29 December 2016

Link roundup for December 2016

Who else got a Christmas present delivered in poster-styled gift wrapping?

Hat tip to Shit Academics Say.

Sometimes we have a best poster of the month, but this is probably the first nominee for best poster tube (click to enlarge):

Hat tip to Ashley Cambell for discovering the whiskey tube scientist. From a geology meeting. Naturally.

Post of the month for December goes to Scott Cole, who analyzed the attendance at 2,579 posters at Neuroscience.

It is disappointing to learn 17% of posters had nobody at them. But if you ever have more than two people at your poster, you’re in the top half! Hat tip to Adam Calhoun.

Your title is the headline for your poster. This article looks at how headlines matter like never before, particularly online.

(E)ven with the best-crafted headline in the world, for every person who clicks on it, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who see it, digest it, and simply move on. People get their news from headlines now in a way they never did in the past, just because they see so many of those headlines on Twitter and Facebook.

People are used to getting news from headlines. Pay attention to your title. Your title is 90% of your poster.

Julie Lee has several poster viewing tips she learned from her first Neuroscience meeting.

Posters > Talks

I was repeatedly told this by SfN veterans and I’m glad I listened. The few talks I went to (that were directly incredibly relevant) were fairly useful but I definitely got more out of interacting with poster presenters. Also, for presenting, I would almost unreservedly give a poster for the longer interaction it offers with attendees (five minute Q&A vs. Four. Whole. Hours.).
  • Keep your eyes open. Due to the aforementioned advice, I ended up getting more free time than anticipated, and was able to randomly wander around quite a few times. The most interesting things I saw at the conference were often not planned. A few times I ended up double-taking because the poster I just walked past was being presented by authors of papers I’ve used as inspiration for my work or read because they were doing very similar things. Additionally I ended up walking past some very interesting work that may not be relevant but were still cool to learn about.
  • Budget for only a few posters per session. For me, 3-5 posters per session was the sweet spot for really getting the time to engage with posters (15-30 minutes each). However …
  • Keep a back-up list. In case the posters are busy or withdrawn, or maybe turn out to be less interesting than you anticipated, save a list of 5-10 others of secondary interests or friends if you get the time (which I did, frequently).
  • Priority label your itinerary. With the above said, it’s super useful (if you’re over-organised like me) to label your posters by priority (you can export your itinerary to google calendar!). Sounds like overkill but this gave me a quick way to see how many posters were essential per session and ration my time accordingly. Perhaps most importantly, it also let me (once) see which morning I could give a miss after a late night..

Head scratch of the month goes to Magda Havas, who convinced editors to use this figure as a graphic abstract to a journal article:

Hat tip to Neuroskeptic.

In the last few weeks, “fake news” has been the topic of much discussion. Part of the issue is that design decisions are taken away:

Over centuries, print media developed a visual language of credibility that became second nature to most readers: crisp type and clean, uninterrupted columns communicate integrity, while exaggerated images, messy layouts, and goofy text inspire doubt. On a physical newsstand, it’s still easy to tell the National Enquirer from, say, The Atlantic Online, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between the two. ...

Over the last several years, upscale publishers that don’t draw a large percentage of revenue from banner display advertising, like Medium and Vice News, have embraced an extreme minimalist style that features text and blank white space above all else — the better to differentiate themselves from the noise of fake news and chum boxes. This visual austerity is the new mark of an upscale publisher.

Yet questionable outlets are starting to adopt these very same aesthetics of reliability, albeit on a delay of several years. Sites like Civic Tribune and the satirical National Report look no worse than The Huffington Post or Drudge Report, which are seen as legitimate publishers, more or less. Some, like the semi-satirical Real News Right Now, have even echoed the clean, gridded layout and decisive typography of sites like Digg and the defunct Atlantic Wire, an aesthetic that once suggested value-added aggregation.

Hat tip to Ellen Lupton.

This segues nicely into a look at the importance of the low design of the Trump campaign hat. Designer Matt Ipcar is quoted:

It was easy for me, as a Brooklyn-born creative director, to describe the hat as bad design. But the hat was worn. It was simple, unisex, familiar, and practical during a summer of hot crowded rallies throughout the South. Design-wise, it was lazy and loud, but also deceptively brand-aware and unmistakably Trump—a brash and calculated brand extension for a house whose luxury properties are awash in Gotham, understated bling, and lots of white space.

Another thank you to Ellen Lupton.

Ann Emery shares six ideas for displaying quantitative data in a more visual way, including putting faces with quotes and icons with text. Hat tip to Katy Kennedy.

And that, my friends, is that for 2016. Here’s a picture that reflects what many of us think of 2016:

 Hat tip to Hilda Bastian.

23 December 2016

Critique: Water balance

Today’s poster is up a little late because the contributor asked that it be shown after the conference ended, and totally not because of bad time management on my part. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Anjuli Figueroa just got done preseninting this poster at the annual American Geophysical Union fall meeting. Click to enlarge version 1!

My first reaction was, “This poster looks like it’s yelling.”

