25 December 2014

Link roundup for December 2014

I’m always on the lookout for re-use of posters, and Gary McDowell takes advantage of the new fabric ones:

This poster scarf actually predates a similar one seen at Neuroscience by a few days:

Choosing the right title for your poster is critically important. This New Yorker article shows that the headline changes the way people remember the content of the story you tell them next:

In the case of the factual articles, a misleading headline hurt a reader’s ability to recall the article’s details. ... In the case of opinion articles, however, a misleading headline... impaired a reader’s ability to make accurate inferences.

Dr. Attai took this picture at American Society of Clinical Oncology 2014 meeting. Um. Aren’t people proud of their work?

NatC has a conference networking tip:

New conference networking strategy: share cab to airport with strangers. Get career advice.

I constantly harp on people to make a grid. Here is a useful slide deck showing how grids are used to design a complex website (hat tip to Duarte and Garr Reynolds):

Kirsten Sanford nominated this as her favourite poster from the American Geological Union meeting. It’s colourful, I’ll give it that.

Business cards are an integral part of conference networking. Erik Peterson turned his business cards into mini-posters:

Slideshare has a video that claims to tell you four tips for making data visualization memorable (hat tip to Ethos 3):

The cheat sheet summary is below; the original paper is here:

  1. They look like something natural.
  2. Are pictoral.
  3. Use colours.
  4. Have high visual density.

Typeset in the Future is an obsessive single serve blog looking at typography in science fiction films. Try this post on Alien for starters. Hat tip to Adam Savage. (The mythbuster also throws in his favourite typefaces: Futura and Caslon.)

Before and After talks about using colour to make connections between objects. Very useful to remember in designing posters, and displaying data.

Here’s a fun article about secrets hidden in plain sight in logos. I knew a couple, like the FedEx arrow, but there were lots that I didn’t know.

Note, though, that the article gets the story behind the BMW logo wrong (it’s not a propellor). But perhaps it can be forgiven, as BMW’s own histories have sometimes mucked up the truth!

Merry Christmas!

18 December 2014

Critique: The golden blogosphere

This poster comes from Joel Topf. Click to enlarge!

The idea of the layout is good. Having the text all concentrated in one short summary that looks like it can be read quickly may help viewers who want to skim. But some of this advantages are defeated because the poster is still extremely dense. For instance:

The address breaks the grid by curling around to the right of the “Introduction” heading. Those are too close. Each one is a separate element, and deserves its own defined space. Instead, the two sections are overlapping in space, and they will look better if separated.

A similar problem occurs with the bottom graph: its space is invaded by the graphs above. This is particularly noticeable where the “Total number of posts” graph (gray box) comes close to touching the blue data line in the graph below.

The text looks pretty brief, but wonder if it could be edited down even more. For example, I took this from 41 words:

Nephrology bloggers are rarely compensated and their writing is not usually considered part of academic production in regards to advancement. Without obvious advantages for the blogger, I thought that bloggers must thrive on internal enthusiasm and it may wane over time.

To 30:

Academic blogging is not usually rewarded in career advancement (e.g., tenure and promotion ). This suggests bloggers are intrinsically motivated, but this may wane if there are no extrinsic rewards.

The more you can edit, the more space you can open up.

I wanted a bit more guidance for all the data on the right side of the poster, so that I know what is being shown here. Some one sentence summaries next to the three main sections would be welcome.

The colours in the table are not explained anywhere. I am guessing “green”means statistically significant, and “orange” means... a decline in posts over time? Maybe that could be mentioned in the main text at the left.

The table is big and dense. Again, I wonder if it could be simplified, either graphically (first step: remove the vertical gridline!) or even removed. If I’m reading it right, some of the information in the table is repeated in the graphs to the right of the table.

The last line of the table - “Totals” - appears to be incorrect. It looks like most of those entries are means, not totals.

Also, the text mentions 30 blogs, but only 22 are plotted.

