05 February 2015

Don’t get mad, get playful

Most people want to give talks at conferences instead of posters. David Schulz was denied the opportunity to give a talk, he was mad. His anger drove him to “go there” in poster design – and the result was a roaring success.

Let’s break it down and look at some of the elements that gave him such success.

First, he has balloons. Balloons! Not only does looking at them make you reflexively smile, they act like a highway sign for his poster. The balloons will be visible from almost anywhere in the poster hall, rising above the horizon. People will see them and wonder what they’re for, and might wander over to have a peek.

When they get there, the viewer is invited to play a little game:

You can get the answer by lifting the flaps. It’s very hard to resist interacting with the poster now, because it almost captures some of the feel of a pop-up book. I’ve shown a few examples of other “pop up” panels and flipbooks, and this falls into that category.

The answers are also written on the handouts that David has on the table. This encourages people to pick them up, and makes them more likely to take them away, which means more connections between David and the people who saw his poster.

Looking at David’s set-up, I would have liked his poster to be bigger and use more of the available space. I also might have gone for a more subdued colour scheme. But this poster is so good at saying, “Hey! You! Yes, you! Come over here and look at me!” that it clearly overcame some of the weaker elements of its design.

At the end, David said:

(I)t was one of the most engaging scientific activities I had ever done. Given that the average attendance at any given session was less than 100 people (and usually 30-50 people), I received more substantive feedback from people during the poster than the one or two polite questions I would have received had I given an oral presentation. I gave out nearly all my handouts, which meant that I directly interacted with at least as many as would have likely sat passively through an oral presentation.

Never lose sight of what a poster is for. It’s a conversation starter. And this poster did that job admirably.

David’s blog, Eloquent Science, has many other posts about conference posters that I’m just starting to dig into.

Related posts

How to show a dung beetle running
Critique: plague

External links

Rethinking Poster Sessions as Second-Class
Proof that a poster can be attractive to an audience

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