06 June 2019

Critique and makeover: Something in the water

Today’s contribution is by Francesca Rubino. Click to enlarge!

Francesca writes:

I recently presented the attached poster at a public health conference, but it seemed to be a flop with the audience (mostly professors in public health).

“Boo!” to professors in public health. It’s always tough when a poster doesn’t connect with an audience.

This poster has a good amount of visual appeal. The backdrop is used to position text blocks on top of on circles. While this causes text blocks to flow from right to left, the background helps signal the processing in a logical way. The background is faded enough that it never obstructs the images on top or competes for attention.

But while the background creates opportunities for cool design, it also causes some issues, too. Because Francesca decided to let the circles in the background determine the position of most of the text, everything else has to revolve around them.

This poster could be improved by following a common graphic design principle: keep related things close together. Proximity is a critical organizing cue, and in some cases, related things are far apart.

In the second section, the numeral “2” is split up from the text by a question mark icon. The question is short and clearly a question, so the icon isn’t needed for clarity. It could be removed or moved outside of the “2.”

After you read “2”, you look for “3,” and it’s kind of missing in action. The number “3” isn’t in some of the places you would expect it to be.

The placement of the two main graphs both suffer from placement issues.
  • The survey data is a long way from the section describing it (4a). 
  • The microbe graph might have fared better because it is closer to the section describing it (4b), but its shape pushes the corner much closer to section 5.
I feel like Francesca might have realized there was a problem, because she has connector lines between the graph and the text, but it’s not enough. The visual weight of the graphs is stronger than the connecting lines.

The fast revision below tries to address some of these issues.

It’s not perfect, but it shows the direction I would like this poster to move in.

Besides the proximity issues, the data graphs themselves seem a little complex, particularly the microbe analysis. I wonder if that might have been better served as small multiple graphs instead of a double Y axis graph with stacked bars and multiple symbols.

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