28 June 2012

Link roundup, June 2012

The National Science Foundation’s program, IGERT is hosting a virtual poster session. I haven’t had time to peruse them in detail, but if you see a cool one, let me know!

More online infographics applications are appearing: http://infogr.am/ and http://venngage.com/. Be careful using these!

Conference! The Game from NeuroSkeptic.

I’m often telling people to make things bigger. Here, John McWade takes this advice to the extreme.

You can drive yourself crazy trying to find something that sets you apart from the crowd. A look at the creation of logos at the Design Observer Observatory.

Here’s a book on Spacing and Arrangement of Type that shows how not to do it.

Lora Innes gives advice on laying out comic pages that has lessons for conference poster makers, too. Like this:

The moment your reader wonders, “Where do I go next?” you’ve lost them. It’s like seeing a boom mic in a movie shot. Illusion destroyed.

Prof-Like Substance has several guides on how to use Adobe Illustrator.

We call it “bait” because it’s so irresistable: 100 beautiful free fonts.

The most valuable movie poster in the world is going up for auction.

Finally, Bora Zivcovik was kind enough to make this his blog of the week near the end of May.

21 June 2012

Abstract abolition!

Don’t put an abstract on your poster.

Conference posters are summaries.

Poster are condensed versions of a scientific story. Posters should be something that you can walk someone through in a few minutes. Posters should be self contained: everything is there in one place.

But many research stories are complex. This means that you are often pressed for space on a poster, even if the conference organizers have generously sized poster boards. If you look at the critiques on this blog, you’ll see that one of the most common complaints I have is “crowded.”

Why, oh why, would you ever put an abstract on a poster?

Abstracts are useful things for scientific papers: they allow you to get the gist of a story and figure out if the whole paper is worth reading. They are useful for conference booklets for the same reason.

But if you’re standing at a poster... you don’t need to look at an abstract to whether to look at the poster. You can look at the poster itself.

This seems to arise out of the unrelenting desire to make everything follow the standard format of academic papers. But posters are not papers.

Now, some conferences deliberately instruct poster presenters to put conference abstracts on their posters. In the past, I have done this because I want to follow instructions. They’re usually there for a reason. But I have had it with that. I’m going rogue. Because it’s a rule without consequences. Nobody ever checks posters.

Conference organizers, I’m asking you nicely this one time: stop telling people to put abstracts on posters.

Putting an abstract on a conference poster is liking writing a haiku about a limerick.

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Breaking the hourglass for headlines that holler

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

14 June 2012

Critique: Heparin

Today’s poster comes from Chloe Gallagher. Click to enlarge!

My biggest concern is the triangle and three boxes that run into both the Introduction and the Methods. I keep looking at it, and it confuses me. I don't understand which section of the poster it relates to. It needs to be placed clearly in one section or the other.

I like the art deco type used in the title; it adds a little elegance. I would have used it for the section headings, too.

The logo next to the name is reasonably unobtrusive, but why does it have to show up again in the lower right corner?

The results section looks thrown together. There’s no consistency of colour, of labelling (Table 2? Where’s Table 1?), and none of the graphs align.

While I kind of like the box defining equipoise as a graphic element, it feels out a place. I usually expect to find basic definitions at the front of something rather than the end.

12 June 2012

As was foretold by prophecy

When you join scientific societies, you get surveys. The most recent one I got from a society I belong to asked this question.

In which of the following possible services or extensions of the annual meeting would you be interested in participating in the future if they were made available?

There was a long list of options, but these caught my eye:

  • Dynamic Posters (on-site) — Electronic poster boards that allow for video and other multi-media content.
  • Online Posters – Posters with online access prior to and after the meeting that continues to protect the proprietary research being presented.

Online posters would be helpful, but nothing new. But “dynamic posters”... now those could be a significant improvement and innovation. This is not just an idle, pie in the sky idea. A later question shows the organizers clearly have some tech in mind:

What would be most important considerations for you regarding possibly visiting Dynamic Posters?
  • Adequate size of the posters: (the screen will generally be smaller than a traditional poster board)
  • Ability to see the entire poster at all times

I doubt we’ll see “Dynamic Posters” at this year’s meeting, or even next. But I am excited by the prospects. And that “Dynamic Posters” totally sounds like an old B-movie or comic marketing blurb.

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Poster session 2032

07 June 2012

Critique and makeover: Aptamer biosensors

I won’t go easy on this poster just because it has a crustacean on it! Today’s poster is from Jon Ashley, and is show here with his permission. Click to enlarge!

Those big boxes drawn in heavy black lines were my first problem. The lines were so thick that they draw attention to the inconsistencies in the boxes. Round corners are a problem, because you want each corner to have the same degree of “roundness.” This was done in PowerPoint, and PowerPoint automatically scales the round corners by some automatic amount with the size of the box; not sure how. Consequently, when you put two boxes of the same width, but different height, next to each other, they don’t match.

This can be fixed. Click on the box, and you’ll see a little yellow diamond on the upper left side.

You can drag that to the left or right to adjust the amount of rounding.

Besides the plague of boxes, distortion and cramming are the other two culprits here. To check if a picture has the right proportions, right click it, open “Format Shape,” and look for “Size.” Under “scale,” make sure the height and width percentages are the same!

I sat down and tinkered, with my main goals being:

  • More white space;
  • More consistency in text (mostly left aligned, less random bolding);
  • Lining things up slightly more.

I didn’t want to mess with the initial layout decisions or change the style of the poster. I just wanted to clean it up. If you look closely, you’ll see I didn’t get rid of the boxes. They are thin gray lines instead of thick black ones. I found that because the background went almost white in the middle, I wanted a very light line to demarcate the box and the background when you got up close.

This was the result:

The first poster looks intimidating to me. This one looks inviting to me. But it’s all the same material, with the same layout. I still have concerns with the layout (the layout of the Methodology section is still weak, and so on), but I am always stunned by just how much improvement you can make just by making a few small changes, like lightening up boxes.

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