03 December 2023

Cell Bio 2023

How it started:

How it’s going:

Second photo from https://x.com/lenakumba/status/1731423282228867322

28 November 2023

Record your presentation and listen to yourself

Voice memos icon

I’ve been fortunate that in the last couple of years, I was invited to do some podcasts. I listened back to each of them afterwards.

Yup, it was not fun. I became more aware of some of my speech patterns. Some I knew. Tendency towards tangents: check! But some were new. I would often pause in mid-sentence while I tried to work out how to end the sentence. I didn’t know I did that before.

You might not be able to get yourself invited to a podcast, but you probably have a smart phone, and it probably has an app like “Voice memos” or something similar.

So before you present your poster at the conference, turn on the voice recorder while you are talking through your poster. Give that 3-4 minute summary out loud while you are looking at your poster.

I know, I know. Few people like to hear the sound of their own voice played back to them. It sounds weird and unfamiliar, even though you know it’s what you just said.

But in a noisy environment where people only want to spend a few minutes with you at your poster, you want to deliver a crisp walk through if you’re asked.

26 October 2023

Link roundup for October 2023

“What do you think of German coffee?”

This question is a great conversation starter at German conferences, writes Vicky Howe. Vicky wrote a blog post describing her recent poster, which moves away from the “wall of text” to an engaging flowchart. (See right; bet appreciated if you click to enlarge!)

On her social, Vicky wrote: 

I finally realised, a poster should be about starting conversations, not just showing results.

I appreciate this post because it epitomizes something I’ve been saying (and write in bold in Better Posters book): “Whoever starts the most conversations, wins.”

 • • • • •

A book on basic and clinical research that weighs in around 800 pages devotes just five to poster presentations, that is, well under one percent.

Gokulakrishnan K, Srikumar BN. 2023. Poster presentation at scientific meetings. In: Jagadeesh G, Balakumar P, Senatore F, eds. The Quintessence of Basic and Clinical Research and Scientific Publishing, pp. 785-790. Springer Nature Singapore. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-99-1284-1_49

• • • • •

New paper on judging posters has some interesting data. For instance: What do judges of conference posters judge hardest?

Judges were more critical of the presenters ability to answer questions (than poster design or presentation).

Another interesting feature, though There is some correlation between poster design and someone’s ability to present it well, but the scatter is large.

Scatter plot of normalized scores of each category for posters presented. The posters are ordered based on the rank of the poster quality. The scores for the quality of the poster presentation and the answers to the question align with the score for the poster quality.

If you want to win a poster competition, you should definitely check out:

Patience GS, Villasana Y, Blais B. Perspectives on judging posters. The Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering: in press. https://doi.org/10.1002/cjce.25109

• • • • •

And that’s the roundup for this month of Northern Hemisphere autumn!

05 October 2023

Critique and makeover: I love that word, “Reform!”

In my new job as Program Director of DORA, I didn’t think that I would have many opportunities to scratch my itch for poster making. 

I was delighted when one of our colleagues, Alex Rushforth, said he was presenting a poster at the International Conference on Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (STI) conference in Leiden last week. It’s an early look at DORA’s next major project, Reformscape.

This is what he emailed (click to enlarge):

Draft poster for Reformscape

Alex admitted that he didn’t have a great artistic eye, and invited other members of the Reformscape team to help out. Little did he know that one of the members on the team had literally written a book on the subject of conference posters!

It was very clear what Alex was trying to do. He had tried to lay out a straight forward two column poster in portrait orientation. The problems were simple but easy to solve: the boxes weren’t aligned, the rounded corners were awkward next to the rectangular graphics, the title didn’t pop, and the colours were not working.

And I... perhaps got a little carried away.
In very short order, this is what I emailed back to the Reformscape team.

Revised poster for Reformscape

Being consistent

What made this a quick revision was that I had been working on a style guide for DORA and Reformscape. A style guide is just a document that spells out common visual elements like colour values, fonts used, and so on.

The existing DORA logo and website led the way on the look. The DORA website uses a lot of black, white, and gold. (You can see that in a website screenshot in the lower left corner.) Those colours get used again in Reformscape and in the poster. The website mostly uses the Lora typeface (freely available), and that was also used in the poster.

Columns, not boxes

To simplify the poster, I made the implied two column layout an explicit two column layout by consolidating the boxes. I threw in a thin gold dividing line just for a little visual interest.

Giving the title punch

I had designed a wordmark for Reformscape, which Alex hadn’t seen yet. 

Reformscape wordmark

Again, it uses the DORA website colours and fonts. “Reform” is in Rutan, and “scape” is in the aforementioned Lora.

So it made sense to include that and put it up at the top, big. The institution logos were at the top, next to the title. They were drawing too much attention, so they got moved down to the bottom and shrunk slightly.

To distinguish the authors from the main body of the poster, I made that gold. I rounded the upper corners just to provide a break from the rectangular shapes on the poster.

I try to keep decorations to a minimum, but there was enough space in the upper right corner for another visual element that will be used for Reformscape. Our partner, the TRAFIK design team, had created a graphics that were based on a glowing gold version of the DORA logo.

