28 March 2019

Link round-up for March, 2019

Mike Morrison has a 20 minute video describing what a poster session is and how to make a poster.


Unlike Mike, however, I do not believe poster sessions are “holding the human race back in a non insignificant way.” The video, particularly the first half, is pessimistic about poster sessions. Around 13:25, good stuff starts to happen as Mike outlines a good poster design. I think he overestimates people’s willingness to snap pictures of QR codes, though.

Mike has provided templates here, and is working on a study validating the design he has. He is looking for grad students to participate. You can email him at Mike.A.Morrison@gmail.com.

Amy Burgain saw this video and offers this alternative:


Amy writes:

It achieves the clear simple message BUT emphasizes how that message is supported by the DATA. It keeps the goal of understanding how the conclusion is related to the data while also making it easier to glean main messages.

I plan to have my own longer post about this in a couple of weeks.

Hat tip to Chris McTeague.

• • • • •

Dan Raboksy talks about the difficulty of working in poster sessions with hearing issues.

I have profound hearing loss and struggle in many conf situations. Plenary talks in ballrooms: usually bad to impossible. Poster sessions: terrible.

Dan notes that someplace with background noise, like a poster session, makes it almost impossible to understand speech. Off the top of my head, I think there are a few things that organizer can do to help:

  1. Have posters go up and stay up when no poster presentations are scheduled, so people can view posters in a more quiet surroundings.
  2. Ensure there are “quiet rooms” where someone can go to. Some people just like to have “chill out” rooms, but these could double for quiet conversations. (Science Online used to have these.)
  3. Make posters available online before the poster session. (This idea from Goring et al., 2018.)

• • • • •


BBC journalists have written an explainer on how they generate their graphs in support of news. They are using R’s ggplot2 package and putting out some nice stuff.

ggplot2 gives you far more control and creativity than a chart tool and allows you to go beyond a limited number of graphics. Working with scripts saves a huge amount of time and effort, in particular when working with data that needs updating regularly, with reproducibility a key requirement of our workflow.

The team has generously shared what they have learned by putting out a reference “cookbook” for making graphs and a package to generate the BBC’s house style.

Personal opinion: I’m glad it works for them, but I am never going back to command line.

• • • • •

Morgan Carter suggests a way to integrate posters and preprints:

(I)f you are making a conference poster about work from a recent preprint, throw the QR code at the beginning or end to invite folks to “read the full story”. I did it at a major conference last year, and I got questions about #biorXiv and preprint posting.

BiorXiv has a built in QR code generator. Hat tip to Tim Stearns.

• • • • •

Stacy Keith has a useful infographic to budgeting time for making anything, including posters.


• • • • •

Bryan Gaensler has a useful Twitter thread on how to deal with the stress of conferences. For example:

Look through the attendee list in advance. If there’s someone coming who you know and trust, ask them beforehand to check in with you during the meeting to see if you’re OK, or to introduce you to the people they’re talking to

Many more tips in the thread.

• • • • •

Speaking of tricks, here is a list of ten tips for making text more readable by Igor Ovsyannykov. A couple of years old, but new to me.

• • • • •

LeeAnn Tan has a wonderful gallery of her poster work at PosterFolk.com. I hope to have more from LeeAnn in the weeks to come!

What seems obvious to you may not seem obvious to a new conference goer. Jesiqua Rapley wrote:

My first conference was an international conference in another country in the first year of my MA. I was alone, incredibly introverted, and terrified. I had NO idea what I was supposed to do. I didnt even know how to properly hang my poster.

Supervisors, don’t do this to students. Don’t leave them hanging. Either go with them or do extensive briefing beforehand.

21 March 2019

Critique: Dem bones dem bones, dem jaw bones...

Today’s contribution comes from Ram Vaidhyanath! Click to enlarge:

Radiology’s whol deal is taking pictures, which makes it a very visual field. This poster takes advantage of that, and uses lots of high quality images. Those are excellent.

The title is big and extremely visible from a distance. Same with the headings. The bars under the title and heading is a nice visual touch, too. It helps break up the space a little. One possible issue is that the bar under the title is about the same length as the word “Pictorial,” making it look like a botched attempt at underlining the word. The bar might be a little better if it was either lengthened or shortened so that it didn’t “attach” itself to the word above it.

The layout is clear in the order of expected reading, but there are a couple of things that are a little frustrating.

That the three right columns align the pictures in them precisely makes the single picture in the left hand column stand out, and not in a good way. In a rather jarring way. The text of the top paragraphs in each column are the same length, six lines. The diagram of jaw anatomy could be lined up with the others by removing the “Anatomy” heading, which isn’t doing a lot of heavy lifting here anyway.

The discussion section is the most problematic. The “top” of the heading sort of pokes up above the “bottom” of the three right columns.

More bothersome is that the lines of text in the discussion are long. Very long. About 35 to 40 words long, which is about three times longer than we’re used to reading. And the slightly small point size, which is an issue throughout the poster, is even more noticeable in the section that is the hardest to read.

