27 December 2012

Link roundup for December 2012

Wired has a collection of the best scientific figures of the year, in their estimation. I think the authors may be more impressed by the volume of information in these figures than by their design.

I want to know more about this project. It’s a new typeface, designed with people who have learning disabilities in mind. It’s called FS Me. I’d love to know how the choices they made were intended to increase readability.

Business cards are helpful ways to turn meetings in front of posters into contacts and netwokring. Victoria LaBalme talks about the importance of making your business card unique.

The big news in logos was the redesign of the University of California logo. Honestly, I liked the redesign. But many people did not. Regardless, however, I appreciate this post from Armin Vit (hat tip to Ellen Lupton), to which I add emphasis:

A logo, actually, is nothing. It’s useless. It derives meaning from what it represents. I’ve said this before: The Nike swoosh logo is shit. It’s a clunky checkmark. People think it’s great but it’s not. It’s the amazing athletes and their stories that Nike has associated with over the decades. It’s the quality products. It’s the great ads. It’s not the logo. If all these UC students think that this logo defines them then they have no self-worth. Their actions and their words define the logo. And, right now, what these people are saying and doing, reflects that UC is a bunch of cry-babies. Shut up. Let professionals do their work.

This battle was lost.

What figures look like to colour blind people. Here’s my post on this matter.

And, on a lighter note, the Comic Sans Project.

20 December 2012

Critique: Infrared

Today’s poster was submitted by Jessica Moore, who is manager of Center of Excellence in Nanomedicine at the University of California, San Diego.

There is way too much stuff going on around the title. You have a text based logo, a lot of names, and headings in boxes, and the title isn't that much bigger than those to "pop". People won't be able to pick out the title at a glans and walk by.

I do appreciate that there are lots of graphics here, but my first impression was that they are complicated and intimidating graphics. This is the first poster I've seen for the blog where I've thought, "This almost feels as intimidating as a bunch of long paragraphs of text." Part of that may be my unfamiliarity with the material, I admit.

The reading flow is understandable, but again, still fairly complicated. You have a lot of "bits and pieces" that makes it unclear of the order you need to look at things.

With a quick look, I can’t figure out either the question or the take home message.

13 December 2012

Critique: Debris discs

Today’s poster is from Sara Barber from the University of Oklahoma, and is used with her permission. Click the image below to enlarge it!

This is a clean design, so the comments are fairly subtle.

Having the headings right aligned is... unusual. This is the sort of thing I generally don’t recommend, purely because it violates our normal reading conventions. The red lines do help distinguish the sections, though, so this is not a fatal problem.

In the author list, I recommended scaling the size of the superscripts down a bit. They currently seem to be the same size as the name they’re next to, and they’re a little distracting. Author names are more important than superscripts, so should be bigger.

I suggested putting a little more space between the bullets and the first letter of the following text. It’s a little tight in there in this version. For the second level of bullets, the bullets look a little dainty next to the text, and might be increased in size a smidgen.

The “Frequency of debris disks” box needed a little typographic massaging. The plus and minus numbers are a little larger, and a little closer, than comfortable. I was not a fan of the box around that, either. The size and the red colour alone is highlight enough. This would be particularly true if the “Figure” captions were in plain old black; then the red alone would be enough for the “Frequency” text to say, “I’m important!”

After reading my recommendations, she was kind enough to send back this revised version:

Again, the differences are subtle. When you can see one poster right after the other, or one superimposed on the other, each change does help make the poster look better.

The animated below GIF below, which superimposes the before and after posters, loops three times, then stops. If you see no movement, reload the image or the page,

06 December 2012

Giving posters to schools

One of the issues with conference posters is that they are usually one-shot deals.

You design the poster. You print the poster. You have the poster up for a few hours or days at the conference. And... then what?

Why not donate them to schools?

Science Café in Little Rock gives conference posters from the local universities to high school classes.

I like this idea. Academics in universities often forget how much we have in terms of information and resources. I also like the notion that students can see the kinds of projects that are going on by local scientists. This would even be more powerful is the poster shows research by undergraduate students, so that high school students can see that making real research contributions need not be in the far future, a decade or more away, but something that is right around the corner.

Hat tip to Will Slaton. Photo by Argonne National Laboratory on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

29 November 2012

Link roundup for November 2012

Bluegrass Blue Crab has a nice post on essential features of a good map.