Reformscape wordmark over glowing orange DORA logo

I love 😍 them, so I put one in.

Alex Rushforth presenting Reformscape poster

Luckily, the rest of the team liked the impromptu revision! 

P.S.—Reformscape will be launching before the end of the year! If you have questions about it, email reformscape@sfdora.org!

28 September 2023

Link roundup for September 2023

Best poster prize ever

Kristen Zuloaga wrote:

My 8 year old judged posters from my lab and Zuloaga lab at local Society for Neuroscience conference.

My grad student Emily Groom won him over with mice being stressed because they couldn’t play with their friends. 😂

Poster award made by eight year old poster judge

• • • • •

Clair Sewell shared her slides and notes from a presentation on “Creating an effective conference poster.”

While slide decks alone are not as good as when accompanied by a presenter, the information here is generally quite good.

• • • • •

Had a few YouTube videos on poster design lately, the latest of which is from Cooked Illustration:

• • • • •

New paper shows that in dentistry, posters are less likely to match the final publication than oral talks are.

The authors explain this as a function of differences in peer review:

(O)ral presentation abstracts were subjected to rigorous expert review and had higher study quality and scientific priority than poster abstracts, which made higher consistency of oral presentation abstracts.

Again, this pattern has been shown many times. 

Wang G, Chen J, Li H, Miao C, Cao Y, Li C. 2023. Reporting inconsistency between published conference abstracts and article abstracts of randomised controlled trials in prosthodontics presented at IADR general sessions. PeerJ 11:e15303. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.15303

• • • • •

A case study in using Adobe XD to create and host a poster session. 

Gehling R. 2023. From teacher to learner: Using digital technology to enhance authenticity and engagement in poster presentations in the classroom and online. Proceedings of The Australian Conference on Science and Mathematics Education. https://openjournals.library.sydney.edu.au/IISME/article/view/17571

• • • • •

Angela Collier articulates some of the problems with violin plots. I get that sometimes you want to show unusual distributions. But as Angela says, we have a simpler graph for that: a histogram.

There is a lot more critique here, much of it funny, and much serious too.

23 September 2023

Why does my poster look different when it’s printed full size?

Maureen Stone was on a recent episode of the Policy Vis podcast talking about the intricacies of colour. 

I’ve talked here about how designing a poster on a computer screen is so different from a printed poster. The light source is a big difference, and the resolution of screen is too. But I hadn’t often considered the size of the screen.

That was brought up in this segment of the interview:

Maureen Stone: Well, so I call that problem color and size, and it’s a really well known color perception phenomenon. So I’m going to give people a little bit of a geek definition, color is not how you create it, it’s not the RGB value, it’s how you perceive it; and how you perceive it depends on a lot of factors, we know it depends on background; and it turns out, size is a huge factor, so if you ever think about, you know, you ever go paint a room, and you got the little paint chips, so that’s a good color, and then you spread a bunch on the wall and say… 

Joel Schwabish: Yeah, have experienced several times, yes. 

Maureen Stone: Well, I didn’t know that it would apply to DataViz, but, in fact, it does. 

Joel Schwabish: Right.

Maureen Stone: And so, the real problem is technically what happens is that as the stimulus is the thing you’re looking at gets smaller, the color appears less vivid, less colorful, okay? And as you shrink them way down, pretty soon you’re just getting kind of warm, cool colors.

We see bigger colours as brighter colours.

A computer screen might be what, two feet wide? A printed poster might be four, six, or eight feet wide.

So something that might seem appropriately subtle on your small computer screen could seem garish when its area is four to eight to sixteen times bigger.

One way to test this might be to print just a small letter sized piece of the poster, but print it at full size, so you can get a better sense of how the colours will play.

External links

 Policy Viz podcast #244: Maureen Stone

16 September 2023

Review: The Little Guide to Giving Poster Presentations

Cover to "The Little Guide to Giving Poster Presentations"
The Little Guide to Giving Poster Presentations is well named. It is, indeed, little.

Perhaps too little.

John Bond’s book weighs in at 150 pages, and they are kind of small pages, too. A fast reader can probably skim through this in a day without too much trouble. That this is a quick read is not necessarily a bad thing. Part of it is because Bond’s prose is clear.

Unfortunately, the book’s treatment of its subject also encourages skimming, because sometimes there isn’t as much depth as you would hope for.

Posters are a visual medium, so you might that a book about posters would be illustrated. But you don’t get to a diagram until Chapter 11. There’s one more figure in that chapter, and then nothing. And they aren’t in colour, either.

Sometimes, Bond even draws attention to the “little” of the title. In Chapter 21, he writes:

Information regarding color choices for charts and graphs could fill a whole chapter or even a book (and likely does).

But then, having drawn our attention to the rich subject of colour use in data visualizations, Bond ends the chapter a couple of pages later. Without pointers to other resources. (The book’s references are few and far between.)