Where the QR code goes is a mystery. It’s a helps to tell people what they’ll get by scanning a code. Further, the bit.ly short link goes to the same site as the QR code. I suggest picking just one. I lean towards keeping just the QR code, because I have yet to see anyone type in that complicated alphanumeric short URL. But if both were left on the poster, I’d try to make the bit.ly URL the same width as the QR code.

Additional: Joel provides a well mannered response to my critique.

External links

Nephrology Blogosphere poster

11 December 2014

Wrap it up, I'll take it

I'm always on the lookout for re-use of posters, and Elizabeth Sandquist has a seasonal one:

04 December 2014

Critique: Sex models

Yes, I totally went for the gutter headline in introducing this poster from Amanda Whitlock. This poster is used with her permission. You can click to enlarge!

Amanda included this note in her email:

After reading your blog, I switched from using Powerpoint to Scribus and have become a huge convert and evangelist on its behalf.

I’m so pleased there is one less person in the world using PowerPoint for posters!

Amanda’s poster has a clean design. It starts with my favourite “hard to mess it up” layout: three columns, equal size.

I recently read an article that argued that anytime you overlay text on a picture, it should always be white text on top of the image. That message might be a good one for all poster makers. Especially when viewing this poster at a reduced size, I’m worried that the title (90% of your communication effort!) is barely visible. I tried a quick and dirty replacement of the black with white:

The edges of the text are badly pixelated because of the way I inverted the colours, but the title is more visible. Let’s try the same to the headings:

The difference is harder to see, but might be more obvious if made in the original document. The headings would also benefit from a bit of additional work to ensure that they are all evenly spaced. “Conclusions” looks closer to the bottom of its bar than “Results,” for example.

The same goes for the vertical alignment. A line that misses the letters in “Conclusion” hits letters in “References,” for instance.

While the poster has plenty of images and white space, it is a shame that the critical upper left corner is the least visually appealing part of the whole poster, with only text.

If you can’t see the title, and there is only words and data, it’s unlikely to gather any new readers who just happened to be walking by. While this poster will not make anyone cringe when they walk past it, they might just... walk past it.

27 November 2014

Link roundup for November 2014

November is the biggest conglomeration of posters in the world: the Neuroscience meeting. And there are always interesting poster-related tweets arising from that!

Here is a nice “Tips and tricks” for poster presentations blog post from Caitlin Kirkwood. She has obviously been to the rodeo that is neuroscience a few times:

(F)for those that appear in front of you haggard, with a glazed-over look in their eyes (the telltale signs of SfN-itis: too many posters, too little time), it is nice to have an abbreviated synopsis of your work ready.

Winner of “best new way to present a poster” (hat tip to MBF Bioscience):

Winner of “worst new way to present a poster” (hat tip to Jason Snyder):

Winner of “best new re-use of a poster” (hat tip to Rodrigo Braga):

Eric encapsulates how important the poster experience is to Neuroscience:

Feel naked without a poster tube. Thumb drives just don’t identify you as an #SFN14 attendee in the same way.

Jordan Gaines asks and interesting question about assessing your audience:

How do you like to assess someone's knowledge of your poster topic as you're presenting? Ask upfront, or read their body language?

The Cellular Scale has advice for poster audience members:

If you want a 5 min poster summary, ask for a 2 min one.

Neurd Girls ‏reports a crime to sfnpolice:

I’d like to report a criminal offense. Poster entirely in Comic Sans on bright purple background.

DrugMonkey reminds us of good design principles:

Font size people, font size. #sfn14 #oldeyes

Michael Carroll makes an observation on poster presenters:

Interesting seniority gradient within the poster rows here at #SfN14: students and postdocs at the posters, PIs and greybeards in the center

I’ve followed Neuroscience’s introduction of “dynamic posters” for some time now. Benjamin Saunders thinks people are still not making full use of the medium:

Seeing some better #SfN14 dynamic posters this year but most are still just a poster. On a video screen. Get it together people.

Jason Pipkin found one dynamic poster he liked:

Title, intro, and conclusions always visible while large central area used for displaying series of movies.

Then there was that flight out that was stopped by posters! Fear them! Fear the posters! (Hat tip to Joshua Burda.)

American Airlines flight grounded due to unruly poster-wielding SFN’rs!! So many posters!!!

