13 March 2014

Critique and makeover: Semantics

Today’s posters come from Anna Pryslopska, and are shown with her permission. Let’s see the first version of her poster (click to enlarge):

Anna created this poster, and the revision below, in Inkscape, “which was a PITA”, she adds.

After she presented this poster, Anna revised it for another conference after one of her viewers said it looked “like candy (not serious).” Here is her second poster:

This is a successful revision on many, many counts. The first and most obvious change is that the colour scheme has been lightened and brightened. That alone makes a huge improvement, because it de-emphasizes the boxes on the poster. I might have tried making the “Background” box in the upper left the same light blue as all the others.

The title and headings are larger in the revision, creating a stronger text hierarchy.

Where both posters still struggle is with the reading order. Graphs should be next to the text that describes them whenever possible, and here, they are not. Let’s put a line from each graph to the places referenced in the text:

While the graphs appear in order, they are often separated from the text by a long way. Figure 2 and 3 sit right next to each other, suggesting they will be referred to together, but instead they are discussed almost at opposite ends of the poster.

Making matters slightly worse is that the reference in the text to point to each graph (e.g., “see (1)”) is low-key and slightly cryptic. For instance, many people use numbers alone to indicate references. It might have been better to label each one as a figure, and put, “see Figure 1” in the text.

Anna concluded with some general comments.
I think a lot of the poster would be much better if we had LaTeX templates that don’t suck. My university has a corporate design one that doesn’t work. They actually paid someone good money for that... I know almost all my colleagues use LaTeX or PowerPoint for their posters and both require a lot of knowledge to make something nice and “nobody’s got time for that.”

I agree somewhat. Templates can be helpful, but the lack of a standard poster size makes creating a template difficult. I think examples are more powerful than templates, which may be why so many readers tell me they find the critiques useful.

Also, I know of nobody in my circle of colleagues who uses LaTeX. A couple of blog readers have mentioned they use it, but for the vast majority of people, posters mean PowerPoint. For those wondering what LaTeX is about, maybe try this:

I include it despite my reservations about a video titled “Learn Latex in 5 minutes” that is six minutes long.


CandyPG said...

So, I wonder if you would comment on the 'like candy' criticism that this poster had, in it's first incarnation?

Seems to me to be a bit harsh. It's not like it was baby pink and white. Why do you think someone said that, and do you think that posters should avoid being 'like candy', whatever that means?

Zen Faulkes said...

CandyPG: Maybe the commenter was responding to the graphics in the middle. The coloured circles in the figures might remind me of gumdrops or jujubes.

“Eye candy” can be either a compliment or a snipe. I want posters to be eye candy in the positive sense of the word.

I have nothing wrong with a poster looking like candy if that is the intent. You don’t want to do it by accident. Design is about decisions, and if you make a conscious decision to go for something bright and sweet, and it is appropriate for the topic and setting, go for it.