26 September 2013

Link roundup for September 2013

This animation shows how to improve graphs, with many of the same lessons I talk about here for posters. Hat tip to Mike Taylor and Anna Sharman. I like it, but it goes just a bit too far in pursuing minimalism. It starts here:

 Here’s where I would have stopped:

But the author goes on...

If you’re going to write numbers instead of having a Y axis, you might as well just have a bulleted list:

  • French fries 607
  • Potato chips: 542
  • Bacon: 533
  • Pizza: 296
  • Chili dog: 260

Do the bars start at zero? Is it a linear scale? Removing the Y-axis makes for too many possibilities for deceptive displays.

The animation above males an appearance in a good rant against infographics. Hat tip to Brian R. Pauw for this one.

90% of the infographics out there are baroque, non-selective compositions of facts.

Comic book letterer Todd Klein has created a “Compendium of calligraphic knowledge.” Beautiful, and with good lessons for conference posters, too! It’s a signed, 11 × 17" limited edition print of 300 copies. All for the price of $16 plus shipping. You can buy it here.

A Bit of Behavioural Ecology would like to remind you: Nobody cares about you. (Actually, they might, but they have a point about conference posters: nobody will be as engaged and fascinated with your work as you are.)

Tech In Translation has some musings on the differences between academic conferences and tech conferences.

19 September 2013

Critique: Semiconductors

Today’s poster come from Josh Campbell, and is shared with his permission. Click to enlarge...

Portrait posters are always tricky, and this one has a nice clean two-column layout that leaves no confusion as to what you are to read in what order. Both Josh and I like how the dropped caps look in their boxes. Now, I am not a fan of boxes, but Josh did concede that I might have had a point about leaving off the logos.

I printed this on paper and tried the “arm’s length” test, which this poster passes, but only just by the skin of the teeth. The text is readable, but just barely. Bigger text would be very welcome here.

The text in the lower right box (beginning with “N”) comes too close to the edge of the box, particularly down in the lower left corner.

While we’re looking down at the bottom, another part of the poster that is a problem is inconsistent margins between the boxes. In particular, the bottom of the right column doesn’t line up with the bottom of the left column. Here’s a quick and dirty aligned version that doesn’t set off my alignment OCD as much:

Josh writes:

I needed a coloured background to show up my molecules so I tried to go for a neutral colour that also ties in with my university colours.

Unfortunately, the colour choice for the background is still a problem. The blue and the grey molecules are too close, and the molecules are getting lost at any sort of distance. The following quick and dirty colour replacement grates on the eye a bit:

I show this just to demonstrate that the pictures of molecular structure are much more readily visible against a lighter background. Those molecules are the whole point of the poster, and it would help if they were more visible than they are here.

Related posts

Is it big enough? The “arm’s length” test

12 September 2013

The best picture will usually be the one you take yourself

“This is the best picture I was able to find on the Internet.”

There’s no sin in finding images on the Internet. I’m a big fan of Flickr and Google Images, too.

But I’ve seen people use crummy pictures from the Internet of scientific equipment that they use practically every day. And these are not difficult pieces of equipment to photograph because they are very large or very small. No, these are mundane objects that sit on a benchtop, like PCR machines.

I’ve seen people put up crummy pictures from the Internet of some other lab doing a procedure when it’s a procedure that they themselves do all the time.

You look witless and lazy when you say, “This is the best picture I could find on the Internet” if you could have taken a picture yourself.

High quality cameras are almost everywhere now. Even if you are one of the increasingly small number of people who does not have a smartphone, you probably know someone who does who would be happy to take the picture for you.

Crossposted from NeuroDojo.

05 September 2013

Critique: Protein binding

This week’s poster was originally shown at ISMB/ECCB by Stephen J. Bush, who was kind enough to give his permission to share it with you! Click to enlarge...

Without a doubt, the most eye-catching aspect of this design is that central circle, with a dig-eared rectangle overlain on the top, straddling the two columns. It’s just a couple of steps shy of drawing a bullseye in the middle of the poster. You can’t help but look at it. If anything on this poster warrants further consideration, it’s that figure.

The benefit of this circle / polygon combo is that it draws your eye in. The downside is that it is not clear where the image belongs in the overall narrative. Is it an example for the Introduction? Or maybe the Results? The corner of the polygon almost forms an arrow pointing down to the Results. This might be a cue for the reader, but it’s so subtle that it’s hard to tell if that was deliberate or not. The central circle could even be part of the Methods, although the position doesn’t suggest that as strongly as the other two.

The typesetting around the circle is good on the left side, but the the numbered list on the right of the circle creates a little tension between the curve of the circle and the right angle created by the list.

Everything else is crisp and there is not a lot to pick at. It might benefit from one more pass to see if there was anything else to cut, but the poster does not seem to have large amounts of fluff.

The moral of the story is: When you have an element of a poster so powerful that it dominates everything else, you need to make sure it is doing exactly what you want it to do.

Related posts

The eye loves the circle