There are some bright spots. This is the first book about conference posters that mentions the changes to the academic conference scene wrought by the ongoing covid pandemic. I also appreciated a section about how to estimate costs of attending conference, which I don’t remember seeing in other poster making resources.

While I craved more depth, I don’t fault most of the recommendations that Bond makes. The advice is consistently good. Bond feels more comfortable with writing: the book devotes three sections about planning and writing, but only one section to design, and one to presenting.

Bond’s book will help those who read it, and I am sure some readers will appreciate its readily digestible format. And the book contributes to the push to try to get people to take posters more seriously. There were next to no books to conference posters for so long that I’m pleased to see more arriving in this space


Bond J. 2023. The Little Guide to Giving Poster Presentations. Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781475870152/The-Little-Guide-to-Giving-Poster-Presentations-Simple-Steps-to-Success

07 September 2023

You are not “too good” to give a poster

Recently, Franck Marchis wrote:

Received an email from a senior scientist (over 65 years) suggesting he might skip a prominent international conference if given a poster presentation. The sense of entitlement was palpable.

Posters are not just for early career researchers. And if you ever think you don’t want to do a poster because you are just beyond that point now... please check your ego.

Case in point.

Nobel laureate John O'Keefe presenting a poster at Neuroscience meeting in 2016

This is from the 2016 Nueroscience meeting, and the gentelman presenting the poster is John O’Keefe. For those of you not in the neurobiz, he won a Nobel prize in medicine or physiology a little less than two years before this picture was taken.

  Picture by Lucie Low.

And lest you think this was some weird, on off event... no! It was not! Here is O’Keefe again just last year:

Nobel laureate John O'Keefe presenting a poster at Neuroscience meeting in 2022

Picture by Timothy Bredy.

I don’t know how I missed these.

External links

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2014 press release

31 August 2023

Link roundup for August 2023

I wouldn’t have pegged the British Association of Drama Therapists as being into conference posters, but here we are.

Unfortunately, I do think this presentation’s suggestions lead to some very common traps: emphasis on trying to put in a complete story over something that will start conversations.

• • • • •

Speaking of videos, here is another from Mattias Rillig:

I mostly agree with the advice here, apart from the recommendation to make all the text into bullet points. Short text? Yes. But save bullets for true lists. See my most recent blog post on bullet points.

• • • • •

Inkscape has two advantages for making conference posters.

  1. Vector graphics.
  2. Free.

Here’s a tutorial that shows the basics of Inkspace in the context of creating a poster. 

Screenshots of Inkscape highlighting tools.

Same author delves into writing abstracts for conferences.

I reviewed an earlier version of Inkscape some time ago. I found it super fiddly at the time, but that was many updates ago.

• • • • •

Font seller Monotype delves into the subtleties of legibility of type. Excerpt:

 What makes a font legible, and how do I find one?

Like many design questions, the recipe for this answer is a blend of art and science and is governed less by rules than by best practices.

• • • • •

Lisa Muth explores the power of gray in graphs over at the Datawrapper blog.  Excerpt:•

(G)ray is special and should be treated as such.

Very good article that summarizes a lot of what I have been thinking about in graphing lately. Recommended.

• • • • •

A couple of general papers on communication

A paper on science communication in The Journal of Experimental Biology  and a preprint on communicating to the general public in PsyArXiv.

• • • • •

How to convince your boss that a conference isn’t a vacation in disguise. Excerpt:

I understood the need to justify the expense. ... But (the CEO) implied that suspicion should be the default. These sneaky scientists. Always pretending they need to go to conferences for intellectual betterment, when they’re really just looking for the next sweet lanyard to hang from the corner of their bookshelf.

Hat tip to Hiroshi Ishkawa.


• • • • •

That’s the roundup! Thanks for joining me!

18 August 2023

“Nobody will stop you”: The viral machine learning poster

You’ve probably already seen this poster:

Poster titled, "You can just put up a poster at ICML and no one will stop you"

“You can just put up a poster at ICML (International Conference on Machine Learning - ZF) and nobody will stop you.” 

Hail Eris!

Daniel Severo’s tweet about this poster has a couple of million views, and was also tweeted out by Nature’s Twitter account.

What is not easy to see in a typical online photo size it what the paper to the right of the poster says. It’s a gmail address. So of course I had to see if it worked.

And you know what, it did!

I asked for the story behind the poster:

The story’s basically what you might guess: a few sarcastic students at an international conference get to thinking that their field could use a little healthy lampooning and execute a quick turnaround on a satirical poster. The jokes are all ribbing on tropes of ML research.

There are two lessons from this poster.

The first is that there are no poster police. While conference organizers often direct presenters to make posters a particular way on their instructions, or tell people not to do things in the poster session (like the “No photos!” rule at Neuroscience meetings), the reality on the ground is, shall we say, more laissez-faire.

It's still the wild west out there.

The second is that the unexpected is a strong predictor something going viral online. Just doing something different gives you an edge for attention.

What poster would you make if you weren’t worried about someone else telling you, “No”? (Common sense and good taste should still apply!)

Related posts

Let anarchy reign!

