29 May 2014

Link roundup for May 2014

Here are some posters to help you learn about typography, like this one:

Biochem Belle peers into the future:

Looks for poster tubes boarding flight. How will we spot science conference goers when posters go fully digital?!

Remember, talking to people with poster tubes in the airport lobby is a great way to network!

And Jeremy Berg peers into the past:

Last time I made a poster myself, it involved much more rubber cement.

Katie delivers five great tips for how to mingle at conferences at her blog, Sickness is Fascinating.

Don't be afraid to mention random or only tangentially-related things if you're getting the vibe that these people you just met a few minutes ago would totally appreciate learning about the International Mustache Film Festival or seeing a picture of the awesome mullet you sported in kindergarten.

22 May 2014

Critique: Visualising sound

In my grad program, we had a grad school departmental seminar every year, where all students would give 15 minute talks on their research. The first year students often gave some of the best talks.

This wasn’t because students got worse as presenters as they went through the program; it was because the incoming students only had project proposals. That weren’t trying to cram everything into a short amount of time.

I am reminded of this because today’s contribution, from Benjamin Gorman, is also a proposal (click to enlarge).

This is an attractive, approachable poster. The first thing that pops out about it is the attractive and consistent colour palette. If you had said, “green and pink” to me, I don’t think I would have expected it to work as well as it does here. My concern, as usual for posters with coloured backgrounds, is how well it will read if it’s in a room with less than ideal lighting.

The use of large images throughout is also a factor in this poster’s attractiveness. They are simple, concrete, and easily recognizable. Again, this is an advantage of having a proposal: you don’t have graphs of data, which are almost always abstract.

While I normally rail against boxes, they work here, for a couple of reasons. There are not many of them. They are light, rather than dark.

Each row contains two columns within it. Normally, I would suggest that these be equally wide. But here, the size of the images, particular of the glasses in the middle, dictate the space the text flows in. Forcing the columns to be equally wide here would require squashing the images in the middle, and I think the result would be less interesting than it is here.

15 May 2014

Critique and makeover: Zen microbiome (no relation)

Today’s sharing come from Jenna Lang, and is used with her permission. Click to enlarge:

This poster has a different goal than most of the posters here. It’s a recruiting tool, not a research report. I’ll let Jenna explain (slightly edited):

I am a microbial ecologist. Historically, members of our lab all attend the same conferences and interact with the same people. Lately, I’ve been doing things a little differently.
This poster was presented at a gathering of partners in a big network of seagrass researchers (see zenscience.org). These people work at sites all over the world, they speak many different languages, and English with many levels of proficiency. They are marine biologists, and spend their days on boats and in SCUBA gear, and thinking about large-scale ecological questions. They know NOTHING about what my lab does.
I attending this conference because I want to know what kinds of microbes are living in their seagrass beds, and I want them to send me samples. Sample collection is super simple (something I want to emphasize) and the role of microbes in seagrass beds is entirely unknown (although we assume it will be important.) I wanted to keep this poster free (as much as possible) from jargon, to present just enough data to show what types of things we can learn, and to provide a few figures that I can reference when talking to them about the overall goals of our project and to the diversity of seagrasses at their sites (thus the phylogenetic tree and the illustration of various seagrass types.) I also had some props with me (a water filtration device and some collection tubes and a storage box.)

When I presented this poster it went over very well. People are very excited to work with me and very willing to send me samples. I look forward to presenting this “recruitment tool” at other conferences in the future.

Despite the title, the original poster didn’t have much of a Zen aesthetic. There was just a little too much going on. There were a lot of lines and thick boxes. The credits were fighting for attention in the title. Some sections were centered, others were left justified, for no apparent reason.

In editing, I tried taking out the trash. Mainly, this meant removing, or at least lightening, a lot of the lines in the boxes. Let the colour differences define the space, rather than heavy lines.

I think lightening up the poster helps.