Finally, a two part article by Erik Kennedy about designing user interfaces that has some good lessons for posters. I particularly appreciate rule 2:

(D)esign black and white first. Start with the harder problem of making the app beautiful and usable in every way, but without the aid of color. Add color last, and even then, only with purpose.

And rule 3:

If you want to make UI that looks designed, you need to add in a lot of breathing room.
Sometimes a ridiculous amount.

Rule 5 is particularly interesting, because it talks about text in a way I have never heard before, about combining emphasis (“up-pop”) with de-emphasis (“down-pop”). I think I might try this in some of my next posters.

This link goes to part one; this link goes to part two.

21 November 2014

The case of the missing critique

Regular readers might notice that a post that had been put up earlier this week is no longer available.

The blog post in question was a critique of a poster archived at Academia.edu. The poster was from a conference back in 2011. I thought the poster was worth analyzing, and I wrote a blog post about it.

Today, I got an email from one of the authors of the post asking me to take it down, for reasons that do not need exploring at this juncture. I was asked why this post was done without mentioning I had permission of the authors to use the poster. This is something I normally mention in my critiques.

Most posters are submitted to me directly by the person who made them, sometimes before the conference. They may have unpublished data, and so on, and are not (as far as I know) otherwise available to viewers outside the conference itself. So I ask people who email things to me if I can use them on them here on the blog.

In contrast, this poster was archived in a public forum online. To my way of thinking, this made it available for public comment. I know that “on the Internet” does not mean “do what you want” (see this great article by Alex Wild) but I did not see any particular language anywhere on the site limiting re-use. (The poster is no longer available, so I can’t check if there was any such verbiage anywhere.)

I had no reason to ignore a polite request, so I took down the post.

The moral of the story? Not sure. Maybe it’s about being careful about what you archive and how, and managing your digital footprint. Maybe it’s about being more careful in doing due diligence in contacting people who might be affected by re-use.

External links

Bugging out: How rampant online piracy squashed one insect photographer

13 November 2014

A design brief for conference posters

Professional designers are given a design brief from their clients. At first glance, a design brief might look like a simple set of instructions, but it’s a little deeper than that.

A good design brief talks not just about the nuts and bolts of a project, like deadline, budget, or size (“It has to fit on a standard piece of office paper”). Those can be in there, but a good design brief goes further. It includes a lot more about the goals of the project, the audience the project should engage with, and what the desired reaction of the audience is.

The instructions from most scientific conferences usually have some, but not all, of the elements for a good design brief for poster makers. Here is my attempt to flesh out a design brief for conference posters for the stuff they don’t put in the instructions.

Goals of a poster

Posters should get conference attendees to talk to the presenter. Because attendees are busy, posters must grab attention, even if a potential reader is quite a long way from the poster. Similarly, posters should make an implicit promise to the reader that the gist of the poster can be grasped quickly.

Posters should also contain enough information that a person is able to read it and understand the main message.

Presentation setting

Conference posters are printed on paper and hung indoors, often under relatively dim artificial light that is not under the control of the presenter. They must be visible even under poor lighting conditions.

The large number of people walking around means that the lower part of the poster may be obscured, so titles must be high and large to be seen by as many people from as far away as possible.

Audience characteristics

Conference attendees are smart, literate adults who are busy and distracted by the vast amount of material in a conference. They are often walking at some distance from the poster.

A conference audience may have minor vision problems. Attendees range in age from 20 to 60 (or older), which means that some attendees probably need reading glasses for presbyopia. In some conferences, attendance skews towards greater numbers of men, which means a greater number of individuals may be colour blind, particularly red/green colour blind.

Values to communicate

Academics will generally want to convey an impression of rigor, thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and careful attention to detail. This can be done with humour or playfulness, as long as it never implies carelessness.

Colours and imagery

Colours should be visible to those who are colour blind. Many academics wish to have their posters reflect their institutional brands, which can be reflected in the colour palette of the poster.

