24 May 2021

Critique: Mercury in peatlands

Yes, the Better Poster book launches today, but you know what? There’s no better way to celebrate than by doing the thing that, if I’m honest, has become the absolute heart and soul of this project: looking at the work of other people and trying to improve it.

Today’s contribution comes to us from Lauren Thompson. Click to enlarge!

Poster: Seasonal patterns of mercury from thawing permafrost catchments

This poster was given at Mer Bleue and Beyond virtual symposium this month. I noticed this poster in my Twitter feed because it had a strong colour scheme (attacking the Pokémon problem). Even shrunk down in my Twitter feed, I could see there was an emphasis on visuals over text. It was clear that this was a solid bit of design work.

Where the poster has a bit of a pain point is, unfortunately, at eye level right smack dab in the middle.

There’s just no way to get around it: The two scatter plots on the left are too close to the bar graphs on the right. The right axis labels for the scatter plots are bumping right up against the left axis labels for the bar graphs. It’s confusing, because the right axis labels almost look like they belong to the right graph.

The scatter plots have a couple of issues. The legend for both is in the bottom graph, not the top one, where one might expect to see it. I suppose this is because the Smith Creek data weren’t as flat as the Scotty Creek data, so there is no convenient space to put the legend inside the top graph. 

Not only does the position makes it easy to overlook the legend, the colours do, too. The colours of the symbols are different in the legend (open symbols) than in the graph themselves (green fill).

Moving over to the bar graphs on the right side, I always have a problem with duplicating information. The same information is shown in the length of the bar and the label. 

The visual noise gets worse because the unit for the data points (shown for all four bars) is long (ng MeHg km-2 d-1) and shown in bold.

The one other element is that the box has two arrows coming from it, which seems to indicate that there are two possible directions to read after reading the section. I do not like “choose your own adventures” on posters. But even then, the background grey is quite light and the arrows are a little hard to see.

Here is a quick and dirty revision.

I separated the two panels, and did quite a few changes to the bar graphs on the to get rid of the visual noise. Cutting the years to two digits was hard, but it helps the separation of the left and right so much. An x axis label is still missing, though.

The rest of the poster doesn’t need much tweaking. The other panels have some of the same issues, but they are not as severe as the section shown. The axis labels are a little heavy, and elements are a little too close. For instance, in the funding section:

Multiple logos of funding agencies.

The Weston Family Foundation logo is kissing the edge. The NSERC logo has no breathing room on either the top left or bottom right.

It turned out Lauren was a reader of the blog. Thanks, Lauren!

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