29 June 2010

Type crimes: Not so close, please


Yet again, we see the power of proximity, in this case wielded unintentionally, to humourous effect. Two things that are close together are going to be seen as related.

From Failblog.

Related posts

I’ve added the label “type crimes” for similar posts, which I never planned on being a series.

To give credit where it’s due, I have, er, stolen? – paid homage to Ellen Lupton, who uses “type crimes” in her book, Thinking With Type, which I’m pleased to learn has a new edition coming out.

When I flipped open my first edition copy, I noticed this appropriate quote:

Design is as much an act of spacing as an act of marking.

24 June 2010

Learning from Cosmo

Cosmopolitan covers are a perfect example of several of the “real estate” practices I talked about previously.

The title is up at the top. In days of magazine racks, you have no guarantee that any aspect of the magazine cover is going to be visible other than the title, so it has to serve as advertisement and be placed on the large, visible part of the cover.

If someone can see more of the cover, there’s an entry point: a high-quality photo of a woman. As Garr Reynolds notes in Presentation Zen Design, we almost can’t not look at pictures of people. And again, the magazine almost always have the model’s face up top, even though it obscures part of the title, so you can probably see the eyes of the model in a magazine rack. They’re making good use of that valuable real estate.

The text on the cover is interesting. Every issue of Cosmo has a sex article. The teaser title of that sex piece is invariably in the upper left corner. That’s the first place people will start to read, and you want to grab their attention. And the old truism holds: sex sells.

There’s often a circle on the right side of the cover. Circles, while not as powerful as a face, are still effective focal points.

The typefaces used vary a lot, but for the most part, they are large, bold sans serif fonts, making them visible at a distance. They are substantial enough to say, “Hey, you! Yes, you! Across the hallway! Come over here and read me!”

I certainly don’t advocate every trick they use most magazine covers use. Most have way too many different typefaces, and covers are necessarily superficial compared to the copy inside.

Magazine covers are an art among themselves, and they share a lot of similarities with conference posters. They compete for attention in a crowded environment to even get people to give them a second glance. Big pictures and a few well-chosen words can work.

22 June 2010

The acid test for graphics

PowerPointNinja is on to something with these two words.

  1. Relevant.
  2. Unique.

Those, he says, are the key factors to deciding whether an image is worth including or not. Now, as you might guess, the blog post is about slides, but the principle is a good one for poster presentations, too.

As an example, let’s examine a few graphics you often see on posters.

Logos bookending the title. They are of questionable relevance. They are often not unique, in that you may be a conference where many of your colleagues are presenting. And a lot of those university logos look pretty much alike (coats of arms, etc.).

Funding agency logos: Low relevance and even less likely to be unique.

Data graphs. Highly relevant, but often shaky on the uniqueness criteria. One bar graph looks much like another. In a way, this can be a strength rather than a weakness, since people can understand standard graphs better than unusual graphs.

Photos: Particularly if you take them yourself, you score well on both counts.

17 June 2010

Cut from whole cloth

I was intrigued by this blog post by a printing company describing their fabric posters.

I have a conference overseas this summer, and the prospect of not hauling a document tube through the security clearances and customs lines and waiting areas of multiple airports got more attractive the more I thought about it. I decided this was the perfect time to try it out.

I uploaded a PDF of a poster I made in PosterGenius through the postersession.com website (a portal that MegaPrint use to promote their printing for scientific posters). The ordering process was straightforward.

As the Law of Maximum Inconvenience would have it, I noticed something I wanted to change about 20 minutes after I submitted the poster. I got on the phone, talked to a very helpful designer, Lynette, and I got to resend a corrected file at no cost.

I was a little surprised by the nature of the fabric. It’s a very thin synthetic of some kind, that reminds me a bit of the sort of material you might expect to find in some sort of outdoor tablecloth. I was expecting something more like a T-shirt’s cotton-poly blend.

A fabric poster that’s been folded in your luggage may not look quite as good as a poster printed on high quality paper and transported in a document tube. But the visual difference is very slight.

Fine lines and details come out well, although it’s a fraction less sharp than paper. If you enlarge the picture above, you can probably make out the weave of the fabric. You can also see how on large, uninterrupted patches of colour, there is a very slight horizontal banding that reminds me of how pages come off when your inkjet printer is just about to run out of ink. For all I know, the ink in their printer was starting to run low.

The fabric creases a bit, as you can see in the first and bottom pictures. The pictures were taken with the poster loose on a table, not hanging with tacks to pull it taut.

A letter that come in the box with the poster says that the wrinkles will tend to disappear as the poster hangs, and also says that the poster can be ironed. Given that many hotel rooms now come equipped with irons and ironing boards, you will often have the chance to flatten out the wrinkles a bit. Still, I suggest transporting it in the thin box it’s shipped in, rather than folding it loose in with your clothes, which would make the wrinkling worse.

The fabric poster costs more than paper. In my case, there is a large plotter printer in our building that I could have used for free if I was willing to roll up the poster and haul the document tube around.

MegaPrint also throws in a half dozen tacks in a cute little ziploc baggie.

I imagine that other professional printers specializing in large signs and so on may be able to perform a similar service if you ask.

The final analysis: Recommended if the convenience of not having an awkward piece of extra luggage matters to you.

15 June 2010

A tale of... terror!

Gather round, my little ones, for a tale of TERROR!

Doctor Becca was a post-doc, just like any other. She had a lab. She had a PI. She had data. She had a blog. She had tweeps she could count on.