External links

How to write an effective design brief
How do I write a good design brief?
How To Write An Effective Design Brief and Get The Design You Want!
How do you write a design brief?
Key information design agencies would love from their clients (Picture from this post)
7 Basics to Create a Good Design Brief

06 November 2014

Critique: The data flow dragonfly

Today’s poster is from Marianna Rapaport, and is shown with her permission. Click to enlarge!

Marianna writes:

The poster presents my masters thesis, the general area is programming language research.The only illustrations in my thesis are graphs and math formulas. I wanted to add some graphics to the poster that would attract people (and not scare them away with math). My dad told me that my graph looked like the wings of a dragonfly, so that's where that big insect comes from.

I would also like to acknowledge the invaluable help of my friend Erica Dufour. She helped me to arrange the text boxes and came up with the idea of the gray background that helps the reader understand the order in which to read the material. She also helped me understand how to use Adobe Illustrator and InDesign.

Finally, I used the same font as in this poster on which you also have a critique on your blog

I like this a lot. It’s clean, and has a strong visual impact. The dragonfly is a nice design touch. The use of the contrast colours orange and teal to highlight is consistent, and subtle enough not to be garish or overwhelming.

The one thing I question is the reading order. The "Result" box is not where I would expect it. Based on headings, I would go:

  1. Summary
  2. Intro
  3. Goal
  4. Problem
  5. Method
  6. Result

But based on its position on the poster, “Result” would slot in at position number 4, not 6. Marianna replied:

I agree that the reading order is still unclear. But I don’t even know what could be done about that without changing the whole poster layout.

Regarding the “Result” box, I read somewhere (maybe even on your blog) that it’s a good idea to put the results right in the beginning; in a way, it’s a replacement for the abstract. I thought that in my case, the results are in the beginning and at the same time in the end. But maybe that doesn’t make sense because it’s impossible to understand the results without reading everything else, so you’re right there, too.

Having the results up top, as here, is not horrible. The approach I might have taken would be to think of that top row as the “take home” messages, and the second row as being “for the aficionado.” The trick then becomes distinguishing the two.

The gray band on the second row signals this a little, but it might have been stronger if there was a second cue to signal that the second row was less important. For example, a slightly smaller point size for the text might have helped.

Alternately, perhaps using different way to highlight the “Results” box, instead of the same gray as the row below, would have broken the connection between them, and emphasized that “Result” was meant to stand on its own, as a conclusion. 

Still, the overall effect is quite lovely.

30 October 2014

Link roundup for October 2014

I don’t think I’d seen this resource on Giving Poster Presentations before. It’s part of a larger online resource on “English communication for scientists.” I think I’d remember if I’s seen this Jorge Cham gem from the front page before:

Elizabeth “Inkfish” Preston covers a paper that examines how a simple graph significantly increases the persuasiveness of an argument. And when I say “simple,” I mean very simple:

Another primer on how to get the most out of a conference from Mandi Stewart, which wins points for citing We Bought a Zoo:

My partner and I talk about having “five seconds of professional courage” when networking at conferences. Conferences are a great time to meet people, and unless you put yourself out there and introduce yourself, you could miss out on some great conversations. I love the movie “We Bought A Zoo” which is where having five seconds of professional courage came from. “You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” Try it. Five seconds of professional courage.

This article on the importance of comics has some analysis of reading flow after my own heart. Hat tip to Siobhan O’Dwyer.

You too can learn the difference between a soft crop, a split crop, and a stickout crop in this post at the different ways you can crop an image by John McWade.

I also like McWade’s short reflection on how design can make life better:

Design is about more than whether something “works.” Lots of things “work.” A theater marquee with chipped paint and missing letters “works.” If the local strip mall has what I need, you could say its ugly plastic sign “works.” Each identifies my destination well enough to get there.

What they don’t provide is delight, inspiration, fulfillment.

Wired has a lovely profile on book cover designer Peter Mendelsund.  Book covers have some goals that are similar to conference posters: attracting passers-by, for instance.

