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A resource dedicated to improving poster presentations. Part of DoctorZen.net.

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    Today's contribution comes from Larry York, and is used with his permission. Click to enlarge!


    Larry’s own review of this poster:

    There is too much text on the bottom of my poster, but the overall idea of the poster was a review of my recently published and ongoing work.

    One thing this poster does well is direct the reader through the the tricky portrait format. It’s clear that this poster is meant to be read across, in rows.

    Another thing it does well is the choice of colours. The blues and greens are clearly related to the colours happening in the figures. The background colours are subtle, although the greens might even be just a little lighter.

    I agree with Larry’s own assessment that this poster has got too much going on, particularly in the bottom. But it’s not just the text. The overall feel of this is “jam packed,” but not in a good way. Less stuff and more space between everything would surely improve the appearance of this poster.

    There are many complex graphs. The layout within each row is sometimes slightly confusing. In the first box, I have three graphs on top of text on top of a picture. The graphs don’t have any caption below them, so I am left to try to make sense of them by reading the text. Maybe the text should come first.

    Similarly, on the left side of the top box, I’m forced to zigzag back and forth around the (nice but complex) pictures.

    Short of a ruthless edit, there are things that might help out. I tried a couple of quick and dirty revisions. First, I put the title in a more prominent location. The title is 90% of your communication effort, and people will start reading in the the top left. Let’s put the title there instead of logos. I shrunk the logos a little to create a bit more space.

    On the first box, I removed the thick blue lines to see if just colours would allow you to follow the flow of the poster. I didn’t do this for the boxes below, because... well... then this would no longer be a “quick” makeover.


    The combination of the green box plus shadows would allow you to follow the reading order, but removing the heavy blue lines helps open up the poster and make it feel less cramped.

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    Today’s contribution comes from Patric Chua, who gave me permission to post this. Click to enlarge!


    Patric had this to say:

    Better Posters has been my guide for poster designs (Aw, thanks! - ZF), and I've followed the many ideas for this poster. I understand that PowerPoint is not the best tool, but I hope it will suffice.

    The design of the poster is inspired by infographics - I did not want it to conform to the IMRAD template. Each section can be read independently and has its own method and results. However, I’m afraid that I’ve falling into the trap where I’ve placed too many information in. I also think that the poster lacks a strong entry point.

    The piece de resistance is probably the bottom right corner where I followed the advice on Inviting interactions post. I plan to attach cardboard boxes and place comment cards in the first box to make it easier for the audience.

    The amount of work that went into this is impressive. I’ve opened the file and seen just how many individual elements are incorporated into this poster. To work with that many parts in PowerPoint is a nigh Herculean effort.

    The poster has a strong sense of organization. Although Patric says it isn’t doesn’t have to be read in a linear way, the poster leaves no confusion if you choose to go that route.

    I agree with Patric’s own assessment: this poster has a lot going on.

    The use of icons is a double edged sword here. Although they certainly add visual interest, I’m not sure they always make it easier to understand what’s going on. Icons should represent simple nouns, and here they seem to be used in several ways, sometimes seeming to represent steps in a process.

    Even without changing any of the words, a few subtle design changes can help calm the visual noise and make it a little less intimidating.

    Here’s the makeover. Spot the differences!


    If this were a classic newspaper “Spot the difference” puzzle, I’d have the two side by side, and the answers printed upside down:


    Here’s the side by side:



    And thanks to this site, I can (almost) duplicate the fun of reading a print newspaper!

