27 October 2016

Link roundup for October 2016

Contrast matters, and web page designers are starting to forget that. Kevin Marks delves into how grey text is becoming so prominent on the web. Marks notes something I’ve talked about before: the difference between the screen and a poster handing on a wall.

(W)hen you design in perfect settings, with big, contrast-rich monitors, you blind yourself to users. To arbitrarily throw away contrast based on a fashion that “looks good on my perfect screen in my perfectly lit office” is abdicating designers’ responsibilities to the very people for whom they are designing.

Hat tip to Robert J. Sawyer.

It’s great when you have a lab to go to a conference with. But not everyone has a lab. Here are tips for how to rock a conference solo.

An occasional reminder that if your poster hangs for several days, create opportunities for people to give feedback when you are not there:

Hat tip to Ciera Martinez.

Stephen Heard is unimpressed with most conference badges. This led me to another discussion of badge shortcomings, both of which reminded me of an older article on conference badges in American Scientist (paywalled).

20 October 2016

Critique: Catching a DRAGON

Today’s poster is from Athanasios Psaltis, in my old stomping grounds in in Canada (McMaster University, to be exact). This poster was shown at a school on “Origin of nuclei in the universe,” and appears here with his permission. Click to enlarge!

I appreciated immediately was that I could read everything on this poster, even shrunk down on the computer screen. You only have to go back a week on this blog to see that this doesn’t always happen.

The mix of red, or bold, or red and bold for emphasis would be better replaced with just one style. I liked the use of red bolding for emphasis on the left introductory material, and wish it was carried over on the right side (e.g., “transmission” and “efficiency” in the “Testing the DRAGON” section). Athanasios agreed.

The bullet points in the introduction are adding space, but not much clarity, at least for me. The “1, 2, 3” numbering under “Wanajo” works, though, and I would leave that.

Dashes or hyphens should have spaces on both sides, or neither. Seeing spaces on only one side of the dash in the pointers to the figures (e.g., “Figure 1- Right”) is making me crazy in an obsessive type nerd way.

The ticks in the Figure 1 graphs are a bit obtrusive. I understand log scales need a lot of ticks, but they don’t need to be protruding so far into the graph. They could be shorter. I would try removing the top and right axes, too. Or, if the top and right lines stay, remove the tick marks.

13 October 2016

Critique: Cubic slip-systems

Today’s poster is from Danyel Cavasoz. Now, although I live in a region with a large Hispanic population, my Spanish is pretty bad. But based on the arXiv notice in his poster, I am reasonably confident this is a physics poster. Alas, my physics is also bad, since I’m not sure what a “cubic slip-system” is. He’s been kind enough to give permission to share this. Click to enlarge!

I love the individual graphics here. They evoke the feel of being hand drawn, but are never sloppy.

The muted colours all work well together. The darker background allows some of the red and blue in those diagrams to stand out.

My major concern is the main text. When I see the poster at a small size, like the thumbnail here on the blog, the text is almost unreadable. There are three things contributing here. The first is whether the background is dark enough to make white text stand out. The second is the point size of the text (it’s 22 point, according to Danyel). The third is a bit more subtle.

Danyel used Century Gothic. This geometric typeface has very even strokes and similar shapes throughout, which is making it hard to distinguish letter shapes. Let’s have a closer look at it:

Notice how many letters are based on an almost identical circle? The a, c, d, e, g, o, p, and q: that’s eight letters, almost a third of the alphabet, built on the same shape. By comparison, let’s look at another famous geometric sans serif, Futura:

The round letters are similar, but not as much as in the one above. You can see the line width varying, such as where the round parts meet the descenders in p and g.

When you move into a serif font like Sitka, you see the letters are even less similar:

By the way, “Quack Beep God” is the name of my new indie band.

Danyel wrote:

I can safely say that one can read it standing 2 m away from it. Now that I think about it, the light gray might be too light indeed for a room illuminated under a very white light.

    07 October 2016

    Critique: On spec(trographic)

    Today’s contribution come from Michael Young. This will be shown at this year’s Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems conference, but he’s given me permission to show you as preview. Click to enlarge!

    Because the poster is intended to show off the website, it features near the middle of the poster, which is appropriate placement.

    Michael’s own assessment of the poster is that despite much editing, it is still too wordy. I agree, but the good news is that the typography is clean and understandable, apart from a tenuous touch of the institution name with the title bar. The descender on the “y” in “University” is killing me.

    I also the colour combination of blues and tans. It’s consistent throughout. The blues provides a good contrast to the logo, appropriately situated out of the way, unobtrusive and quiet.

    The underlying structure of this portrait style poster is a solid two row grid:

    I might have preferred a little more space between the rows to separate them, but the space between each row is not the biggest problem here. You might not notice the simple two row layout because of the placement of everything in those rows. Let’s highlight the pictures and sidebars:

    Just to make it a little more obvious, here’s the position of all those elements without the distraction of the poster contents:

    Now it looks just a bit like a Mondrian painting.

    The point, though, is to highlight that there’s no underlying plan for those pictures. Almost no two are the same size. They’re only aligned if they happen to be along the poster’s edge.

    Consequently, the reading order of the poster, while clear (thanks to the underlying two row grid), is circuitous. You have to wind and wend your way around all those pictures.

    What might have helped this poster is a stronger secondary grid. How is the row going to be divided? Could it be quartered, or otherwise sectioned into smaller pieces?

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