On one level, dust jackets are billboards. They’re meant to lure in potential readers. For a certain contingent of the publishing industry, this means playing it safe. “The path of least resistance when you’re designing a jacket is to give that particular demographic exactly what they want,” Mendelsund explains. “It’s a mystery novel, so you just splatter it in blood, and put the shadowy trench coat guy on it, and use the right typography.” Familiarity, the thinking goes, will always sell something.
Mendelsund does not subscribe to this view. He’s said that he prefers an ugly cover to a cliche one(.)

One of Mendelsund’s better known projects is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Here are some rejected ideas:

I have not seen the movie Idiocracy, but this post on making fake corporate logos is interesting just the same. Hat tip to Alex Jones and Amanda Krauss.

The Current radio show on CBC has been running a series called, “By Design.” It’s going to be running all this season. This series is not about graphic design, but is a wide ranging exploration of how we make things.

I’m months behind in bringing you this blog post on redesigning maps for the modern age.

If you’re finally ready to learn how to use a higher end graphics package than PowerPoint, try Vector Tutorials for Adobe Illustrator. Hat tip to Anthony Salvagno for this resource.

And today in type crimes, or “Someone did not read their directions closely enough”:

From here.

23 October 2014

Stretching out your title

People are used to tinkering with the vertical spacing of text; having to make a manuscript double spaced, for instance. But they are not as familiar with how to make text look good by adjusting the horizontal spacing.

John McWade reminds us of a useful tip about the spacing of type:

Text meant to be read at a distance – like the title of your poster – should be expanded a little!

Since most people are making posters in PowerPoint (despite my constant pestering for you to stop doing that), Let me tell you a couple of ways to do this in PowerPoint.

Select your text, right click it, select “Font,” and pick the “Character spacing” tab. That allows you quite precise control over the spacing:

There is also a “horizontal spacing” button in the “Font” ribbon. The drop down options for that one, however, are more general: “Loose” and “Very loose.”

Here’s a sample of how text looks expanded. “Loose” is a little more than 2 point spacing.

“Loose” might not be a bad setting to try for titles, and maybe headings, on posters.

After you’re done here, practice your horizontal letter placement skills by playing this kerning game.

External links

The unexpected typestyle of Ikea

16 October 2014

Critique: Astrophysics code

Today’s poster is contributed by Alice Allen, and is used with her permission. Click to enlarge:

She wrote:

Under 100 words on this poster... or so I will claim since the screenshots are there to illustrate the points! (Not counting the authors' names, I think the count is 89 words.) This poster is for an online resource that people at the conference are familiar with, and is to inform people of recent changes to the website.

This poster wins points for simplicity. It can be read with a few glances, which is a definite win for any conference poster.

I’m always curious to see what improvements people make on their own. After she sent her first email but before I replied, Alice sent along another iteration.

I think the changes you made for the second version are good ones. Making the title more prominent, and getting rid of the outline around the “Over 900 codes!” were both good moves.

I can see why the screen grabs were rotated as a design element. I’d be tempted to tinker with the amount of rotation. I might try bringing the central screen grabs a little closer to horizontal (though not normal straight up and down).

Tiny little typesetting detail. In the right box, the field “See also” is in quotes, but the links, “Previous” and “Next” are not in quotes. There might be a case for putting “Previous” and “Next” in quotes, too, for consistently. I’m not sure what a style guide would recommend; perhaps there is some subtle stylistic difference between a field and a link.

09 October 2014

Critique: Affective feedback

Today’s poster comes from Mary Ellen Foster, and is used with her permission. Click to enlarge...

I like the main body of the poster a lot. It’s clean, big, uses lots of graphics, and is well-organized. The one thing I would try would be to crop the middle photo, rather than having other pictures overlapping on top of it.

While I appreciate that there is very little text, this may have been pared down just a little too far. I can’t tell two important things:

  1. What’s the question?
  2. What’s the answer?

As a browser, I often want a take home message.

This isn’t helped by the weak title, which represents most of your communication effort. “Studying the effect of” in a title is bland and uninformative. Every academic thing is “studying the effect of” something. A question would be better, and an answer would be better still.

I’m always sort of surprised that people still try to incorporate institutional logos on their posters as often as they do, given how often they cause problems. This poster is a great example: every logo here weakens the poster.