But she was always filled with a sense of foreboding... that suspicions that one day, that it could all go horribly, terribly wrong.

On the day that it happened, she said, in the sad tone of one who had foreseen her fate:

I knew this day was but a mere eventuality.

Because she was hard-working and industrious, she had a chance to go, one warm summer day not too long ago, to a conference. The conference was a long way , so she had to prepare for the trip. She would have to fly... fly away from the safety of her lab and her home.

She prepared her poster, like a good post-doc should. She showed it to her colleagues in the lab. It was, they all said, a thing of beauty. Surely someone would come see it at the conference and offer her the tenure-track position she so desired on the spot, so elegant were the experimental designs, so convincing were her data.

She boarded the plane that day. The skies were blue up above the clouds, she almost forgot her low sense of impending dread.

t was only after she stepped off the plane, in the busy, confusing surrounding of the airport, that she discovered the awful truth!

Have arrived at the airport; my poster has not.

And let this be a warning to you, my friends! Take heed! Or the terrible fate that befell our poor Doctor Becca could happen... to YOU!

True story.

Luckily for Doctor Becca and other conference goers, this is far less of a disaster than it used to be. It used to be that if your poster didn’t arrive, you were completely shut out.

As Biochem Belle noted, you can take the electronic file on a flash drive, as most locations that can run scientific conferences are likely to have printers of some sort nearby. Of course, many people are moving to cloud computing, which allows you to get to your files on Google Docs or Dropbox anywhere you can find a live internet connection. If there isn’t a local business printer that can handle large documents, there are printing companies online that will print large format posters and ship it it by courier overnight.

To prepare for these kinds of situations, it helps to have your file in a format that most people can work with. The original “native” files generated by your graphics software can have problems when you move to another machine. Many specialty fonts that you might use don’t transfer from one computer to the next.

And then there’s a whole new strange set of horizons you see when you try to move something from a Mac to Windows and back again...

Probably the simplest format to save in in case of emergency is PDF format, which is “what you see is what you get” and is widely accepted. Some printers like to work with EPS files, and that makes a good second emergency back-up format (although there are a few finicky choices in the save options that might slow you down).

As for Doctor Becca? She was able to get a friend to ship the completed poster via courier. She commented later that it was cheaper to have the existing poster shipped than to reprint it.

If you must use a table

On posters, graphs are better than tables. There is not much that can be presented in a table that cannot be presented in a graph.

If you feel you must use a table for some reason, check these tips at In the Haystack.

Like me, author Boris Gorelik is fond of rules of two.

Photo by oskay on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

10 June 2010

Two rules of two

Too many posters suffer from trying to do too much. I suggest two rules of two to limit the damage.

Two typefaces. That gives you one typeface for the bulk of the poster text, and one display typeface for section headings. The only situation I can think of where you might need to use other typefaces is if you have some sort of foreign language or special symbols in your text. And don’t you dare cheat and say, “Well, Arial and Verdana are both sans serif fonts, so I’ll just count them as one.” The variation between regular, bold, and italic don’t count towards your limit, though.

Two colours other than black and  white. Use those two colours as your artistic little splash for backgrounds, to fill in bar graphs, colour your text if you want. You can vary their intensity, saturation, or what have you, but having large swathes of poster in three or more colours is rarely going to do you any favours.

But break either of these rules rather than do anything barbarous.

Photo by qthomasbower on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

03 June 2010

Never them them see your pixels

You want to take some pictures with your camera to illustrate your poster? Excellent! This is usually a much better choice than hopping onto the net and grabbing someone else’s images.*

Camera pictures are going to be bitmapped images, made of lots of individual pixels. To ensure your picture looks good when you print it full sized on a poster, it pays to do a little calculation.

Remember to set your camera for the highest resolution possible. You can always lower the resolution of a picture if necessary, but you can never increase the resolution of a picture (notwithstanding what you see on crime shows). A problem here is that cameras often describe their image sizes in megapixels, which describes the total number of pixels in the image. For our purposes, it’s easier to think in terms of the number of pixels along the edges.

My camera gives me a little more than 3,000 pixels along the long edge of the photo at its highest resolution. But I have to be thinking about how many pixels will go into each inch on the poster.

Printers are still largely measuring print resolution in dots per inch (dpi); a dot is essentially a pixel. A old, low end fax machine might be 200 dots per inch; a laser printer might be 1,200 dots per inch. 300 dots per inch is usually considered an acceptable resolution for printing.

If want to keep my picture reasonably sharp, I want to make sure the picture has 300 dot per inch or better on the paper when printed full size.

For my camera, 3,000 pixels / 300 dots per inch = 10 inches. Thus, I don’t want the final size of the picture on my poster to be much more than 10 inches.

This particularly becomes an issue because people will pull images from the net to use on their posters. For instance, people will grab an institutional logo or such from a website and enlarge it. But many net images are only a few hundred pixels wide.

If you have an 800 pixel wide image, and you want to print it at 24 inches across, you have a print resolution of about 30 dpi. It’ll look like rubbish. It’ll still look poor if enlarged to 12 inches.

Related posts

Will it scale?

* Picture by Potatojunkie on Flickr, and used under a Creative Commons license. Hey, this is a blog, not a poster. Remember, do as I say, not as I do!

01 June 2010

Creative Beast

Although much of this blog is focused on discipline and craft, I am totally charmed by this set of slides about unleashing your creative beast.