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.