The logo on the left causes problems because it is too close to text, and it messes up alignment of the authors with the title. That it’s a big dark block makes it draw too much attention away from the title and the authors. The logos on the right just look thrown together and messy.

Hiding among the logos is a QR code. This has a few problems, too. The QR code is high on the poster, which might make it inconvenient to scan, depending on how the poster is mounted. But more importantly: why should I scan it? What does the QR code lead to? It’s always good practice to tell people what they will get!

Related posts

Detective stories: “Whodunnit?” versus “How’s he gonna prove it?”
The epic logo post
Your title is 90% of your poster
Take me home tonight

External links

02 October 2014

Critique: Hard problems

Today’s poster come from Ciaran McCreesh and is shown with permission. Click to enlarge!

My first reaction was, “Nice work!” I like the colours and the clear organization.

Personally, I would try removing the boxes around each section, maybe creating boxes around each column (so there are no horizontal bars).

I’d also want to fiddle with the lower right box to make the bottom edge align with the other two boxes. This poster does such a nice job of keeping things clean and aligned that little things like that stand out!

I like using bold to emphasize key points, but I wonder if there might be a little too much bold. The less you have, the more punch each instance has. It’s diluting some of the impact.

The very top box is a nice attempt to introduce the problem, with sort of a sub-headline. But it doesn’t have any other clear signals to its importance apart from its position. It comes across as a small sliver of text, and your eye hops over it to the first box in the top left. It might benefit by being made larger, or using something else to distinguish its place in the poster’s information hierarchy.

Looking at this from a distance, it feels off kilter, because of the asymmetries in layout. There are uneven columns, and the logo on the right is also breaking the symmetry. I suspect that the title is truly symmetrical when measured with a ruler, but it looks like it’s too far to the left. The normal expectation is that the title will line up with the central column, which is pushed right because the right column is narrow. I suggested making the title aligned to the left (perhaps enlarging a little), and putting the authors and institution on one line below that. Then it could be roughly the same height as the institutional logo.

Here is Ciaran’s revised version:

He wrote:

I followed your suggestions, except for removing the horizontal bars: I couldn't get that to look right. I ended up coming second place in the vote at CP 2014 (http://cp2014.a4cp.org/), which was a pleasant surprise.


25 September 2014

Link roundup for September 2014

Andrew Maynard included this as an example of a “more radical” poster design in his post, Creating Poster Presentations that Tell Stories:

Andrew goes on to write:

To me, a poster presentation for me is an aid for story telling – to be used by an in-person narrator. The reality though is that sometimes the poster needs to be able to at least hint at that story without your in-person input.  This creates something of a design-conflict.

He also says:

Coward that I am I should note that the posters aren’t great, but hopefully illustrate process

Over at Southern Fried Science, Chris Parsons has penned Mr Darcy’s Guide to Conference Etiquette – Part 1, which includes thoughts on posters:

Posters give one a unique ability to talk directly to conference goers, often while they are well flown on a glass or two of wine, in a depth one cannot achieve with the audience at an oral presentation. A single good, well-designed poster is also very memorable, much more so than dozens of slides in an oral presentation.

This also prompted this Twitter exchange about poster sessions.

Keith Bradnam is a person after my own heart, doing his bit to improve conference posters. He has a nice post called The problem with posters at academic conferences. And the problem, according to Keith?

The problem here is not with the total amount of text — though that can sometimes be an issue — but with the width of the text.

A new paper in PLOS Computational Biology by Rougier and colleagues offers ten guidelines for better figures, which can be an important component of better posters. I would put their rule #5 much higher on the list...

  1. Know your audience
  2. Identify your message
  3. Adapt the figure to the support medium
  4. Captions are not optional
  5. Do not trust the defaults
  6. Use color effectively
  7. Do not mislead the reader
  8. Avoid “chartjunk”
  9. Message trumps beauty
  10. Get the right tool

While this poster leaves something to be desired graphically (too much stuff), I enjoy the title. Hat tip to Nick Loman and Mike the Mad Biologist.