A recruiting poster has a goal of bringing in those who know nothing. That “We need your help!” is visible, even at this reduced size, helps achieve that goal. But I am still concerned that this poster may be a little too complex and intimidating to bring in casual onlookers.

10 May 2014

Critique: Crab burial

Today, I’m pleased to present an award winning poster from Emma Locatelli. This one took Council Poster Prize at the Palaeontological Association Annual Meeting in 2012. You can click to enlarge:

This is going to be a short critique, because this is a sharp, well done poster. (And I say this not just because my own research revolves around crustaceans like the crabs here!) Let’s check off a few of reasons this poster is a major successe:

  1. The poster has two clear columns, which make it completely clear what the reading order is. 
  2. The story is told with a lot of pictures and minimal text.
  3. Most things are neatly aligned with another element on the page.
  4. There is reasonable amount of white space, so that the poster doesn’t look too crowded.
  5. There’s a clear take-home message.
  6. Logos are down in the fine print where they belong!

Where might we see some improvement?

There is an implied question in the first line of the introduction, lurking like a hidden fossil:

Three primary hypotheses can explain the dearth of land crabs in the fossil record(.)

I’d state the question outright: “Why are land crabs’ fossils so rare?” This might have even been the title of the poster: shorter, punchier, and perhaps more likely to draw in curious passers-by.

The poster is set in Gill Sans, a classic typeface that I enjoy and use a lot myself. Here, though, I wonder if a more modern typeface in the same style might have made it look fresher and lighter. For example, bold Gill Sans looks a little clunky. There is a lot of bold on this poster for emphasis. I would use less bold, probably removing it from the methods completely. The more emphasis you use, the less effective it is.

While the poster does a generally good job of spacing and alignment, there are a few places that could be improved. The graph caption above “Subsurface alignment” in the results come a trifle too close to the text below it.

Similarly, it would have been nice if the figures in the methods and the results – two rows, both three to a column – were equally wide, so that the two rows of figures aligned perfectly. And there are a few other quirky spots where things that should line up or be closer to each other are not. 

There’s one tiny typesetting inconsistency. The last list item of the introduction ends with a period, but none of the other sentences in lists end in periods. This is such a small thing that if someone pointed it out to me, I would joke that it’s there to avoid offending God, because only God is perfect.

08 May 2014

Hang ‘em high

Earlier this year, I wrote about a conference with one of the worst poster session layouts ever: one on top of the other, with the bottom one at crotch level.

Sadly, nobody at my own institution read this, or took the wrong lesson from it:

Posters upon posters, with the top ones so far above eye level as to be almost unreadable. Sigh.

Related posts

Hung low

01 May 2014

Critique: Irrigation and butterflies

Today’s contribution comes from Andrea Barden (click to enlarge):

She writes:

I used a green and blue orientated theme as to me it linked in with the theme of the topic (irrigation).

This is a good way to try to approach the colour scheme. It is always helpful to just think, “What colour do people associate with this topic?” While you might be tempted to try “something different,” the risk is that you will simply confuse people instead.

I might have tried to simplify the colour scheme a little more, perhaps by not using the photographic background. The varying colours in the background change the foreground colours in the boxes, making it look more complex than it is.

I’ve tried to separate out the most important/interesting points using the blue boxes with the blue butterflies. It’s sort of a case of “follow the blues” in a way!

I like this idea, but am not crazy about the execution. The butterflies look like decoration, not guides. To have the butterflies guide people to highlights, they need to be consistent, and each needs to be clearly associated with one thing.

But these butterflies are not consistent. The orientation of the butterfly changes. Some are next to text, and one are next to a graph.

And these butterflies are often straddling boxes or other elements; the second one from the left is particularly bad in that way. Is it emphasizing the “Diversity partitioning analysis” or “Additive partitioning”?

The biggest issue with this poster, I think, is simply the volume of information here. There are too many elements in the space, and it looks cramped. A very hard-nosed edit to focus on the most essential elements would probably help.

I do like how the references and contact information are placed in the bottom, perhaps because it is one of the few parts of the poster that is not overloaded.