There is a lot of good advice in this collection of posters by annoyed designers. If you can use a little reverse psychology. Hat tip to Duarte.

22 November 2012

Lessons from Tumblr

If you look around social media, particularly Tumblr and Facebook, you’ll see a lot of things like this:

This example is from We are the 99 percent Tumblr, which was created as part of the Occupy movement. And it was powerful.

Spotted at I Fucking Love Science group on Facebook. Which reminds me of this memorable rant about the popular group:

What you actually “love” is photography, not science.

I could make the case that there is no reason for these to be pictures. The point is all in the text. If all that mattered was pure efficiency, maximizing signal to noise ratio, people would paste plain ASCII text into their websites instead of these pictures.

But the success of these shows how much we love pictures of actual things.

Following a lot of fake pictures purporting to be Hurricane Sandy, Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic wrote:

The algorithms at Facebook privilege photographs because they are what people are most likely to interact with. And users love a picture that’s worth a thousand words, four thousand Facebook likes, 900 retweets, a bunch of hearts, and some reblogs: everyone likes being an important node. The whole system tilts towards the consumption of visual content, of pictures and infographics and image macros.

This is a reminder of the power of images. They have more drawing power than text. If you want people to look at your poster, use pictures. Even a picture of text (like the 99 percent Tumblr) is more interesting than text alove.

External links

Image macro

08 November 2012

Hang time

This is a guest post from reader Mark Gurwell, used with his permission.

Are there some general guidelines that one should consider depending on the length of time a poster will be hung?

I ask this question from my experiences of the differences between the conference I most recently attended, the Division for Planetary Science (DPS) annual meeting, and something like an American Geophysical Union (AGU), or American Astronomical Society (AAS) meetings. At smaller meetings (DPS was around 800 attendees this year) you might have longer poster hang times, compared to larger meetings of a few to 10,000 or more, where the sheer volume of presentations necessitates frequent turnover.

For example, at the DPS meeting, posters were given ample time. They could be hung for the entire week, and each poster was in a topical group. Each topical group had a specific afternoon where they were “showcased,” which included a walk-through by all interested attendees where you could present your poster to a semi-captive audience (though the official limit on this presentation was 2 minutes).

At AGU and AAS, posters can be limited to as short as half a day before they must be removed for the next round of posters.

I think most conference attendees prefer the former model, since it means they can see all the posters of interest, even if they can't attend every day of a meeting. But both versions exist (and probably every shade in between), and each presents different challenges and advantages.

For the “all the time” extreme, you might expect more walk-ups and general interest, but it can be spread out over the week. You can’t possibly be by your poster all week, so your poster should to be standalone. It needs to be fully self-contained and must anticipate questions that might be asked if you were there. Some (I’ll probably count myself in this category) tend to compensate by making wordier posters. This may or may not be a winning strategy, and clearly still needs to be coupled with thought into title, colours, graphics, illustrations, and overall getting to the point in the clearest cleanest way.

For the other extreme, say a three hour block when your poster is put up, seen, and then taken back down, you probably need to be by your poster the full time. This allows your poster to become less self-contained and maybe more enticing. The goal here may be more to grab attention and (maybe not even necessarily!) drive home the conclusion, and then you the presenter can fill in the details conversationally. Thus, possibly less words, more graphics.

The downside here is that, with so short a time, it may well be that the only people you get to your poster are those you’ve already primed to physically seek your poster out, by your title and abstract published in the abstract book or online prior to the meeting. The chance of running across a really interested person is lowered, because everyone is frantically trying to get to the ten to twenty posters that they really want to see (or think they want to see).

I’d be interested in hearing about other considerations/techniques for posters that have either long or short hang times.

Related posts


Photo by MRHSfan on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

01 November 2012

Care to sit down?

At big conferences, you can be on your feet all day. There’s a lot of walking from room to room, and poster sessions are generally several hours long. Even the healthiest and heartiest can start to flag a little under those conditions.

Not everyone is in the best of health when a conference happens. (Some time, I’ll tell you about the experience of the student who started to suffer from food poisoning while we were on the plane to a conference.)

