23 May 2019

Critique and makeover: Snap, the magic dragon

Today’s contributor is Mathilde Mousset. She sent along two posters and said I could use either, but I thought, “Why not both?” Click to enlarge!

Portrait style posters are often tricky beasts, and this one embraces the format well. It uses coloured bars and fine lines to signals that it is read across in rows. It uses a narrow typeface for headings to make best use of limited space. I like the lightweight type for the main text, which makes the bold emphasized words pop even more.

The take home message at the bottom essentially repeats the point the title makes. While repetition can sometimes be useful, I usually find that removing redundant elements reclaims space that I can use to make things larger, and that turns out to be more helpful.

While this poster is typeset and laid out very well, the most visual part of the poster is the methods section in the middle. This is a little less than ideal, because it is a bit below eye level. I’m surprised that a grayscale illustration of a snapdragon is used instead of a full colour image.

Many of those same features are found in the second version of this project.

Mathilde wrote about this second poster:

Because I had little time, the second heavily re-used stuff from the first, except I added some boxes because I felt it needed a stronger structure. Surprisingly, I kind of prefer the output with the boxes (usually boxes in posters make me feel as in a prison).

While I have complained about the overuse of boxes many times, Mathilde’s boxes work. First, they are not black. They are either light yellow, or a darker shade of the background colour (the blue in the bottom box). In either case, they aren’t drawing a lot of attention to themselves. Second, there is a good amount of white space between the boxes and the text, so nothing feels crowded.

The typesetting is perhaps a little less successful on the second poster than the first. Mathilde uses a modified bullet point list, only using a chevron instead of a bullet.

But the point of having a symbol is to be able to scan down a list in a column. So right justifying bullet lists kind of defeats the purpose of a bullet list.

Here’s a quick revamp keeping those bullets aligned.

At the top of the poster, the second level of bullet points also run into minor alignment issues. Again, if you want people to scan down from one symbol to the next, you want to keep the space between those symbols clear of interference.

Neither the first or second level are set with hanging indents. The first level has lines running back to the chevron symbol. The second level is worse, because the second line of text runs back not to the secondary symbol (a dash), but all the way back to the primary chevron symbol.

Here is how I would like to see those paragraphs set up:

Much easier to scan down the list!

None of these changes alters the number of lines of text. The revisions fit in the space, so they don’t require reworking the rest of the section around the changes.

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