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A resource dedicated to improving poster presentations. Part of

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  • 10/16/14--05:00: Critique: Astrophysics code
  • Today’s poster is contributed by Alice Allen, and is used with her permission. Click to enlarge:

    She wrote:

    Under 100 words on this poster... or so I will claim since the screenshots are there to illustrate the points! (Not counting the authors' names, I think the count is 89 words.) This poster is for an online resource that people at the conference are familiar with, and is to inform people of recent changes to the website.

    This poster wins points for simplicity. It can be read with a few glances, which is a definite win for any conference poster.

    I’m always curious to see what improvements people make on their own. After she sent her first email but before I replied, Alice sent along another iteration.

    I think the changes you made for the second version are good ones. Making the title more prominent, and getting rid of the outline around the “Over 900 codes!” were both good moves.

    I can see why the screen grabs were rotated as a design element. I’d be tempted to tinker with the amount of rotation. I might try bringing the central screen grabs a little closer to horizontal (though not normal straight up and down).

    Tiny little typesetting detail. In the right box, the field “See also” is in quotes, but the links, “Previous” and “Next” are not in quotes. There might be a case for putting “Previous” and “Next” in quotes, too, for consistently. I’m not sure what a style guide would recommend; perhaps there is some subtle stylistic difference between a field and a link.

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  • 10/23/14--10:46: Stretching out your title
  • People are used to tinkering with the vertical spacing of text; having to make a manuscript double spaced, for instance. But they are not as familiar with how to make text look good by adjusting the horizontal spacing.

    John McWade reminds us of a useful tip about the spacing of type:

    Text meant to be read at a distance – like the title of your poster – should be expanded a little!

    Since most people are making posters in PowerPoint (despite my constant pestering for you to stop doing that), Let me tell you a couple of ways to do this in PowerPoint.

    Select your text, right click it, select “Font,” and pick the “Character spacing” tab. That allows you quite precise control over the spacing:

    There is also a “horizontal spacing” button in the “Font” ribbon. The drop down options for that one, however, are more general: “Loose” and “Very loose.”

    Here’s a sample of how text looks expanded. “Loose” is a little more than 2 point spacing.

    “Loose” might not be a bad setting to try for titles, and maybe headings, on posters.

    After you’re done here, practice your horizontal letter placement skills by playing this kerning game.

    External links

    The unexpected typestyle of Ikea

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    I don’t think I’d seen this resource on Giving Poster Presentations before. It’s part of a larger online resource on “English communication for scientists.” I think I’d remember if I’s seen this Jorge Cham gem from the front page before:

    Elizabeth “Inkfish” Preston covers a paper that examines how a simple graph significantly increases the persuasiveness of an argument. And when I say “simple,” I mean very simple:

    Another primer on how to get the most out of a conference from Mandi Stewart, which wins points for citing We Bought a Zoo:

    My partner and I talk about having “five seconds of professional courage” when networking at conferences. Conferences are a great time to meet people, and unless you put yourself out there and introduce yourself, you could miss out on some great conversations. I love the movie “We Bought A Zoo” which is where having five seconds of professional courage came from. “You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” Try it. Five seconds of professional courage.

    This article on the importance of comics has some analysis of reading flow after my own heart. Hat tip to Siobhan O’Dwyer.

    You too can learn the difference between a soft crop, a split crop, and a stickout crop in this post at the different ways you can crop an image by John McWade.

    I also like McWade’s short reflection on how design can make life better:

    Design is about more than whether something “works.” Lots of things “work.” A theater marquee with chipped paint and missing letters “works.” If the local strip mall has what I need, you could say its ugly plastic sign “works.” Each identifies my destination well enough to get there.

    What they don’t provide is delight, inspiration, fulfillment.

    Wired has a lovely profile on book cover designer Peter Mendelsund.  Book covers have some goals that are similar to conference posters: attracting passers-by, for instance.

    On one level, dust jackets are billboards. They’re meant to lure in potential readers. For a certain contingent of the publishing industry, this means playing it safe. “The path of least resistance when you’re designing a jacket is to give that particular demographic exactly what they want,” Mendelsund explains. “It’s a mystery novel, so you just splatter it in blood, and put the shadowy trench coat guy on it, and use the right typography.” Familiarity, the thinking goes, will always sell something.
    Mendelsund does not subscribe to this view. He’s said that he prefers an ugly cover to a cliche one(.)

    One of Mendelsund’s better known projects is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Here are some rejected ideas:

    I have not seen the movie Idiocracy, but this post on making fake corporate logos is interesting just the same. Hat tip to Alex Jones and Amanda Krauss.