    1. ˙ɹɐq sʇᴉ uᴉ ɹǝʇʇǝq sᴉ ɹǝʇuǝɔ oʇ ǝlʇᴉʇ ǝɥʇ ɟo ƃuᴉuoᴉʇᴉsodǝɹ ʇɥƃᴉls ɐ s’ǝɹǝɥ┴
    2. ˙(ǝnlq puɐ ploƃ) oʍʇ oʇ (ǝnlq puɐ 'uǝǝɹƃ 'pǝɹ ʞɔᴉɹq 'ploƃ) ɹnoɟ ɯoɹɟ uʍop ʇnɔ uǝǝq sɐɥ suɯnloɔ ǝɥʇ uᴉ sɹnoloɔ pǝɹnʇɐǝɟ ɟo ɹǝqɯnu ǝɥ┴
    3. ˙ʇuoɟ ᴉɯǝp ɐ ɹo 'lɐɯɹou ɹǝɥʇᴉǝ oʇ ploq ɐ ɯoɹɟ uʍop pǝddǝʇs uǝǝq sɐɥ sƃuᴉpɐǝɥ puɐ sǝɯɐu s’sɹoɥʇnɐ ǝɥʇ uᴉ ǝɔɐɟǝdʎʇ ǝɥ┴
    4. ˙ɹǝuuᴉɥʇ ʎllɐᴉʇuɐʇsqns ǝpɐɯ ǝɹǝʍ suoɔᴉ ǝɥʇ punoɹɐ sǝuᴉl ǝɥ┴
    5. ˙pǝuoᴉʇᴉsodǝɹ ʎlʇɥƃᴉls puɐ ʞunɹɥs ǝɹǝʍ suoɔᴉ ǝɥ┴

    Okay, okay, here’s an easier to read set of answers:

    1. There’s a slight repositioning of the title to vertically center it in its bar.
    2. The number of featured colours in the columns has been cut down from four (gold, brick red, green, and blue) to two (gold, for the start and end, and blue, for the main text).
    3. The typeface in the authors’ names and headings has been stepped down from bold. The type is now either normal, or a demi font instead of a bold font.
    4. The lines around the icons were made substantially thinner (from 6 point to 1 point, which might be too fine).
    5. The icons were shrunk and slightly repositioned.

    Any individual one of these is not that a big of an improvement. But I think the sum total results in a poster that is a calmer on the eyes overall.

    Here’s how the poster looked on the day of presentation:


    And here’s a close up of the “Comments section”:


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  • 07/28/16--05:00: Link round-up for July 2016
  • Here’s the level of “attention to detail” that anyone who designs should aspire to:


    This makeover from Rian Hughes is shown here. His website is well worth checking out. Hat tip to John Wick.

    Titles matter. This article analyzes what titles of scientific articles get social media buzz. Funny titles don’t help. But making positive, definite statements about the results does. These data support the Columbo principle for writing titles: Show the murder. Make the audience wonder, “How can you prove it?” instead of “Whodunnit?” Hat tip to Neuroskeptic.

    If you are conference organizer, one of your main goals should be encouraging interaction with students and more senior people. Andrew Thaler reports on a solution pioneered by the International Marine Conservation Congress:

    Giving the only drink tickets to the students to hand out during poster presentations is a brilliant move.

    One of my bugbears is how often people use idiosyncratic abbreviations and acronyms. I’ll let you have DNA, but otherwise, you’re almost always better off if you write words. The UK Government agrees:

    Terms like eg, ie and etc, while common, make reading difficult for some.
    Anyone who didn’t grow up speaking English may not be familiar with them. Even those with high literacy levels can be thrown if they are reading under stress or are in a hurry - like a lot of people are on the web.

    Nature has an article looking at biological visualizations.

    Scott Barinato’s new book is called Good Charts.


     Nancy Duarte interviews him here.

    I sympathize with this note from Taking Apart Cats:

    “Hm. poster is very busy. Will check later” *completely unable to find poster again*

    What to wear, what to wear... If you don’t know, you’ll be pleased to know that Errant Science says you’re far from alone:

    My theory is that everyone is basically confused at what to wear for conferences and so the end result is a mish-mash of different levels of smartness.

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    Nature magazine has a feature on posters up today. It features my co-instructor in the #SciFund Challenge poster class, Anthony Salvango.

