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.