    The Current radio show on CBC has been running a series called, “By Design.” It’s going to be running all this season. This series is not about graphic design, but is a wide ranging exploration of how we make things.

    I’m months behind in bringing you this blog post on redesigning maps for the modern age.

    If you’re finally ready to learn how to use a higher end graphics package than PowerPoint, try Vector Tutorials for Adobe Illustrator. Hat tip to Anthony Salvagno for this resource.

    And today in type crimes, or “Someone did not read their directions closely enough”:

    From here.

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    Today’s poster is from Marianna Rapaport, and is shown with her permission. Click to enlarge!

    Marianna writes:

    The poster presents my masters thesis, the general area is programming language research.The only illustrations in my thesis are graphs and math formulas. I wanted to add some graphics to the poster that would attract people (and not scare them away with math). My dad told me that my graph looked like the wings of a dragonfly, so that's where that big insect comes from.

    I would also like to acknowledge the invaluable help of my friend Erica Dufour. She helped me to arrange the text boxes and came up with the idea of the gray background that helps the reader understand the order in which to read the material. She also helped me understand how to use Adobe Illustrator and InDesign.

    Finally, I used the same font as in this poster on which you also have a critique on your blog

    I like this a lot. It’s clean, and has a strong visual impact. The dragonfly is a nice design touch. The use of the contrast colours orange and teal to highlight is consistent, and subtle enough not to be garish or overwhelming.

    The one thing I question is the reading order. The "Result" box is not where I would expect it. Based on headings, I would go:

    1. Summary
    2. Intro
    3. Goal
    4. Problem
    5. Method
    6. Result

    But based on its position on the poster, “Result” would slot in at position number 4, not 6. Marianna replied:

    I agree that the reading order is still unclear. But I don’t even know what could be done about that without changing the whole poster layout.

    Regarding the “Result” box, I read somewhere (maybe even on your blog) that it’s a good idea to put the results right in the beginning; in a way, it’s a replacement for the abstract. I thought that in my case, the results are in the beginning and at the same time in the end. But maybe that doesn’t make sense because it’s impossible to understand the results without reading everything else, so you’re right there, too.

    Having the results up top, as here, is not horrible. The approach I might have taken would be to think of that top row as the “take home” messages, and the second row as being “for the aficionado.” The trick then becomes distinguishing the two.

    The gray band on the second row signals this a little, but it might have been stronger if there was a second cue to signal that the second row was less important. For example, a slightly smaller point size for the text might have helped.

    Alternately, perhaps using different way to highlight the “Results” box, instead of the same gray as the row below, would have broken the connection between them, and emphasized that “Result” was meant to stand on its own, as a conclusion. 

    Still, the overall effect is quite lovely.

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    Professional designers are given a design brief from their clients. At first glance, a design brief might look like a simple set of instructions, but it’s a little deeper than that.

    A good design brief talks not just about the nuts and bolts of a project, like deadline, budget, or size (“It has to fit on a standard piece of office paper”). Those can be in there, but a good design brief goes further. It includes a lot more about the goals of the project, the audience the project should engage with, and what the desired reaction of the audience is.

    The instructions from most scientific conferences usually have some, but not all, of the elements for a good design brief for poster makers. Here is my attempt to flesh out a design brief for conference posters for the stuff they don’t put in the instructions.

    Goals of a poster

    Posters should get conference attendees talk to the presenter. Because attendees are busy, posters must grab attention, even if a potential reader is quite a long way from the poster. Similarly, posters should make an implicit promise to the reader that the gist of the poster can be grasped quickly.

    Posters should also contain enough information that a person is able to read it and understand the main message.

    Presentation setting

    Conference posters are printed on paper and hung indoors, often under relatively dim artificial light that is not under the control of the presenter. They must be visible even under poor lighting conditions.

    The large number of people walking around means that the lower part of the poster may be obscured, so titles must be high and large to be seen by as many people from as far away as possible.

    Audience characteristics

    Conference attendees are smart, literate adults who are busy and distracted by the vast amount of material in a conference.They are often walking at some distance from the poster.

    A conference audience may have minor vision problems. Attendees range in age from 20 to 60 (or older), which means that some attendees probably need reading glasses for presbyopia. In some conferences, attendance skews towards greater numbers of men, which means a greater number of individuals may be colour blind, particularly red/green colour blind.

    Values to communicate

    Academics will generally want to convey an impression of rigor, thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and careful attention to detail. This can be done with humour or playfulness, as long as it never implies carelessness.