    Nature wants you to tweet your and ! Following that hashtag could be fun for this blog... I submitted this recent beauty as for #PosterWins and one of my own for #PosterFails.

    Reference

    Woolston C. 2016. Conference presentations: Lead the poster parade. Nature536: 115-117. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nj7614-115a

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  • 08/11/16--05:00: Lurkers and claques

  • Most of the readers of this blog are lurkers. They read, but they don’t feel obliged to make a comment, or send me a tweet, or email, or anything else. And that’s fine. I’m a lurker in many online spaces.

    Some poster viewers are lurkers, too. They will see your poster during the poster session, and they are interested, but they will not approach you. Instead, they will often wait until you are giving a tour of your poster to someone else. Then, and only then, will they walk up and casually listen over the shoulder of the person you are mostly talking to.

    I only learned about this during the last #SciFund Challenge poster class. Several of the class participants admitted that this was their poster viewing strategy. It’s understandable. Not everyone is comfortable walking up cold to someone they’ve never met before, and saying, “What’s to learn here?” (This is usually one of the first things I say to a poster presenter.)

    What can you, as a poster presenter, do to reach out to the lurkers? First, be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye out for someone on the edges, listening over the shoulder. If you see that person, make an effort to turn to them, engage them in conversation. Say something like, “This is my poster. Please let me know if I can answer questions. Or would you like a run through?”

    But I have an even more cunning plan.


    At a play one time, I was talking to one of the crew about how different the play felt depending on the mood of the audience. A big, enthused audience made so much difference. I commented, in what I thought was a joke, “It almost makes you want to hire people to show up, sit in the audience, and applaud.”

    “Oh, they do,” she replied matter of factly. “It’s called a claque.”


    Instead of waiting for people to walk up to your poster, find yourself a claque. You don’t need a big claque; you probably only need one person. You don’t need your claque to cheer and applaud, but just someone who is clearly listening to an explanation of the poster. Have that person at your poster to give the lurkers someone to eavesdrop on.

    Your listener might be someone you know from your department, but not your lab. Ask someone you met earlier at the conference if they can come by your poster. Get your boyfriend or girlfriend or best friend to hear the tour of your poster a few extra times.

    While posters are supposed to be “social objects” to facilitate conversations, having people around can act as an even more powerful social cue. If someone else is already there, it lowers the barrier for everyone else to walk up.

    Plus, nothing succeeds like success. If people see a lot of viewers at a poster, they’re all the more likely to be curious to see what the poster is about.

    Statue pic from here.

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    Posters are a visual medium. But not everything is equally visual. A picture of a real object is very visual, and the best thing to have on a poster. A scatter plot is less visual. And text is the least of all.

    I was thinking about how I might make that point, um, visually, and I suddenly realized that I was just recreating one side of Scott McCloud’s triangle from Understanding Comics.

    If you have not read Understanding Comics... oh, how I envy you. You have that to look forward to. It is a wonderful book. Even if you are the sort who thinks, “Ugh, superheroes,” get over it, read this damn book, and have your consciousness expanded. It is an undisputed classic book.

    Here’s a except relevant to the matter at hand:


    And that’s the point I was trying to make, except McCloud did it better over twenty years ago.

    Received information is immediate; perceived information takes effort. This is why nobody likes posters with too much writing. It takes effort that, in a busy conference setting, nobody wants to give. And that you should not feel entitled to.

    McCloud calls this left to right gradient a change in “iconic abstraction.” It forms one side of a triangle that he uses as a guide to the universe of visual possibility. McCloud explains his big triangle on his webpage here. (But the explanation in the full book is better!)

    Here are three common elements of academic posters placed on McCloud’s triangle:



    Text has great meaning, but it’s perceived information, particularly big blocks of text.

    Graphs are visual, but are often abstract. So they move up along the abstraction side of the triangle, though they are not at the top.