Organizers, you might consider having a few light, easily moved chairs for people at your poster sessions. NeuroPolarBear twigged to this at Neuroscience, with one of his recommendations:

More chairs throughout the convention center, including the poster floor, but also the hallways. When you see people sitting on the ground all over the place, it's a sign that there's something missing. That thing is chairs.

But at least don’t do this:

ESA wouldn't give her a chair for her poster session this year (really, wtf)

Yes, having chairs in the poster hall does require enough space and a little planning. But some of your attendees will thank you for it.

25 October 2012

Link roundup for October 2012


It’s the month of Neuroscience, the biggest collection of conference posters maybe anywhere. Lots of people offered advice for presenting posters at that conference, which has the advantage of applying to almost any other conference you might attend.

Neuropolarbear gives advice on presenting a poster: be able to do it in less than 5 minutes.

Don’t even practice a longer version. If people want more detail, they will ask about the parts they care about. That’s the brilliance of a poster, as opposed to a talk.

Drugmonkey has a follow-up.

Ask the person to tell you why they are there! Really, this is a several second exchange that can save a lot of time.

The Cellular Scale has more suggestions:

They say you only need to be there during the one hour that you are scheduled, but it's a good idea to be there basically the whole time.

And when you’re at your poster, In Baby Attach Mode reminds us to introduce people we know to each other.

(I)t’s a small gesture to introduce people to each other, but that it makes a huge difference in how you make people feel.

Scicurious covers a poster presentation experiment (that I’ve featured here on this blog, but worth revisiting). Next,  In Baby Attach Mode ponders dress sense at posters. Virginia Hughes also picks up the cause on Twitter. Finally, to round out the trilogy, here's a full-length post on conference clothing.

The Cellular Scale finds another candidate for worst poster ever at Neuroscience.

No graphs only words, well one picture of a whole brain, and TABLES! oh the tables that should have been graphs! But it wasn't just the layout, the presentation was rambly and confusing.

Katie wondered how many figures should be on a poster, and provided some field data from the Neuroscience conference floor:

(I) saw everywhere from 6-40+ in my row of posters.

My response: As many as you need to tell the story. Just remember that posters are good for short stories, not epic novels.

Drugmonkey on how to turn people away from your poster:

Title items that cause me to skip your poster “mechanism of”.

Similarly, Dr. Leigh asks:

Why do people title their poster/talks “evidence for [phenomenon]”? Why not just say what the phenom is, we assume you’re presenting evidence.

Bradley Voytek wanted this:

Someone should start a DejectedPosterFace tumblr for that look students have when they're standing at their poster all alone. So sad!

Your wish is my command, sahib.

Jason Snyder finds people who seem to be all postered out.

And I love this picture from Shelly Fan on a plane going out from New Orleans after Neuroscience.

And do not make jokes about their resemblance to any sort of weapon!

Shelly Fan made her own poster tube strap.

Even after it was all over, some people just couldn’t stop presenting! This was spotted in the New Orleans airport at 7 am the day after Neuroscience closed:

If someone does this next year, it will become tradition.

NeuroPolarBear has a round up with great tips for organizers.

One of the things I most wanted to see was the debut of “dynamic posters” at Neuroscience. So far, I’ve only found one comment about them:

But what really caught my attention at SfN 2012 is that Voytek and Warp were presenting “The Adventures of Ned the Neuron” and its development via a “dynamic” poster. That means they presented their story and concept on a large digital flat-screen rather than on the traditional posterboard in the conference center. No thumbtacks needed.

Warp tells me that SfN contacted her and Voytek to tell them they’d been selected as part of a pilot program prior to the meeting. Apparently, there was one dynamic poster presented during each poster session over the course of the conference. Presumably, if the feedback is good, we’ll see more neuroscientists presenting their colorful, three-dimensional data on flat-screens in the future. Say goodbye to those poster tubes and trying to cram them into the overhead bin on the airplane, kids.

Society for Vertebrate Paleontology

Neuroscience was not the only conference this month. We also had the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology. And I have to say that it’s a paleontologist, Tony Martin, who gave me the biggest smile this month in poster-related news with... Paleontologist Barbie.

This is one of my favourite things about posters: you can do things that you cannot get away with in a paper.

Meanwhile, Bora Zivcovic offers a great approach to reading posters, and a reminder about why you want to make a good one (my emphasis):

I think, in any field, the most interesting work is done by junior researchers and students, and what they say (and the enthusiasm by which they say it) may be more revealing about the future of a field. Which is why I focused on the posters. ...

