13 August 2015

A poster with no conference, or: What I made in that #SciFund poster class

A couple of months back, I was one of the instructors in the #SciFund poster making class. We had decided to require everyone make their posters in Adobe Illustrator, which I have never used before. This freaked me out a little bit, and I knew that if I was going to be useful to students, I would have to figure out Illustrator myself.

I decided that I had to make a poster at the same time the students were. I just had one problem: I wasn’t going to a conference this summer, so I had no actual need to make a poster. I decided to tackle the data on a paper that was going through the editorial process at the time, and was finally released today (Faulkes 2015).

I wasn’t extraordinarily diligent in documenting my process, but I did try. This first one is fairly early in the process (click to enlarge):

What surprises me in retrospect is that from a distance, this first one is very similar to what I ended up with. The basic layout decisions – five columns, three pictures in the middle – served me pretty well. But you could not hang in a conference. Obviously, pictures are missing, and if you click to enlarge, you will see a lot of silly placeholder text (from a variety of sources).

Despite that I normally tell people they don’t need logos, I included one mainly because it looked like I would had space left over. This was a simple way to fill it, and the colours matched the picture.

A few steps later, and the poster already looks very close to done. But as we’ll see, looks can be deceiving.

First, I ditched the standard “IMRAD” headings. My idea was to try to make the poster quickly readable by making every heading a key question or finding. That way, you only had to read a few sentences to get the gist of the poster.

Second, I pulled in colour. It just happened that the pictures I found tended to have green and orange in them, which, coincidentally enough, was the colour scheme for the new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley mascot. I used the eyedropper to duplicate colours from the mascot and photos to the headings, the box around the pictures, the title, and so on.

Third, I put in the data. I considered making graphs, but I kept thinking that these were simple, easy to understand numbers, and there were not very many of them. The central graphic is, in essence, the thing I tell people to never put on a poster: a table! But it’s a table with photos, lots of space, and no “data prison.”

Fast forward a few more steps:

The obvious change when you see the thumbnail is that I’ve moved the mascot. I placed the mascot in the lower right corner following the Cosmo principle: that’s where the least important stuff goes. The problem was that the Vaquero was facing outwards, leading your eyes off the poster. I moved it one column over, just because I didn’t want to move it very far.

But that wasn’t far enough!

Now the mascot is clearly facing into the poster, leading your eye into the next section of text. Much better.

You can’t see at a glance are all the changes to the text I’m making as I go, too. But trust me, there is a lot of editing and rewriting going on.

This is the final version:

I know it doesn’t look all that much different from the second image above, but there are so many chances that you can’t see in the thumbnail. They are the little things like increasing the text size, changes in wording, and the space between the lines. They are almost subliminal differences, but they all add up to a much nicer appearance, as I wrote about here.

One of the last changes was which numbers I used in the central graphic. I rounded the percentages up to got rid of the decimals. They just weren’t necessary. I also changed which numbers I showed in the second row, which much more clearly indicated the popularity of one species (almost half of all sales!).

The decision about which numbers to show on this poster, in fact, led to me asking the editors to make some last minute changes in the published paper. Because I was forced to grapple how to show things clearly and visually on a poster that I realized there were some nice improvements I could make to the paper.

I’ve given just a few examples of the stages in making this poster in this post, but you can watch the development with more steps in this video:

Related posts

Look into the poster: gaze and graphics
#SciFund poster class links
The last 10% of the poster should take more than 10% of your time

External link

A clone and two dwarfs


Faulkes Z. 2015. Marmorkrebs (Procambarus fallax f. virginalis) are the most popular crayfish in the North American pet trade. Knowledge and Management of Aquatic Ecosystems 416: 20. http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/kmae/2015016

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