27 July 2023

Link roundup for July 2023

Margaret Hinkle is this month’s “poster reuse” winner:

Baby in the office and you don’t have a blanket for tummy time? Turns out a poster is the perfect fix! Also doubles as a changing pad! Academic parenting win for the day.

She goes on:

(Don’t worry, students who made this poster - this one had some typos so it never made it to prime time!)

Hat tip to Zanethia Barnett.

• • • • •

Creative, right? Matthias Rillig outlines techniques for using poster session viewing as a tool for creativity. Excerpt:

How can we maximize this sort of connection? One has to more actively consume the material on the posters and turn them over in one’s mind, trying to directly connect them to other problems. I think this would require maybe two passes through a poster session, one to try to absorb the information per se, the ‘normal poster session mode’, and another pass, the ‘creativity mode’ to actively try to make such connections.

Hat tip to Paperpile.

• • • • •

It is summer and thus peak conference season!

The title says “presentations” but the abstract is mostly about posters.

Willis LD. 2023. How to present your research findings at a scientific meeting. Respiratory Care: respcare.11226. https://doi.org/

21 July 2023

How to win a poster competition on Hello PhD

The hosts of Hello PhD were generous enough to ask me back for a second kick at the can 🥫!  This time, the topic was poster competitions.

Have a listen to Episode 196 wherever you get your postcasts, or at the main Hello PhD site:


13 July 2023

This Barbie is an astrophysicist: Humour on conference posters

You know, Twitter has many problems now, but it is still the best place for me to find posters like this. Click to enlarge!

Pink poster title "Bayesian Analysis for Remote Biosignature Identification on exoEarths" (BARBIE)

It in pink. And unabashedly so!

This poster is by Natasha Latouf and I just had to get the inside scoop on  the story behind this. Natasha generously replied. (Lightly edited.)

The design was in part inspired by the new Barbie movie by Greta Gerwig! I had been looking forward to the movie since it was announced, and decided to run with the theme when I was starting to write my paper draft. I wanted something fun decided to roll with having all my figures in pink and purple.

The title actually didn’t come about until later, until the first draft was nearly completed. This project ended up becoming a multi-paper effort, and thus I was able to use an overarching acronym that will describe the entirety of the project. I’ll be the first to tell you that I started with the acronym BARBIE and worked backwards to fill it in!

This has a long and proud tradition in science. I’ve heard of funding agencies like the NSF spend a lot of time figuring out what their grant titles mean, because they developed the name first.

As for the actual making of the poster:

The lead up to the design is what took the most time – determining a colour palette, making sure the colours within my paper match the colours in the design, etc. Once that was decided, it went faster! I will note, the background image has to be remade per different poster sizes, but I enjoy the process of design and making the science I do visually appealing.

I used Canva to design the background of the poster (including where the text would go, the title, the specialty logo), saved that as an image, and then used PowerPoint to finish the poster using the previously designed image as the background!

The tone of most conference posters is the exact opposite of this one. This poster is emphatically playful, feminine, and funny. And these are characteristics that a lot of academics do not want used to describe their work. The inevitable question is, “Were you scared to do this?”

I wasn’t concerned about using humour! I find that humour helps in technical presentations on multiple axes. It allows audiences to get engaged, especially in the middle of a full slate of presentations; it makes the science more accessible especially to early career researchers; and it helps you and your project remain memorable! It is much more likely that your audience will remember the BARBIE project, than the entirety of the project name. Simultaneously, a well-designed poster can accomplish all of the above as well! Bright colours, an interesting design, and careful selection of text.

So far the reactions have been very positive! I have presented a talk internally at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center with the design scheme, and my PhD advisor presented my poster at the Science with the Habitable Worlds Observatory and Beyond conference. Each time, the audience has greatly enjoyed the design, the humour, and the pop culture reference. In fact, that can be seen currently on Twitter!

A few people who saw my retweet of this poster said this reminded them of a story told by Raven the Science Maven on the “Ologies” podcast. Let me entice you with a snippet:

I’m at the craft store, my cart is overflowing with feathers 🪶, glitter ✨, stickers, stamps. Gosh, different types of scrapbook paper, glue, ribbons 🎀, everything. Everything. And I was so proud. I lugged all of that stuff into my dorm room and I go to town making my poster.

And my advisor gave me a poster tube because he told me, “Put your poster in it. Roll your poster up, put it in the tube so it stays nice for your symposium.” So, I finished making my poster, with literally all of the things I just described that were in my cart at the craft store, and he says, “I want to check your poster before the symposium tomorrow.”

I come to my advisor’s office, and he’s like, “Okay, let’s see your poster,” excited for tomorrow. I take my poster out of the tube and you know how when you glue glitter onto stuff it doesn’t really stay on, it kinda falls off? So, I’m unrolling the poster and there’s, like, chunks of glitter ✨ falling out and, like, feathers collapsing to the floor, and it’s all crinkly and stuff. He’s like, “Oh… my god. Oh my god.” ... I’ve never seen anybody so disappointed in my entire life.

