27 June 2013

Link roundup for June 2013

The British Science Association has published Poster Design: A practical guide for scientists and engineers. Most of the ideas in there should be familiar to regular readers of this blog. (By the way, would making this available as a regular PDF kill you, guys?) Hat tip to Perrin Ireland for finding this.

The Finch and Pea blog makes a persuasive argument that artists should be invited to conferences. Check out the work of conference artist Regina Holliday:

The post says of her work:

Why should conferences invite artists? What do they bring to the table? I asked Regina Holliday,  who has been live-painting at health care conferences for three years. “I disrupt them,” says Holliday. “I give them a different worldview,” adding that her “very visual” take on the proceedings of large meetings can cut through the massive pileup of verbal information that most conferences provide.

I like what John McWade has to say about type:

This power of type is in your hands. It’s a big gun. But you must know it and control it. A few tips:

  1. Choose type for its voice, not your taste. Sometimes the two are the same, but not always.
  2. Don’t add meaningless stuff — outlines, bevels, shadows, flames. Look again at these examples. Their purity is their power.
  3. Space carefully and evenly. Letters are not naturally uniform; the spaces between them are as important as the letters.

Type is the most influential tool to which the designer has everyday access. It is also the most mishandled. Typography is not the same as typing. Typing is e-mail. Typography is architecture, structure, theater, motion, art, life. Type has a voice. Take it seriously.

The point of conferences is to create conversations. Alas, conversations can be difficult to start. Nature Jobs Blog has networking suggestions by Carolyn Beans. While billed as being for grad students, it’s good advice for anyone, really. Let me comment on her second tip:

2) Have an opening ready—Immediately launching into your elevator talk seems unnatural. Instead, open with a question or observation about a scientist’s work. Then he or she will inevitably ask what you study.

Here, remember the “social object” theory (which is why posters work): it’s easier for two people to talk about a third thing. Look for interesting objects or other people in the environment to comment on. That’s easier to start a conversation about than speaking about yourself or the other person.

The issue of how to dress when you’re a scientist. This causes many people much stress, so I like this at the end:

Thankfully, there’s more than one way to do it right.

I want to know where the poster session is in this visualization of conference attendee movement. Hat tip to Flowing Data.

24 June 2013

The most improved graphic award

Making the rounds on Twitter today is this figure from a cancer research paper manuscript (archived in PubMed):

That someone would consider this fit for either submission or archiving is surprising.

And here’s the final version:

How the originals got archived is not clear. Apparently, this should not have happened.

This is a good example of the power of good graphics.

20 June 2013

Critique and makeover: Corn proteins

I’m always grateful to contributors like Madelaine Bartlett from Brigham Young University, who kindly submitted this poster and allowed it to be shown on the blog. Click to enlarge:

This is a nice use of a grid, with all the columns and rows clearly defined. The colours are well chosen, and the fine print is unobtrusive at the bottom.

However, in her email, Madelaine made note of my “attitude towards boxes.” Indeed! Away with them, I say! I banish thee! Let the white space do the work!

In this case, the elements do feel a little tight even after removing the boxes. We can make space by removing the summary under the title. It is difficult to read not only because of the small text, but because the line length stretches almost four feet across. Abstracts on a poster are redundant in any case.

I also shrank the each element by about 95% so that I could make the spaces between the columns wider. This made it clear that these are meant to be read down, and not across.

The section headings in the top row were all coming too near the figures immediately underneath them, so I spaced those out a little more.

Finally, I tried aligning the text to the top of the picture in the “Functional studies in progress.” I’m not sure it’s better, but it’s worth trying such things.

Normally, I would increase the size of the text in the “Functional studies in progress” and “Conclusions” section. Changing text size without changing column width is hard to do with the file I had, though. Larger text for “Conclusions” would be appropriate, since it is the take home message and thus important. The white space between the conclusions and acknowledgements is also a bit large, and making the concluding text come closer to it would provide a little more continuity.