14 March 2019

Critique: Float like a butterfly, think like a bee

This week’s poster comes from Jeremy Hemberger. I believe that this was presented at last year’s Entomological Society of America meeting. Click to enlarge!


Jeremy writes that the graphic design parts were done in Illustrator. All the pieces were then assembled using inDesign.

I love the relaxed feel of this poster. One of the things that helps tremendously is that it very consciously and deliberately shows how it is not trying to fill all the available space. The bottom quarter or so of the poster contains a couple of logos (appropriately tucked down in the corner) and some simple, inviting artwork. And even between the two of those, there is a big space in light blue that is comfortable just holding space and doing nothing else.

It’s kind of a glorious signal of confidence. More stuff would look desperate.

I like how the title is broken down in a a simple, highlighted phrase on the left, and a smaller subtitle over on the right.

I haven’t seen author information handled this way before. Author photos are a tricky thing, but these are good pictures. Having them in a circle both minimizes their footprint and adds a little visual interest. There’s no affiliations here, just contact information, which is arguably the most important thing to a viewer. This approach might not work well with large numbers of authors, but this shows it works well with one or two.

The poster’s headings also show confidence in not using the typical “IMRAD” format. Instead, the headings clearly divide the space into “Problem,” “Solution,” and “Visualization and outreach.” The heading parallel the title, using the same left / right divide to separate a short, simple heading and a smaller, slightly more complex subheading.

The flow chart / infographic is concise, visually appealing, and well thought out.

The one place that I might suggest some very mild revision is in the text. Some of the text suffers from classic academic wordiness. The first sentence and filler words like “Indeed”, “are known to be”, and ”As such” might be edited out.

The type used for the paragraph text is condensed and a slightly heavy weight. It is a little small and difficult to read from a distance. But then, I say this as someone who has an optometrist appointment today. The older I get, the more I appreciate the need for things on posters to be big.

Fine work all around.

Related posts

Mug shot

07 March 2019

Critique: Virus stamping

Today’s poster comes from contributor Benjamin Wu. Click to enlarge!


Ben and I talked about capitalization, particularly in the title. There are three styles: headline / title casing (on left below), sentence casing (right), and all capitals. (The example above is not a good example for a poster, because the title is the same size as the main text. You wouldn’t have on a poster title.)


I see examples of all three on posters all the time. I’m not a fan of all capitals, because it looks shouty, like a Hulk or Dalek Twitter account.

I lean towards sentence casing, because we read sentences all the time. It makes it easier to recognize proper nouns. But proper nouns (name of person, place, or thing) should always be capitalized in any case!

The poster’s layout is clean, with consistent space between boxes both horizontally and vertically. 


The left quarter of the poster is mostly taken up with an abstract, and it is killing me. Having any abstract is bad enough, but this one is worse than most. It’s a structured abstract. I love structured abstracts for journals, but they are horrible for posters, because breaking the abstract into sections makes it longer and even more redundant than usual. When I look at the poster and see that huge block of text, and my will to read the rest of the poster just shrivels. 

In fairness, Ben informed me that the decision to include the abstract was not up to him.

But if you can get past the abstract, the rest of the poster fares well. The introduction is short and snappy, and the central two columns contains lots of well constructed graphics to outline the methods.

I like the discipline of the predominantly greyscale palette, but I worry a little about the contrast making the text difficult to read. I tried lightening the boxes, but not all the way to white:


Lightening the fills in the boxes make the headings stand out a bit more. I like the use of bands to highlight the heading for each box. The headings are unusually consistent in their position for a poster made in PowerPoint.

A fine poster, but it is kind of a shame about that abstract.

01 March 2019

A decade of Better Posters



It has been a decade since I started this blog. It had a slow start, but it has turned into one of the most successful, and rewarding, projects of my career.

Thank you.

To readers who have shown me that this is helpful, thank you.

To those who have recommended the blog to others, thank you.

To contributors who have been generous enough to share your posters with me and blog readers, a big thank you.You have made it much easier for this blog to continue by always giving me new things to talk about.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to mention that a book about poster design is coming. A book written by me, published by Pelagic Publishing.

Before I committed to writing a poster book, I needed to be sure it would provide value above and beyond what the blog already does. I’ve always felt there needs to be a reason for writing a book for academics. I see a lot of books (particularly textbooks) that don’t provide much different than others in the field. I never wanted to write a book “just because.”  

But I think there is a good reason for a book.

Many colleagues have told me they recommend this blog to others, particularly to students doing their first poster. While I’m glad so many put trust the suggestions here, I’ve been very aware that this blog is not terribly helpful to a novice. It’s not fair to expect a new person to trawl through ten years of blog posts that have no organization beyond “What I happened to want to write about that week” to get a sense of how to put together a poster.

A book can provide coherent “start to finish” advice that this blog can’t.

In the meantime, the blog will continue with its weekly* schedule, with new posts on Thursdays.

* Well, almost weekly. I’ve missed a few weeks here and there.

Photo by Justin S. Campbell on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.