But that is not the end of this story! you should listen to the podcast (or search the transcript for “poster”) to see how the whole thing went down. Trust me. It’s worth your time.

Maggie Swift wrote a Twitter thread about how Raven’s story resonated with her.

I HAVE THIS EXACT SAME STORY. ... I had never been to a poster session. My advisor asked me if I needed help. I was like, nah girl, I know how to make a poster!

I’ll give Natasha final word on this:

I strongly encourage any scientist, but especially early career researchers, not to shy away from humour and adding personality to your presentations. You are the one doing the science in the first place! Humanity does not have to separated from science, and it makes for more interesting, engaging, and memorable presentations when you, the presenter, are imbuing your personality into it!

Hat tip to Emily Rickman for the tweet that started this.

External links

Molecular Biology (PROTEINS + SCIENCE COMMUNICATION) with Raven “The Science Maven” Baxter (Transcript in PDF)

Raven the Science Maven homepage

06 July 2023

The “No words” test: What does your poster say after you take away the words?

Posters are a visual medium.

You check if you’re using the visual aspect of the poster format effectively by taking away all the words.

Picture of conference poster with all text removed, leaving only graphs.

Without text, this poster by Recovery Health has nothing on it that tells you it has anything to do with health. It could be a biology poster, a political science poster, an archaeology poster, maybe even a chemistry or humanities poster.

Here are a few more examples of posters that I spotted on Twitter that, if you removed the words, could be about anything.

Two people standing by a green conference poster with text and graphs.

Poster tweeted by University of North Carolina Medicine.

One person standing by a green conference poster with text and graphs.

Poster tweeted by Rachel Cooper.

Once I started getting sensitized to this, it was surprising to me how many posters had no visual indications of what their topic was about. 

Look for a photograph. Look for an icon. Look for an illustration. Look for something that doesn't have to be read that cues in a viewer what the broad topic of your poster is.

“But my work is abstract and conceptual!” Look, Andy Pizza just published a book of illustrations of things that are literally invisible

Illustrations of invisible things: guts, hope, grief, dream, dark matter, vibe.

And David McCandless created an illustration of philosophical theories of mind. (Hat tip to Steve Stewart-Williams.)

Series of twelve heads, with different depictions of a theory of consciousness (e.g., substance dualism, epiphenomenalism, behaviourism, etc.)

There are more ways to give visual indications of the topic of your work than you might think at first.

04 July 2023

Five myths of poster design: The Hello PhD interview!

I’m on Episode 195 of the Hello PhD podcast! The subject, of course, is posters. We hooked the conversation around five “myths” of poster design, according to me.

We got a lot of mileage out of just five talking points, so head over and have a listen!


29 June 2023

Link roundup for June 2023

Hello! Welcome to our monthly collection of poster-ish stuff!

• • • • •

Secpholand is yet another contender for “Second Life clone elevated to use for online conferences.”

Snapshots of the Secpholand platform showing a poster session.

de la Heras and colleagues write of this platform:

This... environment has been selected mainly for the possibilities of interactivity with other attendees, since networking options are significantly increased compared to the standard video conference format at online meetings. What is especially attractive is how posters are presented, which for us was very important given the high number of poster contributions and considering that many of the presenters were early-career researchers, sometimes at their first conference participation. ... Moving your avatar around, you can see the posters, zoom on them to check them out and especially, when entering in the dedicated area next to the poster, a voice call with the other people in the area is started, giving the possibility to talk with the authors and other attendees in front of the poster. Thus, the platform is able to reproduce a traditional poster session in an online platform reaching more than 2600 poster visualizations.

I have questions about how smooth the navigation experience is. The post-conference survey notes people were generally satisfied, but they don’t drill down to specifically how the poster session went. But this comment seems important:

(N)ot everybody had the same approach to the online platform and virtual environment, whose interface was not immediately user-friendly for everyone.

Read more:

de las Heras A, Gómez-Varela AI, Tomás M-B, Perez-Herrera RA, Sánchez LA, Gallazzi F, Fernández BS, Garcia-Lechuga M, Vinas-Pena M, Delgado-Pinar M, González-Fernández V. 2023. Innovative approaches for organizing an inclusive optics and photonics conference in virtual format. Optics 4(1): 156-170. https://doi.org/10.3390/opt4010012

• • • • •

A new preprint looks at how biologists make posters. 

Jambor HK. Insights on poster preparation practices in life sciences. bioRxiv 2023:2020.10.08.331413. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.10.08.331413.

Most make a poster in two days and get no feedback.

There’s your problem. That’s nowhere near enough time. And what do you expect if you don’t get input from other people?

Another little result of the poll that baffles me is that less than a third of people polled used PowerPoint, which is not consistent with what I have found surveying people online about what they used to make their poster (42% used PowerPoint) and asking people at conferences what they used to make their poster (61% used PowerPoint).

But those surveys of mine were years ago (downside to having a long running project), so maybe it’s time for a new poll on Twitter.

• • • • •

Speaking of polls, here’s a Twitter poll asking about whether people prefer paper or screen posters.