I went to see the posters every day during lunch break when the posters are already up, but people are not there yet. I checked out every single poster, in order to get a feel for the field as a whole. Then I would focus on, and completely read, 4-5 posters each day. In the afternoon, when the poster sessions starts, I homed in on those 4-5 posters and talked to the authors, asked more questions. A number of those posters will end up here on our site, written by authors on the Guest Blog, over the next several weeks and months.


Finally, a bit of a “how to” article about making inforgraphics look good without compromising the integrity of the information.

18 October 2012

The Better Posters workshop

Although I’ve been doing this blog for a few years now, I had never given a presentation or workshop trying to distill some of the best tips and ideas until this week. I gave two workshops at my institution in preparation for an undergraduate research conference to be held next month. Thanks to Danika Brown for livetweeting.

I’m hoping these will not be the last time I give this presentation. Have slides, will travel!

American Physiological Society poster course

The American Physiological Society has decided to provide a course on poster-making. I’m pleased to see at least one scientific society taking a more active interest in poster presentations! The text below is pulled from this PDF. I’m tempted to take it myself to see what there is to learn, and how other people do things.

2012 Professional Skills Training Course: Creating a Poster for a Scientific Meeting Online Course

Does Your Poster Have All of the Necessary Pieces?

How is the course structured?

  • 7‐day online course (November 15‐21)
  • All exercises and course materials are accessible 24/7
  • Discussion boards will allow you to interact with top faculty and peers
  • Course will be taught in written English

What is my commitment?

  • Dedicate approximately 1 hour a day to the online course
  • Complete all lessons on time and participate in all aspects of the course
  • Thoughtfully complete all the evaluations before, during, and after the course

What is the cost?

  • APS Member Price ‐$90 (you must be a member at the time of registration to qualify for this price)
  • Non‐Member Price ‐$180

What hardware or software do I need to have?

  • Computer with internet access (preferably high‐speed internet)
  • Software:
    • Browser: Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox ‐recent version
    • Microsoft Word
    • Adobe PDF reader (free download)
    • Macromedia Flash Player 6.079 or later (free download)

Register Online 1‐31 October2012.
Go to http://bit.ly/SJ8gNT, select the “Creating a Poster for a Scientific Meeting” link and register.

Hat tip to Janet Stemwedel.

11 October 2012

Worst of the worst?

Worst venue?

Overheard at a conference over summer: a poster session at another institution that decided to hold a poster session outdoors. in the height of August.

Apart from uncomfortable heat, unpredictable weather, wind catching posters... What could possibly go wrong?

Worst poster?

On Twitter, RuthFT shared “the worst conference poster I have ever seen.” It graced(?) the halls of the International Symposium on Archaeometry.

In fairness, Ruth noted:

It is very hard to do a poster for a heavily interpretive subject. Always too much text, but how else to explain/justify interpretations?

True. But even this could be improved by:

  • Putting the title in the upper left corner instead of the upper right.
  • Separating the rows to indicate that you were supposed to read across instead of down.
  • Better still, making the reading order go up and down instead of across, with space between each set of columns.
  • More careful proofreading to fix things like “objetives” instead of “objectives” in headings.
  • Keeping the type consistent; in particular not switching to italics in the Results section. 

Several of those changes only required paying some attention when hanging the poster. I almost wonder:

04 October 2012

Dynamic posters preview

I wish I could go to this year’s Neuroscience meeting, but cannot, so I will miss the debut of “dynamic posters.” But a preview is available here, where we get a better idea of what this involves.

The size of a dynamic poster is 4 feet, 4 inches wide, which compares quite favourably to the paper poster size of 5 feet, 8 inches. The downside, as I see it, is that it is being controlled by a laptop, which has got to be a substantial cost and annoyance. To make this attractive, I think there will have to be a move towards a more iPad like experience, where you simply upload the poster, and can navigate with a touchscreen.

Related posts

As was foretold by prophecy
Poster session 2032

External links

Dynamic posters

New type

I am a sucker for sans serif type on posters. But sometimes, it seems that the choices are somewhat limited for Windows users.

For a long time, Arial was the default sans serif in Windows. Arial is okay, but suffers from overuse. (And purists know Helvetica is better.)