    Colours and imagery

    Colours should be visible to those who are colour blind. Many academics wish to have their posters reflect their institutional brands, which can be reflected in the colour palette of the poster.

    External links

    How to write an effective design brief
    How do I write a good design brief?
    How To Write An Effective Design Brief and Get The Design You Want!
    How do you write a design brief?
    Key information design agencies would love from their clients (Picture from this post)
    7 Basics to Create a Good Design Brief

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    Regular readers might notice that a post that had been put up earlier this week is no longer available.

    The blog post in question was a critique of a poster archived at The poster was from a conference back in 2011. I thought the poster was worth analyzing, and I wrote a blog post about it.

    Today, I got an email from one of the authors of the post asking me to take it down, for reasons that do not need exploring at this juncture. I was asked why this post was done without mentioning I had permission of the authors to use the poster. This is something I normally mention in my critiques.

    Most posters are submitted to me directly by the person who made them, sometimes before the conference. They may have unpublished data, and so on, and are not (as far as I know) otherwise available to viewers outside the conference itself. So I ask people who email things to me if I can use them on them here on the blog.

    In contrast, this poster was archived in a public forum online. To my way of thinking, this made it available for public comment. I know that “on the Internet” does not mean “do what you want” (see this great article by Alex Wild) but I did not see any particular language anywhere on the site limiting re-use. (The poster is no longer available, so I can’t check if there was any such verbiage anywhere.)

    I had no reason to ignore a polite request, so I took down the post.

    The moral of the story? Not sure. Maybe it’s about being careful about what you archive and how, and managing your digital footprint. Maybe it’s about being more careful in doing due diligence in contacting people who might be affected by re-use.

    External links

    Bugging out: How rampant online piracy squashed one insect photographer

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    November is the biggest conglomeration of posters in the world: the Neuroscience meeting. And there are always interesting poster-related tweets arising from that!

    Here is a nice “Tips and tricks” for poster presentations blog post from Caitlin Kirkwood. She has obviously been to the rodeo that is neuroscience a few times:

    (F)for those that appear in front of you haggard, with a glazed-over look in their eyes (the telltale signs of SfN-itis: too many posters, too little time), it is nice to have an abbreviated synopsis of your work ready.

    Winner of “best new way to present a poster” (hat tip to MBF Bioscience):

    Winner of “worst new way to present a poster” (hat tip to Jason Snyder):

    Winner of “best new re-use of a poster” (hat tip to Rodrigo Braga):

    Eric encapsulates how important the poster experience is to Neuroscience:

    Feel naked without a poster tube. Thumb drives just don’t identify you as an #SFN14 attendee in the same way.

    Jordan Gaines asks and interesting question about assessing your audience:

    How do you like to assess someone's knowledge of your poster topic as you're presenting? Ask upfront, or read their body language?

    The Cellular Scale has advice for poster audience members:

    If you want a 5 min poster summary, ask for a 2 min one.

    Neurd Girls ‏reports a crime to sfnpolice:

    I’d like to report a criminal offense. Poster entirely in Comic Sans on bright purple background.

    DrugMonkey reminds us of good design principles:

    Font size people, font size. #sfn14 #oldeyes

    Michael Carroll makes an observation on poster presenters:

    Interesting seniority gradient within the poster rows here at #SfN14: students and postdocs at the posters, PIs and greybeards in the center

    I’ve followed Neuroscience’s introduction of “dynamic posters” for some time now. Benjamin Saunders thinks people are still not making full use of the medium:

    Seeing some better #SfN14 dynamic posters this year but most are still just a poster. On a video screen. Get it together people.

    Jason Pipkin found one dynamic poster he liked:

    Title, intro, and conclusions always visible while large central area used for displaying series of movies.

    Then there was that flight out that was stopped by posters! Fear them! Fear the posters! (Hat tip to Joshua Burda.)

    American Airlines flight grounded due to unruly poster-wielding SFN’rs!! So many posters!!!

    Finally, a two part article by Erik Kennedy about designing user interfaces that has some good lessons for posters. I particularly appreciate rule 2:

    (D)esign black and white first. Start with the harder problem of making the app beautiful and usable in every way, but without the aid of color. Add color last, and even then, only with purpose.

    And rule 3:

    If you want to make UI that looks designed, you need to add in a lot of breathing room.
    Sometimes a ridiculous amount.

    Rule 5 is particularly interesting, because it talks about text in a way I have never heard before, about combining emphasis (“up-pop”) with de-emphasis (“down-pop”). I think I might try this in some of my next posters.

    This link goes to part one; this link goes to part two.