• • • • •

Speaking of e-posters, this is what is passing as a “digital poster” now:

Many wearing conference badge in front of computer monitor with a title slide showing.

According to the presenter, this is a video recording of a PowerPoint presentation. The same recording is used for people browsing online as in attendance.

I am baffled as two why anyone would call this a “poster.”

• • • • •

It’s always something to read outside your own field.

I explore the science poster medium’s performativities, its potential for producing greater discourse about the institutional structures that hold up academic conferences.

That “hegemonies,” “deconstruction,” and “post-war fetish” all appear on the first page alone tell yous this is not a typical scientific article.

This book chapter by Alen Agaranove describes two performance art pieces which were presented as hoax poster presentations (Agaranov calls them “lecture-performances”). One occurred during an actual conference.

Why do this, beside, you know, for art’s sake?

The goal behind the lecture-performance, no matter how nonsensical or illogical, is to prevent a conversation about science communication from immediately degenerating into inquiry or research.

Read more:

Agaronov A. 2023. Conference of the oppressed: Lecture-performing the science poster presentation, In: Haste H, Bempechat J, New Civics, New Citizens: Critical, Competent, and Responsible Agents, pp. 131-143. Brill.

• • • • •

Maybe Ben Wolfe’s poster could be considered “lecture-performance.”

Fake poster called "Cat Attention Tracker (CAT)”

 Ben snuck this fake poster into a conference.

• • • • •

If you share your poster online at any point, make sure to provide alt text for accessibility.

Here’s a guide for writing alt text for data visualizations, with a tip of the hat to Jon Schwabish.

• • • • •

For you who like to teach using posters, here’s a new paper.

Ariyani A, Muhayyang M, Munir M, & Sakkir G. 2023. Students’ voices: Poster session as an alternative way of teaching writing. ARRUS Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities 3(2): 97-103. https://doi.org/10.35877/soshum1749 

This paper talks about teaching written English to university students, for whom English is an additional language.

Most students like writing for poster sessions.

• • • • •

Annmarie Guzy used posters instead of a midterm. This is not perhaps super unusual, except that it was from the humanities. Specifically, horror.

But “poster” is broadly defined. Here is what one student made for The Haunting of Hill House:

Three story paper house

Guzy A. 2023. A creative midterm alternative: The horror author poster session. Honors in Practice 19: 138–41. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nchchip/389

• • • • •

Making things consistent is a central design challenge. This paper in press tells you how to build a guide to make graphic designs consistent.

Graze M, Schwabish J. 2023. Building color palettes in your data visualization style guides. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. https://10.1093/jamia/ocad084

The paper identifies eight things you need in a style guide:
  1. Colour
  2. Type
  3. Sizes
  4. Content
  5. Chart parts
  6. Visualization types
  7. Accessibility
  8. Resources

There is a website of sample guides and resources: www.datavizstyleguide.com.

Colour is first on the list, and most of the paper describes what you should think about when picking colours to use. What kind of purpose is the colour being used for? Categories, sequences, or differences? Do some colours unintentionally look “better” than others? What are the cultural connotations of the colours?

This article could be useful for people who run labs that produce multiple posters every year, each made by multiple students. Make a guide so that the output from you lab looks somewhat consistent. It will save supervisor and students time in the long run because they don’t have to keep making design decisions from scratch.

• • • • •

That’s it for this month! Thanks for joining us!

24 June 2023

Penny pinching poster printing

Cianna Piercey tweeted:

Has anyone ever printed a conference poster 24×36 (inches, I presume - ZF)? Is that way too small?

Just trying to save a little $$ on something that will only be used for 1 hour. 🙃

 My reaction to the initial question:

Pokemon with "It's tiny" written above it

That seems small to me. 

Most conferences give you space at least 4 feet of space, either in width or in length. Some conferences give you much more. Unused space on the poster board makes you look like you’re not even trying.

But is it too small? It depends. At a large conference like Neuroscience or the American Geophysical Union, I would say definitely yes, that would be too small. The aisles are wide, people are far away, and it seems unlikely that you can make everything visible to someone walking by at a distance.

At big conferences, you can sometimes be presenting to four, five, or six people at a time. Having that many people circling the poster so they can see could make for uncomfortably close quarters.

But I’m also interested – and maybe a little concerned – by the reason to print the poster small: just to say some money.

Cianna’s Twitter bio indicates she is a doctoral student at Colorado State University. That university has an in house print shop called Fastprint. A resource page shows that many colleges have ways that allow many students to print research posters for free. I’m not sure if that covers Cianna’s particular case, but to be clear, that’s how it should be.

If you are a student, you should not be paying printing costs out of pocket in most cases. Your institution should pick up that cost.

It may not be obvious to you, a student, how to go about that. Research students should have a supervisor to advise them of how to get a poster printed, but sometimes that doesn’t always happen for one reason or another. 

Before you pay out of your own pocket, talk to your supervisor, department chair, or even college dean. These different offices often have little pots of money to support students and support student research, and asking for money to print a conference presentation should absolutely 💯 within the realm of what departments can pay for.

