18 February 2016

Critique: Manta ray thoughts

This week’s contribution comes from Kenneth Chin. Click to enlarge!

Let me get to a couple of good things before moving to the ways it could be improved. First, the title is big and cannot be missed. If a title truly is 90% of your communication effort (as I’ve argued elsewhere), this poster is ahead of the game.

Second, there are lots of pictures of charismatic animals, including up at the top at eye level. It helps to have a subject that people generally like. I don’t know of anyone who hates manta rays.

Third, the main organization is a simple pair of columns. The reading order is not confusing.

That said, there are more frustrating things on this poster than good things. This poster is a compendium of common pitfalls.

There is way to much text, way too close together. That the poster is so dense calls attention to awkward dead spaces in the poster, shown in red below.

I tried a quick and dirty edit to move sections apart by shrinking the text and images a bit. I also took away the box around the conclusions and bar chart.

Even though the edit creates its own problems (makes alignment worse), it now has a little room to breath.

In the edit above, I flipped the order of the figures. Originally, Figure 7 appears on top of Figure 6. Also, there are two diagrams labelled “Figure 5.”

While the text is a clean sans serif, the bulk of it would be better in regular type instead of italics.

This poster needs to go back almost to the very beginning. The strongest course of action would be to give this poster a ruthless edit. Cut down the amount of material dramatically. Keep one big picture of a manta ray, show one graph of data, and list one to three major conclusions instead of nine(!).

But there is room for improvement even without going back that far in concept. Take off almost all the text and pictures. Make a grid. Draw lines for two evenly spaced columns, with a wide space between them, and wide margins. Make all those text and picture edges line up perfectly. Make sure every text block is an inch from pictures, and vice versa.

A clean two column layout is hidden deep in this poster; I can see hints of it. A disciplined adherence to a grid would reveal it, and leave an acceptable poster.

After I wrote all of the above, but before Kenneth had read it, he sent me a new version of his poster:

We’d converged on many of the same solutions! The major one is that the poster is now in two clean columns. Regarding the italicized text, he’s suffering form some mystery software glitch: they’re not supposed to be in italics.

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