    You want to try to push as much as you can towards the bottom right corner of the triangle. You can move text to the left by writing less of it (remember, there are gradations along these axes). Show pictures if you possibly can.

    External links

    Scott McCloud
    Undertstanding Comics (Amazon page)

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    Design is about making decisions. Here’s a good look at how different decisions about the same numbers can give you dramatically different maps:

    Hat tip to Justin Kiggins.

    One of the problems with a long-running blog like this is that I can’t remember if I’ve linked out to this series of blog posts on data visualization before or not. I am quite certain that I have not mentioned they are all collected in an affordable ebook. And there is also this list of what students find hard about making visuals.

    Someone on Quora asked what makes for an engaging scientific poster. Warning: contains me.

    There was a dreadful op ed in The Guardian about being a serious academic and how social media gets in the way of that or something. Anyone who claims to be “serious” today is setting themselves up for being lampooned for self-importance. See the #SeriousAcademic hashtag on Twitter for reactions, and Emily Willingham’s riposte. Janice Geary’s reaction, though, gave me pause:

    How is it that social media is controversial for the #seriousacademic, but somehow we all still make posters like they accomplish something?

    Obviously, I have a horse in this race. I will argue to Janice that posters can accomplish things. My best example is how being in a poster session led to co-organizing an international symposium. I would welcome other examples! How did you get things done in a poster session?
     
    Now, a bit of summertime fun.

    If you were one of the many who dug Stranger Things on Netflix, you will be pleased to know you can tap into the power its pastiche here.


    There are some limitations. It seems to stall out at five letter words for that second line. “Posters” was apparently too long for a second line. Still fun. Hat tip to Doc Becca.

    Today’s demonstration of the power of proximity in design comes courtesy of this unfortunate pairing of advertisements:


    Hat tip to Andrew Bloch.

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  • 09/01/16--05:00: Critique: Neutrino topology
  • Physics is not the best represented academic field on this blog, so I was pleased to get this submission from Paola Ferrario, who was kind enough to share this with readers of the blog. Click to enlarge!


    I like many things about this poster.
    • The typography is clean.
    • The big central circle attracts the eye and breaks up the monotony of rectangles.
    • There aren’t a huge number of words.
    • The margins between all the elements are comfortable.
    • There are pictures of real objects.
    • Logos are mostly kept down in the inf print section.
    • There is a good use of bright colours to highlight headings.
    I have one major problem. I know where to start reading the poster. I know where I should end up when I finish reading the poster. What I am supposed to do between those two points is completely baffling to me.


    The text in that big central circle is particularly baffling. That it is set against a different shape and colour provides a visual cue that suggests it isn’t part of the main text. It looks like a “callout” that you are either supposed to read first, or that might be an aside that you can dispense with altogether.

    One way that might improve the reader’s plight without restructuring the entire poster is to be explicit about what order the sections are supposed to go in. Here, I’ve added some numbered bullets to sit next to each heading. I used the eyedropper tool to match the colour. I was not sure what the typeface on the poster is, so I used sans serif numbers from Erler Dingbats


    Adding the numbers the quick way I did means the headings are not centered correctly. And this may not be the exact order Paola intended, but those concerns are easily fixed if you have the original file to tinker with.

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  • 09/08/16--05:00: Reading gravity
  • Great minds think alike; fools seldom differ.

    I recently learned that something I’ve called “the Cosmo principle” on this blog is an actual thing that proper designers talk about, except they have a different name for it. They call it “reading gravity.”


    The picture above is sometimes called a “Gutenberg diagram.” Apparently it was given that name by newspaper designer Edmond Arnold (interviewed here, where he refers to the “Gutenberg principle”). I’m not completely sure about this; need to do some more reading.

    What this image calls the “primary optical area,” I’ve usually called the “sex story,” because that’s invariably what occupies that position on every cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. The “terminal area” is usually what I’ve called the “take home message.”

