28 March 2013

Link roundup for March 2013

Karl Fast manages to neatly summarize my approach to posters on this blog (hat tip to Julie Dirksen):

Design is not about right and wrong, or even good and bad. It's about better or worse. It's about a spectrum and improvement.

Girls Are Geeks has an nice introduction to typography, including a list of resources, starting points, and ways to learn. I love how Dawn describes “typography fandom.”

So it’s really no surprise that I grew into the typography fandom. And now you can get excited about it too!

Indeed, in her “about” page, Dawn says one of her geekouts is, “Good use of white space in logos.”

Colin Purrington looks at word count in posters. I particular love that it has a “kids these days” comment. Now, everyone get off Colin’s lawn.

21 March 2013

Critique: Mozzie genes

Today’s poster is courtesy of Brantley Hall. Click to enlarge...

Brantly writes that this poster was partially inspired by two others that have been featured here, both of which featured circles. He writes:

I liked the two recent posters that had a circular layout, I couldn’t get it to work for my content. Instead, I made a series of golden rectangles with slight compromises for the border around the squares. A rectangular section for the title would ruin the golden rectangles, so I drew sections of a golden spiral in the two biggest sections for the title and authors.

The spiral is ambitious. It gives the poster a distinct look, but the order imposed by the spiral is so strong that is works against normal reading order. When I first glanced at it, the arc of blue and gold lead me to jump straight from the Introduction to the Results, skipping over the lower left corner. Brantley confirmed in email to me that the poster is meant to be read as two columns. However, the lower right is the least important for a general audience, and is mainly there for bioinformatics experts.

Looking at it from a distance, I’m worried people would be drawn to the right side instead of the left, like so:

Everything else about this poster is very nice. There’s not too much material. The colours are well chosen. Blue and gold predominate, and they are a classic colour combination, used over and over again. The pointy edges of the text don’t come too close to the curves and threaten to “pop” them.

You can also see his poster on Prezi.

Related posts

Critique: Italian cemeteries
Critique: Bison dung fungus

14 March 2013

Critique and makeover: Peptides

Today’s poster comes from Triet Nguyen, who will be a grad student starting this fall. Click to enlarge...

When I first looked at this, I noticed that the poster switches from an up-down reading order (left column) to a left-right reading order (right two thirds). It’s particularly puzzling given that the wide rows are divided into twos, which could be rearranged into columns with little difficulty. Here’s a quick and dirty redo:

This is not ideal, because in the original poster, the top row is taller than the bottom one. Consequently, my version of the left column has more white space than the new middle column. The columns are uneven, too. Those could be fixed with little adjustments to proportions. This would take time, because this is a poster with a lot of individual pieces.

Notwithstanding all of that, one tall and two wides is actually fine! My preference for columns is mainly a stylistic choice, and the reading order here is not confusing. The use of panels clarifies the reading order, and I like that the panels are done with a little subtlety. The panels are shaped by white space against a coloured background, and not by hard black lines around each panel.

Within each panel, there are a lot of individual parts, as noted above. A stronger use of alignment would certainly help bring a greater sense of order to the poster. In the example below, I’ve put down a few lines along the edge of one object. In general, that line crosses through several objects on the page

I’m not a fan of university logos in general, particularly not in the prime real estate of the upper left corner. I suggest flipping it with the title: title left, logo right. Perhaps like this:

Given that the title is not centered on the page in either version, however, there’s no reason to center the author list and institution under the title. Left aligning might be stronger, especially in my redesign above.

Some of the typography is a little awkward, particularly the bullet lists. The bullets look too close to the text. Hanging indents would emphasize the bullets more. The numbered list in the left column suffers because the text varies in how far it is from the numbers.

Similarly, bold or italics are usually better solutions for emphasis than underlining.

The figures have a lot of fine detail, and I’m not sure how visible that will be from a distance. For instance, the fine gridlines in the figure on the bottom left are probably just going to make the figure look muddy when seen at a distance rather than as distinct lines. I’m not sure what can be done, apart from constantly asking, “Can I take this out? Can I make this bigger?”

Related posts

The epic logo post
Poster real estate
Learning from Cosmo

External links

Forgotten wisdom (Part One)

07 March 2013

More than marketing

I gave a presentation about conference posters today. I talked about many of the tips that I often talk about on this blog: the importance of an entry point, using grids for layout, the advantages of Microsoft Publisher, and no effin’ Comic Sans.

At the end, someone commented that my presentation was all about marketing. It was true that I repeatedly reminded students that nobody has to stop and read their posters.

I said, “It’s about beauty. It’s about elegance. What is the highest compliment that a mathematician can pay to a mathematical proof? That it is elegant. Yes, it’s true that I am assuming that your science is sound. But it isn’t worth a damn if nobody reads it.”

I also had a little l’esprit de l’escalier on what a well-designed poster says about its creator. It shows that you understand what is important. A poster almost always demands you leave stuff out, which means you have to make decisions about what to include, exclude, and emphasize. Thus, you can only arrive at a beautiful, well-made poster if you have a deep understanding of the research you are presenting on it.

A well-made poster shows mastery of the material, not just tricks to grab attention.

It’s a little surprising to me that while this blog has been going for four years, this is only the second time I’ve given a talk about posters. And I also caught myself saying, “Let anarchy reign!” for a second time (regarding requests to include needless logos or abstracts).

01 March 2013

Fourth birthday

Four solid years of poster advice! Hooray!

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