12 November 2020

Critique: Tungsten carbide, part 2

This week, more from Stephen Herd! If you haven’t seen his first effort, go back and have a peek before seeing how he pushed the envelope even further. Click to enlarge!

Poster titled, "Cemented tungsten carbide."

Stephen has this to say about this work (lightly edited).

I decided to focus on the images and text would be more like figure titles. This one was more ambitious. Inspiration for the second poster came from a packet of popcorn  and also looking at movie posters.

Stephen attached this picture: 

Bag of popcorn.

I see the resemblance. I would have guessed circus posters more than movie posters, but maybe that’s just the typeface.

Stephen continues:

One of my aims was to see if you can create a poster where the title isn’t at the top of the page. This created a lot of problems in how the other elements sit on the page and how they interact with the title at the center. 

I mostly agree with Stephen’s analysis. That the title is in the middle is not an insurmountable challenge. In fact, I think it succeeds here in that it is immediately obvious what the title is. The type size, the circle, and the contrast all give the title a lot of visual weight and draw your eye there first.

The problem is, “Where do I go next?”

Stephen has two levels of headings. The major headings are “Experimental” and “Modelling.” Then there are subheadings like “Microstructure” and “Conclusion.” A problem is that the headings are too similar in size and appearance to clearly mark one as “major” and the other as “minor.”

I would have tried to stretch the “Experimental” and “Modelling” headings right across the width of the page, to more clearly separate the two sections of the poster. I think Stephen didn’t because he ended up with too much content in the “Experimental” section, and the “Modelling” banner is narrowed as a result, and once you have one heading in a narrow banner, the other gets put in a narrow banner so it’ll match.

It looks like an editorial problem more than a design problem. Too much stuff!

Stephen concludes:

While I am still not 100% satisfied with the design, the poster was successful as it brought many people over to discuss the unique design and then go on to discuss my work. 

I agree with Stephen again. This poster’s bold graphic sensibilities in the type choice, circles, and good use of text wrapping, make this stand out at a glance. And that “first glance” is critical for gaining and keeping attention.

Update: I heard more from Stephen about his choice of InDesign to create his posters.

The two main reasons I use InDesign are ease of controlling lots of elements on a single page and control of typography. Specifically:
  1. Being able to set guides on a page makes it a lot easier to create grid patterns and align objects.
  2. Putting elements on layers and controlling those layers, like locking or hiding layers. This can get particularly painful when you have lots of elements on a single page.
  3. Text wrapping is easy in desktop publishing software, but also things like drop caps, tracking, character width/height, paths etc.
Some other smaller advantages include: creating colour pallets, printing options like bleeds and efficient rendering of images ensures your computer doesn't slow down with heavy files.

I think that once you're over the initial learning curve, life is a lot easier when using the right tool for the job. I would be pretty daunted if someone asked me to replicate the poster designs exactly in PowerPoint. While you could get close to the overall design, I think it would both take longer and you would sacrifice the precise control that InDesign gives you.

Hope you enjoyed this two parter!

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