21 February 2013

Critique and makeover: Glow worms

The last few weeks on the blog, I’ve been talking about the power of using found objects to inspire design. This week, Bronwyn Carlisle provides us with another excellent example. It won third prize in the conference it was shown. You can click to enlarge:

Bronwyn’s commentary (slightly edited):

It was a horrible poster to have to design. The main problem was that monstrous table. It had to be there (it was the result), and it had to be legible. I had to use a narrow font to make it fit, and I rearranged the table itself to make it less confusing. Everything else had to fit around the table. But it was the last part of the poster, so it had to go at the end. I also had short wide tables that needed to fit in panels 2 & 3, along with taller, narrower, graphs. In general, it was a nightmare jigsaw.

I sympathize. Tall posters in portrait format are always difficult. The “nightmare jigsaw” problem was not quite beat in the layout. The lack of clear columns create a jagged split dividing the poster.

Unfortunately, this is problem that I don’t know how to fix quickly. One possibility would be to go back to the graphing software and redraw the graphs on the right hand side to make them fit the proportions of their space more closely. Making them wider would at least make the right edges align, enhancing the sense that there is an underlying grid.

A second issue I have is one where I do have a suggestion. As regular readers know, I’m not a fan of boxes. Here, the big, thick black lines that form the box in the upper right feels particularly heavy handed. Given that this poster overall has a light, almost airy touch to it, the box does not mesh with the rest of the poster.

My suggestion is to use a box implied by colour, rather than one described by thick lines. I used the eyedropper tool to grab the colour of the “antique” image of the animal just to the left of the box, drew a new rectangle with that colour, and put the text on top.

One benefit of this is that by tying the text box and the figure together with the same colour, it binds the top into a single row. The thick-lined box pulls away from the rest, and enhances the split between the left and the right.

Bronwyn continues:

You will notice that I departed from custom and put the authors at the very top. Personally, I really like it.

This works fine. Even though the authors are at the top, there is still a clear sense of hierarchy. The authors’ names and affiliation are small compared to the title, so the title is clearly the most important thing. Also, this brings the title a bit closer to eye level, which is also beneficial.

I think if I were to do it again, I’d put that bottom banner (containing the “punchline”) in the middle of the poster, above the interpretation section. It makes a nice bottom frame where it is, but is a bit too low for its importance.

Finally, the inspiration for this poster came from... jewellery store advertising emails!

And the moral of this story is: Design is everywhere, so inspiration is everywhere.

Additional: After I posted this, I got another email from Bronwyn with her own redesign. Click to enlarge:

Moving the banner to the middle of the poster turns out to solve several problems. It clearly clearly defines the reading order: go in rows. It also fixes the “break” running like a river through the vertical in the earlier version. Yes, there is still a box, but it is nowhere near as distracting as in the previous version, perhaps because the box is now in proximity to the two black bands above and below it, rather than out on its own.


Mike Taylor said...

And soon, lawsuits will be everywhere, too.

Well, I wouldn't bet against it.

Justin said...


I would like to ask if any one knows which font was used for the text and titles in the poster (it looks great and I would like to use it myself in the future)


Zen Faulkes said...

Justin: I believe that the titles are set in Gill Sans.

I don't recognize the typeface for the main text right now; I'll try to have another look at the original file later.