18 September 2014

Critique: Microsponges

This week’s poster comes from Steven Harris Wibowo, a postgrad student at one of my old stomping grounds, the University of Melbourne, Australia.This poster was shown at the IUPAC World Polymer Congress in Thailand; click to enlarge!

He writes:

The organizer asked for a portrait A0 poster. After some soul-searching and brainstorming I came up with this design/concept. I love a dark background and for me, nothing trumps a simple black background if you can do it cleanly. I have also been inspired by neon colours (the movie Tron to be exact) and that's why I picked those bounding lines!

Steven didn’t say if he’s an old school 1982 Tron fan:

Or a fan of the more recent Tron: Legacy, which had an even more limited palette:

I’ve talked before about the power of pastiche; imitating something you like. When I do that, I can get quite obsessive in trying to match things. I would have looked at these images and used an eyedropper tool to match up shades exactly.

Steven didn’t go that route, as you can see by comparing the overall colour scheme in his poster to these images from Tron movies. He’s mostly gone for orange and green on a dark gray over Tron’s signature cool blue over black.

I like that the lines are clearly a design element in the poster, rather than boxes trying to impose order on the poster.

Dark backgrounds can be tricky: ink bleeds in to white spaces on paper, while light shines out of white spaces on screen. I worry that the print might be a little too fine to read. A very slightly heavier type might have worked a bit better.

Steven goes on:

I don’t particularly like to put too many words/explanations into my poster and would rather have spaces between my results and have a brief caption.

This is always a good choice, although this is still a complicated looking poster with a lot of data. Complex multi-part figures are not as intimidating as a block of text, but they come close.

The flow of text is reasonably clear, although it gets a little complicated in the middle. While there are still clearly rows, the combination of the taller box plus the circle in the middle obscures the reading order a little. The use of low-key numbering is helpful here.

This design worked well for him:

The judges and other participants loved the poster, which allowed me to win the best presentation prize!

Nicely done, Steven!

Related posts

11 September 2014

Critique: Fetal movements

I often say that when I critique posters on the blog, I am looking at the design of the poster and not the science or technical content of the poster. That is particularly true for this one, submitted by reader Josefine Kühberger. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the poster, but I cannot read German! Click to enlarge:

Here is Josy to provide a little context:

It’s about qualitative aspects of fetal movements. To express that the focus is on maternal sensations and interviews, I used a drawing of a pregnant woman and put a “word cloud” inside her stomach.

This poster is excellent.

The simple image of the woman is so strong, yet so evocative of the subject matter, that anyone walking by should be able to grasp what this poster is about immediately, even from a distance.

The word cloud is a simple way to present text in a visually interesting way. Placing it in the woman’s silhouette is very clever and effective. If you want to make word clouds:

This poster is not cluttered. There is no fear of empty spaces, particularly down at the bottom. That is something that too many poster makers fear. They think every inch of the poster must contain ink. As this poster shows, it does not.

There is a simple, consistent colour scheme to both the text and images. The red in the title looks a little brighter than in the woman’s figure, and I might have wanted to make them the same. But it’s very minor. Red is a very powerful colour, but the combination of a slightly darker, almost brick red on the muted background prevents the red from being overwhelming.

I also love the dual headings, with the black bar on top of bold red text. I don’t know how the text is divided between those two elements, but it is very striking.

Josy says that this site had a hand in the creation of this poster (aw, shucks):

I had to create a poster (my first...) and found your “better posters” instructions on internet... which was a great help. The poster won the first prize. So I want to say “Thank you”!

04 September 2014

Critique: Mouse lungs

This week’s poster from reader Irena Feng, and is used with her permission. Click to enlarge!

The mouse picture provides an immediate and powerful entry point into the poster. The direction of the mouse’s head draws attention away from the (unnecessary) abstract, and into the introduction and methods, which is a more relevant starting point. The text wrapping around the mouse’s whiskers and body is not perfect, but certainly better than if it had been left square.

Putting the authors above the title is a bit of a risk. It works because the title is set in very large type. Plus, the lightened band of colour under the title makes it higher contrast, thus keeping the title the focus of attention.