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  • 12/04/14--05:00: Critique: Sex models
  • Yes, I totally went for the gutter headline in introducing this poster from Amanda Whitlock. This poster is used with her permission. You can click to enlarge!

    Amanda included this note in her email:

    After reading your blog, I switched from using Powerpoint to Scribus and have become a huge convert and evangelist on its behalf.

    I’m so pleased there is one less person in the world using PowerPoint for posters!

    Amanda’s poster has a clean design. It starts with my favourite “hard to mess it up” layout: three columns, equal size.

    I recently read an article that argued that anytime you overlay text on a picture, it should always be white text on top of the image. That message might be a good one for all poster makers. Especially when viewing this poster at a reduced size, I’m worried that the title (90% of your communication effort!) is barely visible. I tried a quick and dirty replacement of the black with white:

    The edges of the text are badly pixelated because of the way I inverted the colours, but the title is more visible. Let’s try the same to the headings:

    The difference is harder to see, but might be more obvious if made in the original document. The headings would also benefit from a bit of additional work to ensure that they are all evenly spaced. “Conclusions” looks closer to the bottom of its bar than “Results,” for example.

    The same goes for the vertical alignment. A line that misses the letters in “Conclusion” hits letters in “References,” for instance.

    While the poster has plenty of images and white space, it is a shame that the critical upper left corner is the least visually appealing part of the whole poster, with only text.

    If you can’t see the title, and there is only words and data, it’s unlikely to gather any new readers who just happened to be walking by. While this poster will not make anyone cringe when they walk past it, they might just... walk past it.

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  • 12/11/14--05:00: Wrap it up, I'll take it
  • I'm always on the lookout for re-use of posters, and Elizabeth Sandquist has a seasonal one:

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    This poster comes from Joel Topf. Click to enlarge!

    The idea of the layout is good. Having the text all concentrated in one short summary that looks like it can be read quickly may help viewers who want to skim. But some of this advantages are defeated because the poster is still extremely dense. For instance:

    The address breaks the grid by curling around to the right of the “Introduction” heading. Those are too close. Each one is a separate element, and deserves its own defined space. Instead, the two sections are overlapping in space, and they will look better if separated.

    A similar problem occurs with the bottom graph: its space is invaded by the graphs above. This is particularly noticeable where the “Total number of posts” graph (gray box) comes close to touching the blue data line in the graph below.

    The text looks pretty brief, but wonder if it could be edited down even more. For example, I took this from 41 words:

    Nephrology bloggers are rarely compensated and their writing is not usually considered part of academic production in regards to advancement. Without obvious advantages for the blogger, I thought that bloggers must thrive on internal enthusiasm and it may wane over time.

    To 30:

    Academic blogging is not usually rewarded in career advancement (e.g., tenure and promotion ). This suggests bloggers are intrinsically motivated, but this may wane if there are no extrinsic rewards.

    The more you can edit, the more space you can open up.

    I wanted a bit more guidance for all the data on the right side of the poster, so that I know what is being shown here. Some one sentence summaries next to the three main sections would be welcome.

    The colours in the table are not explained anywhere. I am guessing “green”means statistically significant, and “orange” means... a decline in posts over time? Maybe that could be mentioned in the main text at the left.

    The table is big and dense. Again, I wonder if it could be simplified, either graphically (first step: remove the vertical gridline!) or even removed. If I’m reading it right, some of the information in the table is repeated in the graphs to the right of the table.

    The last line of the table - “Totals” - appears to be incorrect. It looks like most of those entries are means, not totals.

    Also, the text mentions 30 blogs, but only 22 are plotted.

    Where the QR code goes is a mystery. It’s a helps to tell people what they’ll get by scanning a code. Further, the short link goes to the same site as the QR code. I suggest picking just one. I lean towards keeping just the QR code, because I have yet to see anyone type in that complicated alphanumeric short URL. But if both were left on the poster, I’d try to make the URL the same width as the QR code.

    External links

    Nephrology Blogosphere poster

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    I’m always on the lookout for re-use of posters, and Gary McDowell takes advantage of the new fabric ones:

    This poster scarf actually predates a similar one seen at Neuroscience by a few days:

    Choosing the right title for your poster is critically important. This New Yorker article shows that the headline changes the way people remember the content of the story you tell them next:

    In the case of the factual articles, a misleading headline hurt a reader’s ability to recall the article’s details. ... In the case of opinion articles, however, a misleading headline... impaired a reader’s ability to make accurate inferences.

    Dr. Attai took this picture at American Society of Clinical Oncology 2014 meeting. Um. Aren’t people proud of their work?

    NatC has a conference networking tip:

    New conference networking strategy: share cab to airport with strangers. Get career advice.

