30 June 2016

Link round-up for June 2016

Kaitlyn Werner is the winner of this month’s “Best re-use of a conference poster (beach edition)”:

Alex Barnard took a poster into the third dimension with 3-D printing:

This is not the first time I’ve shown a poster with a third dimension on this blog, but it’s still unusual enough to warrant a mention. Hat tip to Guanyang Zhang and Maslay Lab. Despite the tweet containing the #evol2016 hashtag, this poster was not at the Evolution 2016 meeting (I know, I saw them all), but I guess was similar to work presented at a talk there.

Academic Poster on Twitter is worth a peek. The profile says, “This page is linked to the only academic poster expert blog on the internet.” I believe it’s referring to this page, since the account doesn’t link here. (This blog does appear under “Helpful links.” Thank you – I try to be helpful whenever I can!)

Lenny Teytelman reports on the European Bioinformatics Institute conference’s solution to, “Can I share this on social media?” They made cards you could put on your poster:

Katie Everson, writing at the Molecular Ecologist blog, has 10 tips to improve conference posters. Most of these will be familiar to readers of this blog, but it’s always nice to see how other people phrase them! Hat tip to Katie Everson.

Next up we have a deep dive into the science of human perception, which can tell us a lot about designing graphics. For instance, Lots of cool information in there, like how scale affects our sense of correlation.

And while I have been known to make a dig at pie charts from time to time, research shows that for some purposes, they work very well:

Six decades later, and in three more experiments, pie charts were hailed for their strength in conveying proportional data, in some way or another.

Pretty sure none of the principles in the article above could justify this graphic, though:

Hat tip to Tim van der Zee and Michael Hunsacker.

I’ve emphasized the importance of titles before. This research argues that 70% of people on Facebook only read headlines before commenting.

Filed under, “I’m astonished he got away with it,” have a look at this doctoral thesis (from 2008.) It’s stunning looking. Hat tip to David Schoppik and Raven.

Dynamic Ecology has updated their list of conference preparation tips. Hat tip to Chris Buddle.

A interactive poster.

Not the first to use this technology, however. Hat tip to Paul Cannon and Academic Posters.

A good title is critical to a poster. This article on crafting titles for journal articles contains some ideas that can be applied to posters, too.

24 June 2016

The view from the floor at Evolution 2016

Earlier this week, I was at the 2016 Evolution meeting in Austin, Texas. The poster sessions ran for three nights, two hours a night, and I glanced at every single poster.

The conference organizers underused their poster boards, as shown in the picture above. The instructions said that posters were supposed to be no wider than four feet, but the boards were probably seven or eight feet wide. This is a shame; I would have loved to use the whole space available. I wonder if the organizers were expecting more poster submissions. A few last minute posters were two to a board, and maybe they told people to keep posters small so they could double up on boards if necessary.

But even if the conference organizers had told people they could make wider posters, I don’t think many people would have taken them up on it. I saw many posters in portrait format: very tall, skinny, and dangling off the bottom of the board. They looked awkward. I saw enough of them that I don’t think they resulted from accidental misreadings of the instructions. People reusing posters from other conferences, maybe?

Each poster had ample square footage. There was plenty of space between the aisle, so no presenter or audience member was in danger of getting tramples.

The room the poster sessions in were very well lit.

The small tables underneath the poster boards were very handy places to put food and drink. The conference did a great job of keeping poster presenters feed and hydrated. There was quick good snack food and drinks available in the evening poster session.

Despite having tables to put things on, very few posters had any sort of physical takeaways for readers. Only a couple had letter-sized versions of the poster or business cards.

The overall design quality of the posters was higher than I have seen at other conferences. Shockingly, there were no posters using Comic Sans. Not one. This is the first conference ever where I have not see that eyesore in the poster session. I am so pleased I do not have to name and shame any posters for using that typeface. (The conference was not Comic Sans free, though. I saw one set of slides that used that type.)

Rafael Marcondes had the winning poster in the American Naturalist poster competition, and it’s archived here. (Hat tip to Rafael Maia.) In addition to Rafael’s poster, a few other Evolution conference posters are archived at Figshare. There’s about 30 posters archived out of maybe 400 that were presented.

I was super excited to meet a few blog readers. Thanks for chatting!

Update: Hat tip to Rafael for reminding me of some valid points about the sessions.

External links

Evolution 2016 conference website
Evolution 2016, Day 1
Evolution 2016, Day 2
Evolution 2016, Day 3
Evolution 2016, Day 4
Evolution 2016, Day 5

16 June 2016

Search engines for technical graphics

How important are academic graphics? A new pre-print in arXiv argues, “Pretty damn important.” This news summary of the technical article says:

(T)heir most remarkable discovery is that the most successful papers tend to have more figures. By plotting the number of diagrams in a paper against its impact, the team concludes that high impact ideas tend to be conveyed visually.

Lee and co say there are two possible explanations for this: “That visual information improves the clarity of the paper, leading to more citations, and higher impact, or that high impact papers naturally tend to include new, complex ideas that require visual explanation.”