I also want to speak to the poster only being used for an hour. If that’s the length of the poster session, then someone needs to talk to the conference organizers. An hour is far too short for a poster session. An hour presentation slow might be okay, but the poster should up be and visible for people to view for several hours at least.

And there are many ways to re-use a poster! You should be proud enough of your work to display it in your department after the conference at the very least. Students like to read them while waiting.

01 June 2023

Posters can change the World (Wide Web)

 Could this be one of the most important conference posters ever?

1991 poster that first introduced World Wide Web

This is a 1991 poster from the Hypertext meeting in San Antonio, Texas. That this dates back to the 1990s is perhaps one reason why, graphically, this poster is not much to look at.

But this poster is important because of its content. It’s one of the first times the concept of the World Wide Web was presented publicly. You know, the World Wide Web, which is what most people think as as the internet, the thing you are using to read this page right now.

And here’s the kicker: 

This was presented as a poster because it was rejected as a paper. One of the reviewers, Mark Frisse, explains why he recommended rejected and why he was happy to be wrong.

Never let it be said that work presented on posters is somehow less than the work presented as talks in academic conferences.

I added this one to the poster gallery.

Hat tip to Patrick McRay.

25 May 2023

Think visually

Lazy blogger this week, so I just have a quote of the moment:

No matter how exact and minute the verbal description may be, it will always be less clear than a good illustration.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Advice for a Young Investigator, page 132.

Hat tip to Jay Hosler

External links

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the Young Artist Who Grew Up to Invent Neuroscience

Link roundup for May 2023

Visually communicate your science

Miranta Kouvari is giving an online course titled, “Visually communicate your science: a design toolkit forintuitive, accessible, and engaging scientific graphics”. It will run in October 2023.

October feels like a long  way away, but trust me, it’ll be here before you know it!

• • • • •

Many readers know about QR codes. But are you ready to try augmented reality on your poster? I’ve seen it once, I think.

Kurniawan and colleagues look at the obstacles to using augmented reality for posters, and concludeyou can’t just “throw it on” and expect people to know what it is.

AR web-based access instruction with combined text and icon is needed for the best feedback from audiences.

Kurniawan A, Utoyo AW, Aprilia HD, Kuntjoro-Jakti RADRI. 2023. Visual communication analysis of poster design with web-based augmented reality as additional content. AIP Conference Proceedings 2594(1). https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0109115

• • • • •

The Hello PhD podcast did an episode collecting people’s advice for their posters from the floor of the American Society for Cell Biology. Check out episode #187!

• • • • •

Later this year, watch out for The Little Guide to Giving a Poster Presentation: Simple Steps to Success by John Bond. I learned about this during a recent interview with Bond on the New Books Network. I’ll review it when it comes out.

• • • • •

Another paper reports that talks are more likely to be published than posters. Again.

Podium presentations were more likely to be published than posters (59.6% vs. 47.2%, p<0.001).

Issa TZ, Lee Y, Lambrechts MJ, Reynolds C, Cha R, Kim J, Canseco JA, Vaccaro AR, Kepler CK, Schroeder GD, Hilibrand AS. Publication rates of abstracts presented across six major spine specialty conferences. North American Spine Society Journal (NASSJ): in press. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.xnsj.2023.100227

This pattern has been demonstrated so many times that I am reaching the point where I am tempted to say, “No further research needs to be done.”

• • • • •

Thanks for joining me again! Conference season starts now!

18 May 2023

Konferenzplakat auf Deutsch, or: Conference poster in German

One of my goals for the blog recently has been to showcase posters that are not in English. Today, I am thankful to Lennert Böhm for sharing this work. Click to enlarge!

Poster in German titled "Availability of palliative medicine resources in German emergency departments – an online survey"

Roughly, the poster title translates to “Availability of palliative medicine resources in German emergency departments – an online survey.” Lennert wrote:

I tried to use as little text as possible as I feel survey results lend themselves well to infographics.

Survey results often do lend themselves to a few large numbers, which you see down in the bottom section of the poster. If you have simple binaries, a percentage works better than a pie chart.

I like the high contrast colour palette using that favourite colour scheme of movie posters, orange and blue. 

Personally, I would have liked some of the elements more aligned to a grid.

Now, one of the reasons I am asking for posters not in English is to have a chance to think about different design problems that arise from working with different sorts of text. German is similar to English in terms of the alphabet and text layout, but there is a difference

Famously, German words can be long. You’ve probably heard people joke, “Isn’t there a German word describing this exact but oddly specific situation?” (My favourite German word is “Backpfeifengesicht”: roughly, “A face in need of a punch.”)

These German compound words can create a problem with typesetting. It’s harder to get even line lengths with all those lengthy words, which I suspect means there is more incentive for good hyphenation.

I bet most poster makers don’t even think about hyphenation. For one, PowerPoint, the default graphics app for academics, doesn’t hyphenate text. It’s just not there. This is just one reason I love Microsoft Publisher: because it has basic hyphenation tools. This article describes some of the problems around hyphenation, and has some comments about hyphenating in InDesign.

