23 February 2012

Critique and makeover: Metacognition

Gluttons for punishment continue to send me good blogging material! This week’s entry comes from Kerri Rawson, a graduate student at the University of South Florida, who gave me permission to post this (click to enlarge).

She wrote about it:

I’ve tried to consider many of your recommendations - using circles, black on white, Gill Sans, three columns, no boxes, placement of key items, etc.

However, I am ready to toss it and just go back to the normal PowerPoint templates!  I wanted to see if you had time to look at it before I do though.

I couldn’t let this poor unfortunate soul go back to PowerPoint.

Given that a lot of my suggestions went into this poster, it’s not surprising that I would say it’s starting off with a solid foundation. It’s clear and readable, and nobody would be embarrassed to hang this in a conference hall. I like the “speaking head,” which is a clever way of creating an entry point to draw in passers-by using mostly text.

My first general suggestion was that the poster looks just a hair too tight. I suggested that she could make the spaces between columns, and between section headings, a little bit bigger by reducing the font size a point or two. For instance, column 3 looks a trifle crowded from top to bottom. The graph could be shrunk a little bit – it’s very simple, and would still be readable even if it was slightly smaller – to create a bit more breathing room between the three sections in the column.

Sticking with column 3 for a second, the word "Metacognitively" in the section heading seems to be dangling out in the right hand margin. I say “seems” because if you actually draw a line down from the top to the bottom, it is contained within the text box. But because it sticks out more than anything else in that column, it gives the illusion that it’s intruding on the margin.

In the center column, the purple boxes come too close to the text, both inside and outside of the boxes. I suggested making them a little narrower (to get the colour away from the text on the right), and centering the text inside (the words aren't so close to touching the left side of the box).

The table has anonymous mystery numbers in parentheses in columns 2 and 3. I suspected (correctly) that these were standard deviation or something similar, but I couldn’t see a description anywhere.

The graph in column 3 had the most problems.

  • The horizontal gridlines in the graph simply had to go. They rarely help, and here, they were running directly through the word “Metacognitive,” which looked just horrible.
  • The main X and Y axes could be made darker, so that they were more visible.
  • Error bars to variation for means (standard deviation, standard error, etc.) are always good practice.

Since most of the poster is black and white, the colours have a lot of pop. I noted that there is red in column 1, purple and green in column 2, and blue and green in column 3. Dropping from four colours down to three might help unify the poster a bit more.

Here’s the makeover. The graph no longer makes me cringe!

In addition to implementing some of my suggestions, she added a little more colour into the table on the right side, and justified the columns. These were both good decisions.

The changes are subtle, but they do make for a better poster.


Anonymous said...

I have a bigger problem with the graph in column three than the lines an the colours. With two data points which don't have a clearly defined X-axis, I would newer use a line graph. Some kind of column plot is what is would use here.
But besides from that, it is a very nice poster

Kerri Rawson said...

Good suggestion and thank you for the compliment. My main goal of the graph was to show the interaction. Are column plots a good way to demonstrate interactions?

Just a note on using Pages...this was my first time using this software. I liked that it was cheap ($20 download from apps on mac). It has great tools to align vertically and horizontally so take advantage of that. The only thing I would do differently is allowing more room on the edges. Once the poster was printed out, I felt the text was too close to the left edge, so would recommend leaving more space on the edges when designing a poster using this software.