The team has a search engine for scientific graphics called Viziometrics. My first pass, for “crayfish,” gave a mess on non-intuitive results (click to enlarge):

Things improved markedly when I selected only for diagrams and photos, however.

Speaking of searchable graphics databases, Atlas looks promising for some purposes. I tried searching for something that I thought must get plotted a lot in science, “Impact Factor”:

Nothing looked relevant to scientific publication, so I tried a couple of other topics familiar to me. I had success with “lobster”, because I reckoned there would be fisheries data. There was:

Things get good when you drill down to a single graph:

There’s a reference, so you know where the data came from. You can download the image created by Atlas, or download the data yourself in a plain text (CSV) file. Atlas is a product of the Quartz online news outlet. I’m not sure yet if it only includes data from Quartz stories.

These are not going to replace Google Images or Flickr any time soon, but they might be useful for some purposes.

Hat tip to Ananyo Bhattacharya for Viziometrics and to Knight Science Journalism for Atlas.

09 June 2016

What is the “ePoster” format?

I’ve been predicting that we’re going to see a slow decline in paper posters for a while, so I was interested when John Coupland and Lady Scientist drew my attention to the joint annual meeting of (deep breath)...

  • The American Society of Animal Science (ASAS)
  • The American Dairy Science Association® (ADSA®)
  • The Western Section of the American Society of Animal Science (WSASAS)
  • The Canadian Society of Animal Science (CSAS)

They are having presentations in an “ePoster” format. Their instructions are here. I can’t quite visualize this yet, but as near as I can tell, it is an illegitimate love child of a PowerPoint slide show and a paper poster.

It’s the size of a poster (about 40 inches wide)... but you can have multiple screens of information, with hyperlinks and videos (like slides). The conference FAQ says:

On average, presenters will normally have 3-­5 pages of content on their e-­posters.

How is this different from a slide show? The conference organizers are squelching the “Click to advance” button, and replacing them with timed animations and navigation buttons.

I am skeptical of this hybrid format. The single sheet of a paper poster enforces discipline. You have to make hard decisions about what to include or not include. I worry that allowing multiple slides will mean that people will upload their standard PowerPoint deck and just give their standard talk repeatedly instead of once. As far as I can tell, the “normally 3-5” comment notwithstanding, the only limit to the number of slides is the total size of the PowerPoint file.

On the other hand, presenters do have to upload the poster in advance, so you won’t see PowerPoint decks that were cobbled together on the plane trip on the way to the conference.

The conference provides two templates. Here’s a sample of one (with instructions intact):

And another, which I think is less effective:

I’m not a fan of these templates. For one, the blue background and text are fairly low-contrast. Because these are on a monitor, white text will be more effective than black: it will glow from the light behind it. The columns on the first seem rather wide. Displaying all the sections on the second seems rife for confusion.

And a conference logo. In prime real estate. I know what meeting I’m at, I’ve already paid the fee, there’s no need to advertise it any more.

Based on the conference documents, this is all being run by a company called ePosterboards, who are new to me. One of their services is they will provide design assistance to poster authors, for an unspecified fee. You have to contact them for a quote. This makes me super curious as to how much they are asking for.

02 June 2016

Critique: Notorious DRG

This week’s contribution is from Zach Sperry, who gave me permission to share his poster from the 2015 Neuroscience meeting. Click to enlarge!

Nobody should be embarrassed by a poster like this. The core design of this poster is solid. It’s a clean, three column layout that leaves no doubt as to how it should be read.

But... there is a lot going on in this poster. It might have benefited from the four tips on shortening posters I had just a few weeks ago.

Things I might do:

Take the university and lab logos in the title bar out. This would allow you to shorten the author and institutions credits from five lines to maybe two, and make the title bigger.

I cannot emphasize this enough: at big meetings, your title needs to be visible from the moon. Big meetings set poster boards far apart to have aisles for people to walk in. And Neuroscience in the biggest of the big. Do not skimp on space for your title!

As journalists say, this poster has buried the lede. The “Goal” statement is crystal clear, but it’s buried at the bottom of the first section, and the italics are not enough of a signal to show its importance. I like the clarity of the “Goal” statement so much that I might just hack that whole section down to that one sentence.

Try shrinking everything by 5-10% and increasing the white space between each individual element.

The text blocks are quite dense and dark. The typeface appears to be plain ol’ Arial. I might try a thinner typeface and less bolding to make the text blocks look lighter.

There are quite a lot of bright colours on the poster, with red, green, orange, and blue all making appearances. While the area they cover is small, which generally favours those more intense colours, there are still a lot of them, which contributes to the feeling of business. They make sense in the graphs on the right, but the intense red for labels in the central bottom figure, or to make outlines in the right figure (“Cell bodies (blue pixels) transformed...”) might be a little too much.

Like the introduction, I would like the conclusion to be much tighter. The first of those three paragraphs alone might be enough. It tells you the two key take-home messages:

  1. The recording worked.
  2. We got new information from this recording.