I would have liked to have seen a little more consistency in the headings’ size. The “Results” heading is larger than the others. Plus, the headings in the text don't match those in the title.

The poster is meant to be read in rows, which is clearly indicated by the use of changing green backgrounds to group the rows together. The green seems to have been selected because many of the micrographs showing in the results are green. I worry about the green being a little dark, however, particularly the first row containing the introduction.

The width of the “Conclusions” section is less than ideal. Typesetters aim for 10-12 words per line of text, and these are at least double that. One solution might be to split the “Conclusions” box into two: one “Conclusions,” then a second that says,  “Next step,” and highlights the last line.

Irena wrote:

I received a lot of attention and a few compliments, with one comment describing it as “better than any grad student’s poster I’ve seen” (I’m a high schooler, so that comment was especially appreciated).

Those compliments are deserved. This poster hits most of the marks you want in a conference poster, and avoids most of the pratfalls that you don’t want.

28 August 2014

Link roundup for August 2014

“Only one idea.” Although this post from Terry McGlynn is about giving oral presentations, I think there is something to apply to posters, too:

When I gave the talks that (at least I suspect) kicked butt... They were all short on data and they only had one idea. ... I intentionally pared back on the data and the overarching research agenda. I just wanted to speak to an idea and wasn’t too concerned about how it made it me look. And, it turned out, the result was that people thought I gave a really good talk.

21 August 2014

Critique: Megafauna

This week’s poster is from Benjamin Seliger, and is used with his permission. Click to enlarge... or perhaps I should say, “megasize.”

I would stop at this poster if I saw it at a conference. There is much to like about the design. The visuals are very strong and very prominent. I love the pictures of the megafauna, the plants, and the maps. There is not too much text.

This poster accidentally demonstrates the power of proximity and white space. When I glanced at this poster, I thought, “This is a very nice two column layout.” But I should have thought, “This is a nice two row layout.” This poster is meant to be read across first, not down, which is the opposite of what I thought from a glance.

I am supposed to see the poster elements in this grouping:

But instead I see this grouping:

The problem arises because there is a wide, generous margin between the columns, but almost none between the rows. We group things that are close together. The authors have tried to signal that these are in rows using horizontal dividers, but the “signal” from the wide margin in the middle is completely overpowering that from those skinny little lines.

That the headings are not that much bigger in size than the subheadings is not helping matters. Compare the size of “The data” to “Joshua tree” underneath it. The “Joshua tree” and “Honey mesquite” subheadings are reinforcing that this is a two column layout instead of a two row layout. I also wonder if flipping the text position (above the animal picture, but below the plant picture in the top row) is contributing.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. Make the margins between the rows bigger than the divisions between the columns. Here’s a quick and dirty revision:

Margins beat lines and boxes in signalling the organization of your material.

14 August 2014

Critique: Protein simulations

I was asked to look over this poster (click to enlarge). Now, this is a draft poster, so some of the large empty spots are deliberately empty, because the data were not in when the draft was tweeted to me.

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate photographic backgrounds on posters? I can’t recall ever seeing one that was effective. If the image is good enough and recognizable enough to show, why would you cover is up with text and data?

The gray photo background picked here is a recipe for disaster. The text is hard to read already, and the gray background will make it almost impossible to read at an distance. It’ll be worse if lighting is dim.

Even if the bothersome background is removed, I doubt this poster will pass the arm’s length test. The main text – and to a lesser degree, the headings – on this poster would both benefit from being bigger. This might require some judicious killing of darlings, but the poster will be better for it. One thing that might help is to make the acknowledgements smaller (make it “fine print”) so the conclusions can be bigger. The conclusions are more important, and one way to signal that is how much space it takes up on the page.

I don’t know what’s going on with that blue thing in the middle of the title bar, apart from it distracting me from the title, and making the title harder to read.

The colours in the methods flowchart seem to be picked almost at random. Kuler is a very useful too for picking harmonious colours.

While I can’t tell for certain with this low res image, but it looks like a lot of things aren’t aligned. The heading boxes definitely do not line up with the images in the lower left.