15 January 2016

Critique: Sea turtles eating trash

This week’s poster is like those “Spot the difference” cartoons that used to appear in the classified ad section of newspapers (dating myself there). Qamar Schuyler sent me a work in progress, so there are two versions. You can click either to enlarge!

There’s a lot to like. The sea turtle provides a clear cue as to what this poster is about. I wonder if a picture of a turtle ingesting debris might be an even better indicator of the poster’s topic. The trade-off could be that a poster of a turtle in trouble might be disheartening and a turn-off to a potential reader. Maybe the healthy, charismatic turtle used here is the right choice.

The main data, the maps, are up front and center. The big coloured map is placed just where it should be: right in the upper middle. The caption for it, though, is a little problematic, because it’s been severed from the image it describes.

In general, you want to place descriptive text as close to the image it’s linked to as possible.

A similar problem occurs with the smaller maps. While they don’t have to be read in any particular order, they do wind around, snake-like, between the colour map and the captions.

Part of the problem here is that five maps are the same size, and one – for Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle – is narrower. I would still try to put these in a more consistent two by three grid, and just suck up that the last one isn’t a perfect fit. Perhaps the figure caption could slot into the extra space, maybe like this:

Or this:

Of course, I’ve cheated in the sketches above because I haven’t relocated any of the text. Repositioning the figures would require a massive revision of the right side of the poster, perhaps moving the “Results” section into the upper right corner.

Here’s Qamar’s tweaked version. Spot the differences!

Some of the differences I caught (not intended to be an exhaustive list):

  • The box around the conclusions has been given a red border to “pop” the take home message. I like it.
  • A graph has been added to results. I like this, too. Visuals are better than words.
  • A poster number has been added. I’m very mildly against this, because I’m not sure it does much besides take up space. On the other hand, it is unobtrusive and might help someone.
  • The proportions have changed a little.
  • The “Contact me” box in the lower right has been tweaked a bit, and is better aligned with the box above it. I would like it more if it was the same width as the box above, though.

You can see this poster with Qamar at the Ocean Sciences meeting in New Orleans in February. If you can’t make it to the Big Easy, you can read the pre-print of the article here.


Schuyler QA, Wilcox C, Townsend KA, Wedemeyer-Strombe KR, Balazs G, van Sebille E, Hardesty, BD. 2015. Risk analysis reveals global hotspots for marine debris ingestion by sea turtles. Global Change Biology: in press. http://dx.doi.org10.1111/gcb.13078

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