    What I find usually ends up in the lower left corner, or “weak fallow area” as its called here, are my methods section. And that’s fine, because those are usually only of interest to the afficiandos.

    This diagram is worth thinking about as you lay out your poster. Is the most important stuff in the most important places? Too often I see critical material in the bottom, or the terminal area crowded up with references and acknowledgements. I’ve done the latter myself, but this diagram points out that the lower right corner is more important that I have sometimes given it credit for.

    Hat tip to Heather Sears.

    External links

    The Gutenberg Diagram in Web Design
    Understand how you can double the effectiveness of your publications in one simple move!
    Reading gravity goes out the window
    Getting back to basics with Ed Arnold

    Picture from here

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    Inna Nikonorova is today’s kindly contributor, who let me share this on the blog. Click to enlarge!




    The poster is clear and readable, but I do think it could be improved.

    I like that the Introduction tries to provide a more organic look to some of the headings and images in it. But if you’re going to go that route, you have to commit to it. That weathered look isn’t anywhere else on the poster, so it looks a little odd. I would remove it to make the weathered paper and blackboard and the like to make the Introduction visually consistent with the rest of the poster. Of course, you could go the other way, and make the entire poster look more antique, but giving the rest of the poster that blackboard appearance will be harder and take longer.

    I would generally try to widen the margins between the text and the boxes they are in. It looks like this is only have a fraction of an inch between text and line in some places. It’s particularly noticeable in the Literature Cited section.

    Speaking of the Literature Cited, it is left aligned, as is the rest of the text in the poster. But because the text is so dense in the Lit Cited section, it makes the centered text in the Acknowledgements stand out like the proverbial sore thumb.

    The INSPIRE logo isn’t centered in its box. Neither is the Rutgers logo, come to think of it, but because the Rutgers logo is an irregular shape, it’s less noticeable.

    The mouse in the Methods might be flipped so it’s facing in, not out.

    Related posts

    Look into the poster: Gaze and graphics

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  • 09/24/16--10:36: Avoid the tenuous touch
  • There are two good choices for placing objects on a page. You can separate them.


    Or you can overlap them.


    But it’s a bad option is to have two objects almost touching...


    Or just barely touching.


    Of course, it can be worse. Having sharp edges and round edges almost touching creates a discomfort to your eyes that you can almost feel. You’re just waiting for the balloon to pop.


    You get the same effects with the rectangles you see more often on posters. Having objects very close, but with neither clear separation or overlap, feels much less comfortable


    Than clear overlap...


    Or distinct separation.


    Unless you are going for visual tension, make a choice. Split them apart or have one cover the other. Don’t have any tenuous touches. To sum up:



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    Quote of the month:

    A conference poster should be readable in 3 minutes, from 3 metres away, after 3 beers.

    The tweet is from Torsten Seemann, but It think he’s quoting Matthew Wakefield.

    Michael Skvarla has a nominee for the best poster title of this year’s International Congress of Entomology:


    Hat top to Megan Lynch.

    “There is  no substitute for a scatterplot, at least for relatively small sample sizes.” Also, stop plotting standard error of the mean (SEM).

    Conference organizers, watch out for bias.

    I’m not sure if I’ve linked to the Junk Charts blog before on this blog, but here it is, just in case. I know I haven’t linked out to this list of five great design blogs, though. Hat tip to The Old Reader.

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    Today’s contribution come from Michael Young. This will be shown at this year’s Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems conference, but he’s given me permission to show you as preview. Click to enlarge!


    Because the poster is intended to show off the website, it features near the middle of the poster, which is appropriate placement.

    Michael’s own assessment of the poster is that despite much editing, it is still too wordy. I agree, but the good news is that the typography is clean and understandable, apart from a tenuous touch of the institution name with the title bar. The descender on the “y” in “University” is killing me.

    I also the colour combination of blues and tans. It’s consistent throughout. The blues provides a good contrast to the logo, appropriately situated out of the way, unobtrusive and quiet.