I wanted the typography to calm down a bit! There are multiple fonts, multiple sizes, multiple methods of emphasis (size, colour, bullets). I suggested trying to pare down the number of styles, and using sentences instead of bullet lists. Similarly, the headings are big enough that underlining for emphasis was not needed and just contributed to making the poster look “shouty.”

Another thing made the poster feel loud is that lots of things are pushed right to the edges of space.

  • The maps in section 4 are almost crowding out of the box they’re in.
  • The text in section 2 feels like it’s crushing the globe underneath it.
  • The title is ramming into the poster number divider.

More white space would calm the poster, so I recommended using blank space to divide the poster instead of lines.

The biggest request, though, was probably to fix the, “1, 2, 3, 5, 4” reading order. It was just  frustrating. I suggested breaking section 4 apart, and putting the top half where 5 was, and the bottom half of 4 where top half of 4 was.

Anjuli sent back version two:

I thought this was already much improved, but that it could go even further. I’m not a fan of underlining, and have rarely found reason to use it. Here, it drew attention to inconsistencies like whether spaces or punctuation marks were underlined.

Similarly, using bold plus red for the key results still seems like “crushing a walnut with a sledgehammer” emphasis.

Version number three was the one that hung on the conference posterboard:

I hope the conference goers were happier to see version three on that board than version one!

18 December 2016

No more slidesters, part 7: Inkscape

Inkscape is a free software that creates vector-based illustrations. As such, it’s the freeware answer to Adobe Illustrator and CorelDRAW.

Inkscape has been on my radar for some time, but I hadn’t had a chance to sit down and use it seriously until the second #SciFund poster class earlier this year. We had used Adobe Illustrator in round one of the class, but this year, we decided to let people try Inkscape in case they didn’t have access to Illustrator.

At one point, I had read that Inkscape followed some of the same conventions as CoredlDRAW rather than Illustrator. I’ve used CorelDRAW for a long time, so I expected to be able to pick up Inkscape quite quickly. This was about 50% right.

Drawing was reasonably straightforward. Making objects and layering was much like I had encountered in other programs. Making a grid was not intuitive, but I chalked that up to unfamiliarity and interference from previously learned software.

It was working with text that drove me nuts. On posters, you often have to work with paragraphs of text, so this was a major sticking point. In most graphics programs, you put text into a text box. In PowerPoint, there can be a lot of automatic resizing to make the text or box fit. In CorelDRAW, you can opt for “paragraph text” that fits inside a box you define.

In Inkscape, a regular text object forms a single line. A paragraph will make for a long line. You can put that text into a box, but the text and the shape are always two separate things. You have to create your text, create your shape, then flow the text into that shape.

Inkscape allows you to have text fit into any shape you choose, which seems quite powerful on the surface. But I was constantly struggling to have my text appear how I wanted it. Resizing the shape didn’t always treat the text in the way I expected, leading to weird placements. Rather than moving or resizing shapes, I would draw a new shape, cut the text out of the old one, then place the text into the new shape.

When you look at the Inkscape gallery, it’s clear you can get some fantastic results from this program. But when you look at the examples, you’ll notice very few of them have much text.

My experience with Inkscape makes me unlikely to use it again for posters in the near future. Microsoft Publisher remains my software tool of choice, hitting the sweet spot between power and ease of use.

Update: Luke on Twitter said:

Inkscape does have text boxes though – created by click and dragging the text tool. Resizing is trivial then!

I will look again, but still. I cannot figure out why I was fighting so much.

Related posts
No more slidesters, part 1: The wrong tool for the job
No more slidesters, part 3: Draw in the open
No more slidesters, part 4: Memory whiplash with Poster 8
No more slidesters, part 5: The specialist, PosterGenius 1.5
No more slidesters, part 6: Publisher 2010’s fall from grace
Text wrapping in Publisher, or, “Why are you still using PowerPoint for posters?”

External links

Inkscape manual

08 December 2016

Critique: Epigenome reorganization

Today’s poster comes from Corey Duke. His Neuroscience poster got lots of love when he posted it on Twitter. (In flagrant violation of Neuroscience meeting rules, I expect.) Click to enlarge!

Corey generously shared a lot of commentary on creating this poster. He wrote:

In the work we present here, we put a great deal of thought into determining exactly what stories we wanted to highlight. When dealing with large data sets, there is a delicate balancing act in trying not to overwhelm or detract from the larger broader story lines, while still presenting the interesting findings that are more “in the weeds”. With audiences at meetings like Neuroscience being so broad in background and knowledge, our general goal with this poster was to strike that balance, to give brief captivating broad overview presentations, particularly to those less familiar with the field, while still presenting the more detailed findings that experts would perhaps find most interesting. Although it is overwhelming at first glance, I believe we were able to achieve that here, and in a way that we found alluring.

With all of that in mind, we chose to build the poster around the large circular plot we present in the middle (a circos plot), which shows the specific location of the genomic changes we were interested in across the genome. We wanted to blow it up to emphasize just how robust the changes we observed were, and to highlight some of the interesting analyses we performed in the middle of the circos plot. Because it was so large, we were able to add quite a bit of detail and make it intricate without fear of it being too small to read or pick out. It also became quite fun, as attendees could search for genes they knew out of the ones we highlight in the middle, and follow them down to the bubbles to learn about what they were doing. This was much more captivating than for instance presenting gene lists in a table, etc. Although I’m not always a fan, once we tried the plot on it we fell in love and had to go for the solid black background.