More recently, Calibri has taken the place as the default sans serif on Windows. Calibri is a well designed typeface, but is starting to suffer from the same “it looks like someone can’t be bothered to change the default font” that plagued Arial. It can look lazy.

For some time, Gill Sans has been my “go to” typeface for posters, because I think it holds up well when viewed from a distance, as on a poster. But Gill Sans is somewhat dated, and I wanted a more modern typeface.

Making my last two posters, I tried two new options.

First, there is Corbel.

For some reason, I had not paid attention to this font before, even though it has been on my computer for several years, and it now a standard type for Windows.

When I was laying out a poster recently, I had the text in Calibri, and was looking around for different options. I had the poster minimized so I could see the whole poster on the screen, and the text was just barely readable. When I switched to Corbel, the readability of the text immediately increased. Calibri is a rather compact typeface, and Corbel is wider, which helps when you’re reading text from a distance.

Second, we have Cabin.

This is a descendent of Gill Sans and its fellows, and has some of the same advantages in terms of it legibility from a distance. It has some advantages, however, such as being able to distinguish a 1 from a lowercase l more readily than in Gill Sans:

I do admit that there is something about the detail and character of Gill Sans that I still prefer, though, when seeing the two side by side.

As shown in the example above, Cabin is tight in the vertical, and can looks too dense when set with the default spacing. A little adjustment in the line spacing helps substantially. But remember that in general, poster text will be better if you increase the line spacing from 100% to 110% or more.

27 September 2012

Link roundup for September 2012

The Singular Scientist looks at QR codes.

It’s a best of list, because people love lists. This one is 20 data visualization tools.

20 September 2012

An augmented reality poster

I’ve talked about various ways to make posters more interactive, from using QR codes to showing video. This is another step in making posters more dynamic: using augmented reality.

Jump to the 4 minute mark to see what Adem Bilican did with his poster:

ECCB12 poster awards ceremony by abilican

Given this and the winning poster at this year’s Neuroethology congress, it seems that one of the ways to make a successful poster is to transcend the poster format. How can you give someone more than a piece of paper on a board?

External links

Poster prize at ECCB12 with my augmented reality poster
ECCB12 poster awards ceremony
ECCB 2012: Bioinformatics with a Swiss Flavour
ECCB12 poster prize for A Bilican

Hat tip to Guillaume Collet.

13 September 2012

Usable space

I like using all the space available to me on my posters. Big posters are easy to read and can get more attention.

At a recent conference, the organizers told the presenters that the poster boards were 8 feet by 4 feet, or 92 inches by 48 inches. But 92 inch by 48 inch posters didn’t fit on the board. The organizers had measured the poster boards from edge to edge, outside of the metal frame. The frame took up about an inch of space on all four sides.

When making your poster, make it 2 inches shorter in both dimensions than what the organizers tell you the space is. That will give you a little wiggle room if the organizers have miscalculated the available space. From my experience, this happens frequently.

This is going too far, though:

It looks like you’re not even trying.

Related posts

Board numbers

06 September 2012

Chemistry is magic!

Neil Withers spotted this poster on Reddit:

One of my friends entrusted my group and I to print his poster for a conference...he chose poorly.

You can click to enlarge...

I’m going to go out on a limb here. While this was meant as a joke...

I actually think it’s kind of effective.

Remember what the point of a poster is? It’s to give people something to talk about. And this poster does that, make no mistake. If I saw this poster, I would walk up to it and start a conversation.

The trick, though, is to make people go away remembering the science and not the joke. That wouldn’t be easy, because the joke is so good. But if you took away the joke, you might have far fewer chances to explain the science. On your next poster, maybe you can loosen up and have a little fun.

Related posts

Conversation piece

Hat tip to Biochem Belle.

Additional, 17 October
: Sciencegurl noticed this in her department.

30 August 2012

Link roundup, August 2012

Certain styles of movie posters get used again and again (English summary here).

Speaking of limitations, Laura Bergells (a.k.a. Maniactive) has an exercise in slide design that’s worth trying with your conference poster:

(N)otice what happens when you start from a place of restriction and gradually open yourself up to a few new features. You’ll start to see what’s really essential — and what might be distracting.