    The underlying structure of this portrait style poster is a solid two row grid:


    I might have preferred a little more space between the rows to separate them, but the space between each row is not the biggest problem here. You might not notice the simple two row layout because of the placement of everything in those rows. Let’s highlight the pictures and sidebars:


    Just to make it a little more obvious, here’s the position of all those elements without the distraction of the poster contents:


    Now it looks just a bit like a Mondrian painting.

    The point, though, is to highlight that there’s no underlying plan for those pictures. Almost no two are the same size. They’re only aligned if they happen to be along the poster’s edge.

    Consequently, the reading order of the poster, while clear (thanks to the underlying two row grid), is circuitous. You have to wind and wend your way around all those pictures.


    What might have helped this poster is a stronger secondary grid. How is the row going to be divided? Could it be quartered, or otherwise sectioned into smaller pieces?

    Related posts

    Avoid the tenuous touch

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  • 10/13/16--05:00: Critique: Cubic slip-systems
  • Today’s poster is from Danyel Cavasoz. Now, although I live in a region with a large Hispanic population, my Spanish is pretty bad. But based on the arXiv notice in his poster, I am reasonably confident this is a physics poster. Alas, my physics is also bad, since I’m not sure what a “cubic slip-system” is. He’s been kind enough to give permission to share this. Click to enlarge!


    I love the individual graphics here. They evoke the feel of being hand drawn, but are never sloppy.

    The muted colours all work well together. The darker background allows some of the red and blue in those diagrams to stand out.

    My major concern is the main text. When I see the poster at a small size, like the thumbnail here on the blog, the text is almost unreadable. There are three things contributing here. The first is whether the background is dark enough to make white text stand out. The second is the point size of the text (it’s 22 point, according to Danyel). The third is a bit more subtle.

    Danyel used Century Gothic. This geometric typeface has very even strokes and similar shapes throughout, which is making it hard to distinguish letter shapes. Let’s have a closer look at it:


    Notice how many letters are based on an almost identical circle? The a, c, d, e, g, o, p, and q: that’s eight letters, almost a third of the alphabet, built on the same shape. By comparison, let’s look at another famous geometric sans serif, Futura:


    The round letters are similar, but not as much as in the one above. You can see the line width varying, such as where the round parts meet the descenders in p and g.

    When you move into a serif font like Sitka, you see the letters are even less similar:


    By the way, “Quack Beep God” is the name of my new indie band.

    Danyel wrote:

    I can safely say that one can read it standing 2 m away from it. Now that I think about it, the light gray might be too light indeed for a room illuminated under a very white light.


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    • 10/20/16--05:00: Critique: Catching a DRAGON
    • Today’s poster is from Athanasios Psaltis, in my old stomping grounds in in Canada (McMaster University, to be exact). This poster was shown at a school on “Origin of nuclei in the universe,” and appears here with his permission. Click to enlarge!


      I appreciated immediately was that I could read everything on this poster, even shrunk down on the computer screen. You only have to go back a week on this blog to see that this doesn’t always happen.

      The mix of red, or bold, or red and bold for emphasis would be better replaced with just one style. I liked the use of red bolding for emphasis on the left introductory material, and wish it was carried over on the right side (e.g., “transmission” and “efficiency” in the “Testing the DRAGON” section). Athanasios agreed.

      The bullet points in the introduction are adding space, but not much clarity, at least for me. The “1, 2, 3” numbering under “Wanajo” works, though, and I would leave that.

      Dashes or hyphens should have spaces on both sides, or neither. Seeing spaces on only one side of the dash in the pointers to the figures (e.g., “Figure 1- Right”) is making me crazy in an obsessive type nerd way.

      The ticks in the Figure 1 graphs are a bit obtrusive. I understand log scales need a lot of ticks, but they don’t need to be protruding so far into the graph. They could be shorter. I would try removing the top and right axes, too. Or, if the top and right lines stay, remove the tick marks.