The second reason that I think most academics don’t think about hyphenation is that many will just set text as “ragged right.” This is fine, but lots of long words might mean that even ragged right text might be improved by hyphenation.

If you do decide to hyphenate, do check the appearance of your columns yourself. No auto-hyphenate feature written by software can cover every situation, and you may need to add or remove a hyphen or two.

Related posts

Love my justify

External links

German compound words explained with examples

German placeholder text generator

Book design basics: Use hyphens for justified type 

Hyphenation for print books

Schlimmbesserung: A German word that academics need to add to their vocabulary

04 May 2023

Review: Academic Posters – A textual and visual metadiscourse analysis

Cover to "Academic Posters" book.
One of the downsides of working in a small, niche field is that the literature is scattered and easy to miss. So with this, I apologize for not recognizing that a very relevant book was published several years ago.

Academic Posters is only the fourth book I know of that is specifically devoted to posters. But it is different than the other three. Rather than being a “how to,” D’Angelo’s book is an analysis of posters.

D’Angelo analyzes forty posters each from physics, clinical psychology, and law for their linguistic and graphic style. She also interviews about a dozen practitioners in each field to see how different fields use poster presentations.

The analyses and comparisons here are useful, but getting to them takes time. Maybe it is another difference in fields – me coming from science, D’Angelo working from the humanities – but I kept thinking this useful information could have been presented in a much more compact format.

You have to have introduction and methods. But some sections like, “Principles underlying corpus design” start with very generic considerations of selecting work to analyze that feel more at home in an introductory textbook than presenting new work.

It takes 150 pages to get to the results in Chapter 5. When we get to the results, the results of each field are discussed separately, then there is another section that compares the three disciplines, which requires repeating much of the information we just read through.

Another sixty pages of the book at the end are raw data. As much as I am in favour of archiving raw data for reuse, archiving raw data online in CSV files somewhere would be much more practical than trying to extract the data from printed pages.

Even the index seems protracted. Instead of showing a range of pages (“5-9”), the index lists each page individually (“5, 6, 7, 8, 9”). There seem to be little omissions (the listed sources of physics posters doesn’t add up to the 40 analyzed?) and errors (one figure has the Microsoft Office “hey, there’s a spelling error here” red underline still on the page). 

The entire volume would have benefited from more engaged editing and book design.

I recently published an analysis of poster designs that is similar to the analyses in this book, and I appreciate that extracting data on poster design and writing is difficult. The level of analysis on the language and graphics is detailed, and are a useful preliminary snapshot of academic poster styles.

See also Rowley-Jolivet’s review of Academic Posters.

External links

D’Angelo, Larissa. 2016. Academic Posters – A textual and visual metadiscourse analysis. Bern: Peter Lang. 367 pages. ISBN 978-3-0343-2083-2. https://www.peterlang.com/document/1053534

Rowley-Jolivet E. 2016. « Larissa D'Angelo, Academic Posters – A textual and visual metadiscourse analysis », ASp, 70: 141-145. https://doi.org/10.4000/asp.4858

27 April 2023

Link round-up for April 2023

A well executed poster in comics style:

Comics stye poster on sulfur cycling in acad mine drainage consortium

Poster by Roger Ort. Hat tip to Antonia Hadjimichael.

• • • • •

Pop culture reference? Hmm...

Poster titled "The Fast and the Furriest"

Wait, interactive papercraft?

Close up showing car shape is a flap that can be lifted  to reveal information underneath.to reve


You had my cuiosity. Now you have my attention.

Work by Fitzy. She nailed one of the advantages of having this kind of interactive element on a poster:

it was great in nabbing people to come closer and chat lmao

Hat Tip to Catherine Scott.

• • • • •

Conferences should be for everyone! To help make that real, here is a “Toolkit to Design More Accessible Scientific Meetings and Conferences” (link opens PDF). Here are a couple of pieces of advice related to posters:

Information To Share Prior To The Conference: Map of exhibit hall and where poster sessions are located, along with a written description of this information.

Exhibit halls and poster sessions: When possible, provide several feet between posters to allow participants to hear what is being said by the presenter.

During your presentation: If presenting a poster or visiting a poster, initiate the conversation by identifying yourself by name.

I am very glad to see the second point. Conference organizers are tending to make posters smaller so they don’t have to pay for bigger spaces. Small posters are an accessibility issue!

• • • • •

Here’s a 23 minute recording of an online workshop for poster making! This is coming from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Faulconer E, Deters R, Terwilliger B, Rister A, Velez M. 2023. Research scholars workshop: Research posters that engage. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7756874

• • • • •

A short book chapter that I hadn’t seen before:

Thakur AJ. 2022. Posters for medical & scientific meetings. In: Tapping the Power of PowerPoint for Medical Posters and Presentations, pp. 119-134. Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore.

Most of the basic suggestions about poster design are there, but I wish the text and illustrations were more polished. For instance, there are multiple quotes attributed to “Anonymous”, but no source is given in the references.

• • • • •

Thanks for joining me this month!