’s enough information that anyone can locate the reference if they really want to.

One of my favourite sayings is, “Science is what you can get away with.” This is particularly true of poster presentations.

14 May 2009

Poster presentation tools

PowerPoint presenters get wireless remotes with laser pointers and built-in timers to to help them give their talks. What do poster presenters get?

PointerWe get a stick.

If you think a telescoping pointer is just a little too nerdy, you can always fall back on the old standby...

Pointing finger

07 May 2009

Ask E.T.

Baeutiful Evidence coverEdward Tufte is rightfully famous for his books on graphics. There is thread on his Ask E.T. forum that specifically deals with poster presentations. There are many good thoughts and links contained within. (And I say this not just because I wrote a couple of the posts in that thread!)

I have no doubt that Tufte’s name will come up in many subsequent posts in this blog when the matter of designing graphs for posters comes up.