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      Contrast matters, and web page designers are starting to forget that. Kevin Marks delves into how grey text is becoming so prominent on the web. Marks notes something I’ve talked about before: the difference between the screen and a poster handing on a wall.

      (W)hen you design in perfect settings, with big, contrast-rich monitors, you blind yourself to users. To arbitrarily throw away contrast based on a fashion that “looks good on my perfect screen in my perfectly lit office” is abdicating designers’ responsibilities to the very people for whom they are designing.

      Hat tip to Robert J. Sawyer.

      It’s great when you have a lab to go to a conference with. But not everyone has a lab. Here are tips for how to rock a conference solo.

      An occasional reminder that if your poster hangs for several days, create opportunities for people to give feedback when you are not there:



      Hat tip to Ciera Martinez.

      Stephen Heard is unimpressed with most conference badges. This led me to another discussion of badge shortcomings, both of which reminded me of an older article on conference badges in American Scientist (paywalled).

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    • 11/03/16--05:00: Critique: Catalyst judging
    • Today’s contributor is Luca Biasolo, who gave me permission to show this:


      This poster has more ambition and design sense than probably 90% of the posters I see at conferences.

      I like that Luca committed to the green colour scheme, but I almost want a little more variation in colour. There is a little red and blue in the figures, so I wonder if those could be used someplace else in the poster, like the numbers in the headings. Maybe even some lighter or darker shades of green would break it up a little more. I’m not sure if I’m right on this; maybe it should stay the way it is. Luca wrote:

      I’ve tried few colors more but it was a bit confusing. Maybe I haven't choosen them right ones or I mixed them to much. You are free to try. ;)

      My major in looking at this poster was whether the numbers in the headings reflected the intended order? Luca replied that yes, that was the intention. That is, the reader is supposed to go around the poster clockwise:


      My reaction to this might be summed up thus:


      I think the idea is that because the central image is a cycle, the rest of the poster should also follow the path of that cycle. I think that’s going a bit too far. That might work if that central cycle was much bigger and more dominant part of the poster, but it isn’t. So the cycling around just seems out of place.

      In fairness, I do think that the use of numbered headings here is appropriate. If you are going to deviate from the expected reading order, I do appreciate that you warned me about it.

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    • 11/10/16--05:00: Critique: Establishing axons
    • Today’s contribution was tweeted out by Christopher Leterrier. Click to enlarge!


      This poster promptly attracted compliments, and Christopher asked for my take.

      This poster has one obstacle standing between it and total victory: it is dense.

      This poster was made for the massive Society for Neuroscience meeting. With attendance usually around 30,000, people at that conference are already coping with information overload. Unless someone is already very interested in axons, she or he is unlikely to stop at a poster with 108 micrographs and 25 bar graphs (I counted).

      That said, this poster convinces me that anyone who does stop to talk to the author will be rewarded. It’s clear that Christopher put a lot of thought into organizing this.

      The layout is clear. All the data sections are structured exactly the same way, so that once you understand one, you should be able to follow them all.

      Each section has a clear take home message. The one exception is one that Christopher himself identified:

      Now that I look at it, “Conclusion and Perspectives” is wrong. Obvious title and zero specific info!

      I agree with that self-assessment. Positive statements win over generic headings!

      Looking at this poster shrunk down at thumbnail size, the poster number in the upper right is a shade too big. It’s bigger and more prominent than the title, and I generally argue that nothing should compete with the title. That said, this problem is not a bad one, because the poster number is well separated from the title, and the title is large and easily read.

      This poster tries to fit an entire manuscript on to a single piece of paper. I do not recommend that as a strategy for a poster. But, given that decision to put all that information on the page, this poster solved the problem probably as well as it could be solved.