13 June 2013

More lessons from lingerie: details versus decoration

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about bras. And I ended with a lesson that I thought could use a little more clarification.

Here we have a fairly utilitarian bra. It has everything needed, but no more. It does its job, and but clocks in at 9:00 am and clocks out at 5:00 pm precisely. It does what is needed of it and no more.

Here is a poster equivalent, spotted on my campus recently:

Like the bra above, about the only thing you can say in its favour is that leaving the space uncovered might be more embarrassing. At least it’s covered.

Here we have the sort of bra that is close to what I was talking about. This is a bra that puts in a little extra effort. Someone has made some decisions about fabrics, colours, scalloped edges. It is pretty. And it’s pretty because someone thought about the details. As I wrote a few weeks back:

Lesson 3: Detailing. Most bras are very similar, when you come down to it: cups, straps, and snaps. Sure, strictly speaking, you don’t need that little rosebud here, that extra bit of lace there... but what a difference it can make to the overall impression it leaves. It’s the details that make the difference between boring and daring.

On a poster, the details can be things like the choice of typeface, paying attention to aligning text on the page, picking complementary colours. Most of the posters I show on the blog are at least trying to make an effort in this direction.

But don’t confuse detailing with decorating.

This bra is covered in diamonds. It is something that nobody can use in day to day life. The cost of diamonds make it completely impractical for anyone to wear outside of a runway costume. You can’t afford the insurance to wear it.

Then there’s that big dangling thing in the middle, which seems like it would catch on any clothing worn over top. Bras are generally undergarments, after all.

That’s not detailing. That’s decorating. It is overkill. It is pursuing the aesthetic so hard that it stops being something that anyone can use.

The equivalent on conference posters are things like 3-D effects in graphs and gaudy colours:

Photographic backgrounds  and an overabundance of typefaces:

Sure, you might think it looks attractive in theory, but when you actually get it out into the field, it’s like you suddenly have a big dangly diamond thing under your cleavage that is catching on your shirt. It won’t actually work in real world conditions.

And here we have decoration...

...that is just very odd.

Related posts

Lessons from lingerie
Communicate, don’t decorate

06 June 2013

Critique and makeover: Peruvian medicine

Today’s contribution comes from Kenzo Koike at USF Health Morsani College of Medicine in Florida, and is used with his permission. Click to get the bigger view:

The first things that jumped out at me were:

  1. With three very different logos in the title, it’s impossible for that title to be centered gracefully.
  2. There are myriad things that are not aligned, which is common in PowerPoint posters.
  3. The “peek-a-boo” light blue boxes against the dark blue background are a classic example of boxology.

The first revamp addresses these, while hopefully keeping the style intact. I moved the title to the left and the logos to the right. I eliminated the dark blue and made the light blue even lighter. I started working on the alignment issues.

Evening out spaces and lining things up was a sizable project, and I could probably spend hours fiddling even with the revised version below. But the version below is where I stopped and sent it back to Kenzo.

I moving the single reference from the bottom to directly underneath the table. This means a reader no longer has to go hunting for the reference, because it’s now at the point of need. It also creates a text element under the table, so it parallels all the other images around it, allowing more things to be lined up.

Consequently, this allowed the bottom box to become narrower. The top box was made narrower, too, by moving the purpose statement to the right of the word “Purpose” instead of underneath it. This also let me make the “Purpose” statement bigger, more fitting its importance.

That both the wide boxes got skinnier also let me make the title bigger again. The title should always be the biggest, clearest text element on a poster. In the first version, it’s fighting too much with the dark blue background and the logos.

There are still some design elements of this poster that I dislike, and would normally recommend against. The wide boxes spanning the length of the entire poster at the top and bottom will be something of a nightmare to a reader. The different image sizes of the SIS sign photo and the blog screen capture frustrate me to no end, because there will just be no good solution to make those align as they should.

As always, the goal here is improvement, not perfection.

Related posts