28 July 2011

The uphill battle for QR codes

QR codes offer the potential to enhance a poster in all sorts of cool ways. But there are issues to think about before you use them.

Audience side

  1. Why do I care what’s on the other side? What is the carrot for someone to take the picture with their smartphone and download? Most of the carrots I’ve seen offered by QR codes are on par with those “3 secrets of a flat stomach” ads that litter websites. 
  2. QR codes are not self-explanatory. You have to explicitly explain to someone what it is and how to do it the first time. When people first got email long ago, they included explicit instructions about how to format the addresses. It took a few years for understanding of email to become common knowledge. QR codes are at that very early stage of people’s understanding of what they are.
  3. You need a smartphone. Heck, I don’t have one.
  4. You have to have a specific app on your smartphone.

Presenter side

  1. QR codes require planning. You have to have something to link to. Given that many people do things at the last minute, making a QR code falls off the list.
  2. Most QR codes are links to the Internet, so what is that the advantage over a text URL? It can be quicker, I suppose, if the URL is long – but even that can be fixed using bit.ly or some other URL shortening service.

Still, even if you are clever enough to come up with something cool to do with a QR code, there are these little barriers that you have to get through on the audience side to make it work.

For those who argue that the biggest problem with QR codes is that they are ugly, I urge you to check out this gallery of QR codes, which take advantage of just how tolerant QR codes are to distortion. You can make some quite beautiful things with QR codes. (One shown at right.)

Don’t put anything critical for understanding of your poster on a QR code just yet.

Indeed, after I wrote the bulk of this article, a commenter in a previous post brought up that some companies, notably Google, are moving towards near-field communication (NFC) instead of QR codes for some purposes. As NFC relies on a chip, though, it is difficult to see them replacing QR codes in every situation.

Related posts

Smart posters
Too futuristic? Or already too passe?

21 July 2011

Critique: Scaffolder

Michael Barton is the person behind this lovely poster, featured on his blog Bioinformatics Zen (no relation). Click to enlarge, as usual.

He has a blog post here describing what he was trying to do with the poster, and how he made it. The full post is good reading.

This poster has a strong sense of design and excellent use of colour. It’s a great example of breaking away from the traditional poster format (journal paper in a can), and cutting down the text to lower the intimidation factor.

The contrast between left and right sides of the poster is effective.

  • The left side of the poster is about the problems of current methods. This gets reflected visually with the grungy background and chunky type.
  • The right side of the poster offers clarity of the software. This is conveyed visually with ample white space, strong geometric figures, attractive colours, and the subtle sunburst background.

There may be room for some slight improvements.

On the right, some of the text is angled, some horizontal. I might have gone for all angled or all horizontal, as the feeling of “problems” is already very strong.

On the left, the text throughout may be slightly too fine to read easily. On my computer screen, the text boxes were difficult to read. A printer has higher resolution, though, so this might pass the “arm’s length” test, but perhaps just barely.

I am undecided about the circles to the right of the title. They add a nice graphic touch, and they tie in with the larger scaffold circle on the right. But they are crowding the title, and perhaps drawing too much attention to themselves.

Finally, the email down in the corner feels awkward. It’s out of alignment with everything, and it’s not where people will look for contact information. The alignment of the email got to me, so I fired up the graphics editor and played around with the poster a bit more.

In this revision, I tried to enhance the already strong geometric feel of the right hand side of the poster by aligning the text and boxes with each other. Now, every element lines up with at least one other element of the poster. If I was working from the original Inkscape file, I might have moved the last couple of circles on the left, and made other minor experiments.

But these are mere tweaks, idle alterations to a great piece of graphic design. Well done.

A big thanks to Michael for letting me feature this wonderful poster, and his reader, Guy Leonard, for suggesting it!

Related posts

The importance of alignment
Is it big enough? The “arm’s length” test

14 July 2011

True artwork: the painted poster

It is incredibly rare to find a conference poster that goes above and beyond the call of duty. Believe me, I’ve been looking since I started this blog.

This is the first true show-stopper I’ve been able to feature; this is true artwork.

The artist is Karmella Haynes. Jonathan Eisen highlighted this gorgeous piece of poster in two posts here and here.

07 July 2011

Typography for Lawyers: Sustained

The website Typography for Lawyers is a good resource. Author Matthew Butterick has experience as a typographer, and presents his craft very well.

I particularly like this quote, since it applies so emphatically to poster sessions:

I believe that most read­ers are look­ing for rea­sons to stop reading. Not because they’re mali­cious or aloof. They’re just being ratio­nal. If read­ers have other demands on their time, why should they pay any more atten­ion than they absolutely must? Read­ers are always look­ing for the exit.

Most of the website deals with smaller details needed for multi-page documents, rather than more complex layout of multiple parts on a single that is the problem for most poster makers. But there is good advice on how wide columns should be (two to three alphabets should fit in a single line), and tips on page layout, including this gem:

Don’t try to resolve typo­graphic deci­sions with logic.

The book is significantly longer than the website, but the website is helpful.