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    • 11/17/16--05:00: Critique: Making enzymes
    • Today’s contribution come from Ian Haydon, who is kind enough to share it with us. Click to enlarge!


      Ian writes:

      The attached poster won best in show at my departmental retreat last week. I think why this took best poster was that two of the judges commented that I “told a nice story” (at least when I talked them through the poster, not clear it's as evident as a static document)

      I designed the entire thing in Google Slides.

      I think that makes Ian’s poster a first. I don’t think I have ever shown a poster made in Google Slides on the blog before. Ian wrote:

      I love Google’s web apps. I make all my presentations in Slides and use Docs for all word processing so I’m quite comfortable with the controls. They offer all the essential features I’d use in fuller apps like Powerpoint/Keynote/Word, plus they cut out all the junk fonts and themes that I’d never use anyway. The ability to access all my media from any device is a huge plus. The collaboration tools are also top notch. I shared this poster with labmates in comment-only mode to get feedback before printing, for example. And Google apps never crash on me.

      The only trick to using Google Slides to make a poster in is setting up the slide size. File > Page Setup > Custom. This should be done before you do any work, because changing it later will cause everything to scale to the new slide size.

      Once I am happy with the final poster design, I save it as a giant PDF and print that.

      This poster is built on a solid foundation. It’s a three column layout with a clear reading order, and everything is big enough that it can easily pass the “arm’s length” test. The colours are consistent and relaxed.

      I appreciate that the institutional affiliations in the title bar are widely spaced. That makes it easy to match the subscript behind the author’s name with the institution.

      My main concern is with the amount of white space on this page. Everything fits. Nothing is touching, but nothing feels comfortable, either. It feels like:


      For comparison, standard letter paper (8½ × 11”) usually has about a one inch margin. If this poster is shrunk down to about that size, 7½ × 10”, the margins would be something like an eighth of an inch. When we are so used to seeing documents with larger margins, tiny margins look weird, no matter how well organized everything is within them. I would try shrinking major elements of the poster by 90-95% to provide those wider margins.

      I’m never a big fan of logos bookending the title. But the title here is short, at least, so the logos are not chewing up room the title needs. But my objection to having the logos in the title is compounded a bit by the right one, the stylized “P,” being repeated down in the right corner. Putting two logos down in the corner doesn’t quite work. First, one is left aligned, while the other is centered, creating some visual tension between them. Worse, the two don’t line up:



      Some of the colours used to highlight phrases in the text are a bit cryptic. The colours seem to be referring to elements in adjacent images, but I’m always not sure how. In the example below, the highlighted gold text refers to “missing side chains,” but the yellow in the diagram below (the closest visual match) seems to show alpha helices that are present, not side chains that are missing.


      This may reflect my own ignorance more than it represents a design flaw, however.

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      The posters up for the National Science Foundation’s annual Vizzie awards make for an interesting gallery. Some nice work there! Vote for your favourite!


      Every panel in the figure above shows the same data. It’s a nice example of the choices you have to make in the design process, from Rousselet and colleagues. They are also the latest to fire salvos against bar graphs, with neuroscience being their main target:

      Unfortunately, graphical representations in many scientific journals, including neuroscience journals, tend to hide underlying distributions, with their excessive use of line and bar graphs.


      Your colleagues in Human Resources are making posters, too. Check this guide for making posters for Human Resources procedures.

      I disagree with the final advice of, “Start with a template,” though. To me, that leaves too many decisions in the hands of other people, and they may not be good ones. How many below par PowerPoint decks have we sat through because people just grabbed whatever template was there?

      Hat tip to Sarah McGuire.

      I’ve been on a social media diet, so I don’t have as many poster related goods from Neuroscience 2016 as I sometimes do. But:

      Fabric posters still don’t look as sharp as paper, according to Anne Martin:

      I’ve yet to see a fabric poster that isn’t fairly wrinkled.

       Elizabeth Sandquist gave us this haunting image of a poster graveyard:


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