X-Gal at Journal of Cell Science dispenses conference advice, including some good thoughts on the poster session:

With the current trend of playing your cards close to your chest, you're unlikely to hear much new on the podium – it’s the posters where most of the valuable information can be extracted. Even if the author hasn’t dared to print the fine details, you can often coax things out of them with a friendly chat. I once went to spy on a competitor’s work, terrified that I was about to be scooped, only to end up agreeing to a collaboration that turned out to be unexpectedly productive. But that never would have happened if we hadn’t had that excuse to meet in person and discuss our common ground.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: stuff gets done at poster sessions.

The Scholarly Kitchen looks at the relationship between typefaces and authority.

Designing communications for a poster fair is a few years old, but has some good advice, much of which will be familiar to regular readers of this blog.

I’ve seen variations of this idea on a few sites, but this is a particularly well done example. If movies had crappy fonts:

I’ve seen variations of making pictures using type before, but this one is particularly fun, because it uses superheroes.

We go into the archives from 1997 for how to give a poster nobody remembers. Hat tip to Bastian Greshake.

23 August 2012

The data prison

You should not use tables on posters. But if you insist...

Here is how you are likely to see a table on a poster.

This is a classic example of what Edward Tufte (1990) called “data-imprisonment”: every piece of information in its own separate cell. Academics love to draw boxes around things, so it’s no surprise that you see this done on tables. All. The. Time.

Some don’t stop there.

“Zebra stripes” can work on a table, if the shades are subtle. But they are over used, and most often badly used.

Here is how you are likely to see a table in a journal, laid out by professionals.

See the difference? No vertical lines. Very few horizontal lines. No zebra stripes. It’s done with white space and careful alignment.

Free the data!

Related posts

If you must use a table
Burn your tables


Tufte E. 1990. Envisioning Information. Graphics Press.

16 August 2012


Sometimes, no graph can substitute for a good video. This is particularly true in the field of animal behaviour and neuroethology. As I mentioned previously, I was just at the Tenth International Congress of Neuroethology, and I saw a few people trying to bring video to their poster, including me.

On my poster, I did two things. First, I snitched a lot of tacks and used them to mount an iPad.

Several people thought this was brave of me. I knew it would work, because I had seen Bradley Voytek do this at last year’s Neuroscience meeting. With enough tacks, and new poster boards, that iPad was in there solidly. It wasn’t going to hit the floor unless the entire poster board went over.

Because I wasn’t by my poster at all times, and I didn’t want to leave my new iPad unattended, I printed a QR code to the video behind the iPad:

I was kind of proud of this, because I planned ahead. I used some good practices in the text (telling people exactly what the code was). I left just enough space so that this would be concealed when the iPad was in place.

Other presenters were also using iPads, but mounting them in different ways. The next two photos are from the same poster, on different days:

On day on, the presented used the iPad cover to act as a sort of lanyard arrangement.

By day two, the presented decided just to hang the iPad over the top of the poster board frame. Now this was what made me nervous.

I discovered one minor little problem with using an iPad to show people video, though. I would have liked for the video to be showing continuously, looping, so I didn’t have to be fiddling with it anew for every poster customer. There is no way to do that using the normal video app in the iPad. You have to resort to a few hacks to get looping video.

Another person, not wanting to risk an expensive iPad, just used a digital photo frame instead.

But as long as you can have someone by the poster, the risk to putting you iPad on the poster is minimal.

Related posts

How to show a dung beetle running
More power! The poster with a plug

13 August 2012

How to show a dung beetle running

I was at the Tenth International Congress for Neuroethology last week, and I think it marked the first time there was a poster competition at this meeting. Jochen Smolka won the poster prize for, “The galloping dung beetle: a new gait in insects and its consequences for navigation.”

I was not one of the judges, but this poster caught my attention because of the innovative ways it tried showed the behaviour of the beetles.

Jochen made a flipbook:

This was genius. I had a blast out of looking at this. It reminded me of Big Little books, which sometimes had little animations in their corners. I tried to take video of this, but it turns out to be hard to operate a flipbook in one hand while holding a camera phone in the other hand.

I asked Jochen how he did this. I was fully expecting that there would be some sort of business that took your video file and converted it into a flipbook.


Jochen frame grabbed all those images from video he had shot, stuck them into an editor, printed them out eight to a page, and made it by hand. Impressive!