In general, I avoid posters that are walls of text, and we tried to minimize it here. Because we didn’t have much of it here though, aspects of the poster would have been difficult to understand were I not there to present it. I really like our methods section diagram, as it was simple, straightforward, and easy to understand and refer back to as I presented, which really helped to keep the larger picture in mind as I went through our results. I also think all the circular data presentations go beautifully together. We had another earlier version of this poster where all of the data is represented through circular plots, and the way it all came together was stunning. In the end, we elected to swap that out for the plots on the right side though, as we thought that told a few more interesting arcs than the circles.

We made the plots using several software programs and several of our own lines of code, but we put it all together in Adobe Illustrator. Overall, we’re very happy with how the poster turned, and everyone seemed to love it. I had 3 different run-throughs depending on the audience: 2 mins, 5-6 mins, and 10 mins. I think being able to cater the presentation so readily to the audience’s interest, background, and attention span was appreciated by all, and allowed for many people to be drawn in who were from different backgrounds. Because the poster was so aesthetically pleasing, we drew quite large crowds at Neuroscience. When you devote so much effort to the science, it’s unjust not to devote yourself to the presentation as well.

Hat tip to Caitlin Vander Weele.

01 December 2016

“Eye protein”: Lessons from giant monster movies

I recently got the chance to rewatch one of my favourite movies of the last few years on Blu-ray: Pacific Rim. It has a fantastic commentary track by director Guillermo del Toro. There is a lot of interesting stuff in the commentary (for a film buff like me, at least), but I was particularly struck by how well he articulated some points I try to get across on this blog all the time.

1. Design is all about making choices. When you listen to the commentary, you soon realize that nothing on the screen – nothing – is there by accident. Everything is a the result of a careful, deliberative process (my emphasis).

We designed everything in this movie and patches in the shirt and uniforms. We designed the banners, badges, all the advisory and doors. We designed the Jaegers to the minimum details. You know, we designed the Jaegers so that if you zoom in into the controls, you would see electrical discharge warnings. You would see ladders; you would see places where you would connect. Engineering this amount of detail mechanically, the amount of detail in design is staggering. We spent about a year texturing this world. And the accumulation of that mosaic of details design-wide gives you the sense of a real world.

People think that world creation, movie, for example, is big gestures. But it is not. It is all these small details. Look at the markings; look at the vehicles that open the doors; look at the banners and this marking, the crawlers that move the robots. Everything is full of detail. We design these. Look at the bomber art on the chest. Gipsy Danger, this robot is designed to resemble a war plane from WWII.

So we have big riveting; we have the majestic lines of article building in New York. We gave the gait of a gunslinger of western fighter. Each of the robots has a personality and Gipsy has that strong personality of gunslinger out of a duel, sort of John Wayne gait.

2. Design isn’t about making this look pretty. Too often, design is derided, particularly by academics: “Serious people care about the content, and don’t care about eye candy.” I love del Toro’s riposte (my emphasis):

It is very important for me to not just design for design, not to create eye candy but to create eye protein. Because I think that 50 per cent of the narrative of a film is submerged in the audiovisual details. And you are not doing this for doing this just because it looks cool. You are actually doing it for a narrative reason.

It is important, for example, to see the two brothers are in white. And we are going to stain this white with a color that I am very careful to use in my design, sparingly, which is red. Red is very fundamental in this film to be used carefully as I will explain it later. It becomes vital for the story of another character. And basically it is going to symbolizing the way of life.

So we stain the white suit of the pilot with red. It is fundamental, it is very dramatic moment. ...

Everything is telling you the story. They are not just aesthetic choices, they are narrative choices. For example, look at this sequence [Fight between Gipsy Danger and Knifehead - ZF], and you realize that it is not lit like a normal movie sequence where everything has fill light and key light. It is mostly lit with the light of the Jaeger lighting the kaiju. Listen to the sound track, there is no music. Look at the way we are, just when the light of the Jaeger hit the kaiju, you see the kaiju. But if you don’t, you are almost in the darkness. We break the line of the water. We stain the lens with water. We deliberately put “mistakes” into shots that are very expensive and very elaborate. Why? Because it is (not only) an aesthetic choice, but also a narrative choice.

I don’t want to make the narrative, regular narrative CG movie that every shot looks super cool. I want to get in the way. I want to give you reality. Stain the lens with water, have error on the operation of the camera, make the images obscured by water, by fog, by… later in the movie, obscured by the compensation in the lens.

And del Toto gets all these points in during the opening scenes, before the title of the movie even appears on screen! del Toro has the advantage of working with a team of creative people to help him realize his vision. But your advantage is that you’re just making a single poster, not a two hour movie. You can use some of the same principles that del Toro does.

External links

Pacific Rim Director’s Commentary by Guillermo del Toro