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.

05 July 2012

Critique: Bison dung fungus

I’m pleased that Jacquelyn Gill took time out from preparing for her doctoral dissertation today (which you can watch live at 1:00 pm Central time!) to provide me with a poster for critique. It’s one of the first examples of a poster that has some elements featured in another poster I critiqued on this blog. Click to enlarge!

Recognize the influence? It’s from Kristina Killgrove, whose poster was featured back in April! Both divided the poster into elliptical quadrants.

On Kristina’s poster, I noted a problem was confusion about whether to read across or down. Jacquelyn’s answer to this is to provide a clear, but unobtrusive, cue in the center of the poster, with numbers showing the reading order.

Within each quadrant, the multiple rows and columns make it a little tricky to decipher the order I’m supposed to look at the figures in. I’m pretty sure it’s from left to right, though.

As I mentioned with Kristina’s poster, it is difficult to fit much some material into curved spaces. Graphs, in particular, are rectangular, and they need a lot of space around the corners to avoid the “about to pop the balloon” tension. Jacquelyn generally does a good job of this on the top. Not having top or right axes on the graphs helps. The bottom graphs are less comfortable, particularly on the right.

I am generally against putting text on photographic backgrounds. It’s not bad here, though, because the top half is just a colour. The bottom, though, could be more of a problem. I would have tried to make the interiors of the ellipses even a bit more opaque, though perhaps not completely white. In particular, quadrant 3 in the lower left has graphs with the finest details on top of the background.

The circles on either side of the top quadrants are nice little attractions for passers by. I would have put a bison picture in the upper left if possible. The upper left is the more critical position, and the bison is more recognizable than the fungus (at least, I’m presuming that’s what’s in the upper left circle). Normally, I’d mirror the picture Jacquelyn used to make the bison looked to the right, into the text. The numbers on the ear tags would make this tricky to do for this picture, as they reversed numbers would give the effect away!

The poster uses classic movie poster colours, orange and blue, for some contrasting “pop.”

Jacquelyn shares a poster from a couple of years ago by way of comparison. She called it “awful”, but I have to say, it’s far from the worst I’ve seen. Yes, there’s a lot of text, but at least the reading order is plain.

I’d have to agree that her new poster is better, though!

Postscript: That’s Doctor Gill now. She succesfully defended her thesis.