Besides the flipbook, Jochen had another technique that I’ve featured on the blog several times: a QR code with a link to the video online.

But the flipbook was more effective: it invites someone to stop and pick it up in a way that a video on the screen does not. A flipbook can’t have connection problems from dodgy wifi, or is less likely to make someone give up in frustration. Even writing this, I ran into problems when tried to get the link to the video to work by typing it into my browser: in the URL listed, is the character between the D and the S a number one, capital letter I or lowercase letter L (lowercase L, as it happened)?

This is not Jochen’s first award, either; he also got an award at the Society for Experimental Biology. Nicely done Jochen.

Below is a picture of the winners of the poster competition; Jochen is far right. Congratulations to all the recipients!

Trivia! Flipbooks are called daumenkino in German, which roughly translates as “thumb cinema.”

12 August 2012

The end of paper is nigh

A while back, I noted that the Society for Neuroscience was surveying members about
dynamic posters.” Bradley Voytek confirms that these are go for this October. He quotes the mail he received:

A dynamic poster is an electronic version of the current paper-based format, displayed on an LCD screen rather than a poster board. However, it’s more than just an e-poster, which is typically an electronic - but still static - PDF version of a paper poster. Embedding multimedia content is encouraged such as videos, slides, animated charts or graphs, scrolling text, or a 3D rotation of a model. A dynamic poster presentation is designed for face-to-face interaction: like a regular poster presentation, the dynamic presentation will be driven by the primary author while attendees visit the poster. Some text elements of the poster will always be viewable for browsing by people walking by or waiting for their turn to speak with the presenter. Other parts of the poster will be operated by the presenter, who can click on and play a video or enlarge a graph to better illustrate a method or result.

Now I wish that I was going to Neuroscience this year! I want to see these in action!

09 August 2012

If iPads were made by academics

This is the default screen of a new iPad. Calm, cool, focused.

This is what this screen would look like if it made the way academics make their conference posters.

Everything squeezed, nothing aligned, lots distorted.

Or maybe this.

Boxes and Comics Sans; now that’s the stuff.

Seriously, people. It feels like 90% of conference posters look like those bottom two.

To repeat the lessons:

  • Big margins.
  • Make everything line up.
  • Lock the aspect ratio when enlarging or shrinking.

02 August 2012

Critique: Dinosaur necks

Today’s poster comes from Mike Taylor, who blogs at SV-POW!, along with co-authors Matt Wedell and Darren Naish (though Darren mostly blogs at Tetrapod Zoology these days).

This is a poster trying to be a short paper. The text is foremost. The good news is that it is entirely self-sufficient. I can read this and understand the entire thing without anyone there to explain it to me.

The headings are choice. Rather than using the standard IMRAD headings, each one makes a key statement that is unpacked in the following paragraphs.

But those paragraphs are the poster’s main weakness. This is so text heavy, I might not be inclined to stop and read it if there wasn’t someone there to talk to. I would have tried to cut as much of the main text out as possible, and make the headings bigger.

I’m not crazy about using pictures for backgrounds. This one has the disadvantage of only covering ¾ of the poster! I will give credit, however, for not doing what many would have done: stretching the picture wider until it fit. The background picture is undistorted. But the white left hand column feels tacked on, disconnected from the rest of the poster. This could be addressed in a few ways.

In my graphics editor, I used the eyedropper tool to find the most prominent colour on the left side, along the boundary with the white right hand column. Then, I used the fill tool to drop that colour in, replacing the white on the right side:

This “quick and dirty” fix makes the poster fell a little more like a unified whole. Perhaps even better would have been to center the background image, and do the same match for the “tan” on the left hand side. Or, use one of these tricks from John McWade.

There are also a few other layout tweaks that could be made. Aligning the tops of the columns and evening up the column widths would help tidy things up.

While this poster could be better (as any poster can be), I give it complete credit for passing one important test: I was never confused while looking at it.

26 July 2012

Link roundup, July 2012

Creating graphics, not with character, but with characters. I’ll bet some posters could use this technique well.

Ecologist Stephen S. Hale has written a field guide to conferences. His advice on posters is... memorable.

You have to compete for attention. Say you’re standing by your poster, hardly anyone has stopped by yet, and you’re trying not to look too anxious. How to get people to stop and talk to you rather than all those other poster people? You see someone come into your group of posters; she’s darting her eyes quickly over the various titles. You strain to read her name tag. If she edges closer, set the hook by smiling and asking “May I talk you through this?” Pretend you’re a male bowerbird; you’ve built this elaborate structure and you want to get a female to join you inside. The principle of sexual selection says that reproduction (of ideas, in this case) only occurs if the person you’re trying to attract chooses your structure over the many competing ones. So you’ve got to make your poster bold, colorful, and interesting.

If you’re wondering what a bowerbird is, look no further:

Methinks his profession may have coloured his perspective somewhat.

I think Seth Godin’s instruction here can apply to posters:

No one is going to read the whole thing, ever again. But we need to make it much easier to read the part of the thing that someone really cares about.

Check out Steven Hamblin, who describes his design process for making a poster If you haven’t done a poster yet, you should read this. It gives an excellent sense for why a poster is not something you knock out in an afternoon.

- 10:36 p.m. Am I seriously still in the lab? It’s time to go home.

We’ve all been there, Steven.

Ed Yong attacks jargon and leaves it in a body cast. There are a lot of lessons here in writing text for your poster. For instance (my emphasis):

Writing is a constant battle for attention. Filling prose with jargon, and failing to consider the all-important audience, ensures that you lose the battle before you’ve even published a pixel. Nobody has ever felt obliged to read. Don’t give them reasons to stop.

19 July 2012

Comic CERN

I get you, CERN.

You think it should be all about the content, right? The discovery of the Higgs boson is the important thing.

But instead, you get these:

Sure, you have supporters. Brian Cox backs you up. Some people are petitioning to change the name of Comic Sans to Comic CERN.

Still, you had to know what you were in for on July 4th, since you did the same thing, and got the same reaction, back in December of 2011. So I have to ask, CERN, did you use Comic Sans to get a reaction, or are you being stubborn?

Because I get that.

I wear a tie for no one. I wear T-shirts and jeans most of the time. And I can’t be bothered to cut my hair very often. And it’s partly to get a reaction and mainly because I’m stubborn. These are no doubt deep flaws in my character. But it is a conscious decision I’ve made.

Now, I’ve made my feelings about Comic Sans known on this blog and elsewhere several times. I think you can do better, CERN. You should look at articles like this one by David Kadavy on why Comic Sans gets so much flak.

If you deliberately chose to use Comics Sans, fine. I disagree, but no matter. A big message of this blog is that design is all about making conscious decisions. If you choose to use Comic Sans, that’s okay... as long as you understand the price you’ll be paying.

External links

Higgs in Comic Sans: the right font for physics?
Higgs boson researchers mocked for using Comic Sans font
Why you hate Comic Sans

13 July 2012

Critique: Biomaterials

Today’s poster was submitted by Jessica Moore, who is manager of Center of Excellence in Nanomedicine at the University of California, San Diego, and is shown with her permission. She sent me two posters, and we’ll see the other one later.

A poster’s title should always win fight for attention easily. It isn't here. There is too much stuff going on around it. You have a text based logo in the “primetime” upper left corner, a lot of names, and headings in boxes, and the poster’s title isn’t much bigger than any of those. People won’t be able to pick out the title at a glance, and they are likely to walk by.

I like that the “Motivation” for the poster is called out at the top, but I’m having a hard time identifying what the main result or conclusion is.

The reading order has a mix of top to bottom and left to right directions. The lower left corner in particular seems to deviate a bit from the pattern established by the rest of the poster.

But even though the reading order is reasonably apparent, it looks jumbled and confused within each larger section because so few things are aligned with each other. A stronger underlying grid layout would help.

Similarly, not a lot of things match in terms of shape or colour. There are boxes with round corners and boxes with square corners. There are white headings on dark blue backgrounds and black text on medium blue backgrounds. Some lines are gold, some blue.

Let’s see what happens if we cut out a bunch of those boxes:

Finally, this “IOP” graph on the left side just scares me.

Even if I stopped to look at this poster, I would want to flee as soon as I saw this graph. Eleven colours by seven groupings? I can feel my eyes glazing over just typing the description. This graph needs a serious re-think. Perhaps some of the data in a category could be collapses to show the main effects more easily, or changed to a line graph, or something.