    I constantly harp on people to make a grid. Here is a useful slide deck showing how grids are used to design a complex website (hat tip to Duarte and Garr Reynolds):

    Kirsten Sanford nominated this as her favourite poster from the American Geological Union meeting. It’s colourful, I’ll give it that.

    Business cards are an integral part of conference networking. Erik Peterson turned his business cards into mini-posters:

    Slideshare has a video that claims to tell you four tips for making data visualization memorable (hat tip to Ethos 3):

    The cheat sheet summary is below; the original paper is here:

    1. They look like something natural.
    2. Are pictoral.
    3. Use colours.
    4. Have high visual density.

    Typeset in the Future is an obsessive single serve blog looking at typography in science fiction films. Try this post on Alien for starters. Hat tip to Adam Savage. (The mythbuster also throws in his favourite typefaces: Futura and Caslon.)

    Before and After talks about using colour to make connections between objects. Very useful to remember in designing posters, and displaying data.

    Here’s a fun article about secrets hidden in plain sight in logos. I knew a couple, like the FedEx arrow, but there were lots that I didn’t know.

    Note, though, that the article gets the story behind the BMW logo wrong (it’s not a propellor). But perhaps it can be forgiven, as BMW’s own histories have sometimes mucked up the truth!

    Merry Christmas!

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    Conference posters are typically made by amateurs (and boy oh boy, does that ever include me!). It’s rare to find someone who makes posters as part of their job, who is not an academic, and who has training in design.

    This makes Karen Nelson rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth. Her email signature describes her asa “Visual Information Specialist” for the United States Forest Service. She graciously agreed to answer some questions and show a couple of her posters. (Click to enlarge the posters!)

    Q: Tell us a bit about your background. How did you become a “visual information specialist”?

    A: I graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a B.S. in Art (and an emphasis in typography and graphic design). After graduating, I was hired by the U.S. Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), as an entry level “Visual Information Specialist” (Graphic Designer). My skill sets improved over time, and I’m now a senior designer.

    Q: Before you started designing posters, had you been to scientific conferences and seen the posters?

    A: I did not attend scientific conferences before I started to design posters. However, I saw many research posters created by a former designer at the Forest Products Laboratory, who was my mentor before he retired.

    Q: Do you go to conferences now? If so, what’s your general impression of the state of conference posters?

    A: Due to budget constraints, I do not travel to conferences. However, I do review posters presented at conferences hosted on-site by my employer. My general impression of conference posters is that they are usually “journal articles on a large piece of paper.” Posters are overloaded with text, charts, tables, etc. Color choices are poor. Proofreading is overlooked. Primary messages are lost due to information overload.

    Q: Describe the process of working with the researchers. How much of the text and graphs do they give you, and how much do you create?

    A: The researchers are responsible for providing text and graphics. I ask researchers to provide (1) conference guidelines for the poster (2) text in Word, (3) charts (with data) in Excel (whenever possible), (4) tables in Word or Excel, and (5) original, unaltered, copyright-free photographs at the largest file size available. If it’s necessary to use a copyrighted image, the researcher must obtain permission for use. I specifically request that they do not embed photos, charts/graphics, and other elements in a Word or PowerPoint document. I work more efficiently when I receive individual files, and I think that quality is lost when I have to copy/paste an image from Word into Photoshop.

    I begin the design process after I receive all content. I work directly with the researchers to eliminate unnecessary information. I’m a good proofreader and copy editor, but I consult with an on-site technical publications editor as needed. If the photographs are low resolution, I request different files (or I will look for them myself). I frequently re-create graphs and artwork (flow charts, diagrams, etc.), especially when I receive low-resolution image files that are not editable.

    After a draft poster is done, I meet with the researcher(s) for review, corrections, etc. I usually output a small but readable print for markup. Sometimes, simply emailing a PDF will suffice for review.

    Q: What is your poster design process like? Is it purely digital? What software do you use to put posters together?

    A: Yes, the design process is fully digital. If a poster contains tables, I use Adobe InDesign for layout (InDesign is great for importing and editing tables). If a poster contains charts and vector graphics that need to be redrawn, I use Adobe Illustrator (Illustrator’s graphing tool is also very helpful when data is provided). I edit and color correct raster images in Adobe Photoshop. We have an in-house large-format printer.

    Q: Do you have any advice to help a scientist making a poster? Putting it another way, what are the pitfalls that people not trained in design fall into over and over again?

    A: KISS! In a room full of 100 or 200 or 300 posters, let yours stand out and attract attention. Portray the main message and important results – not all of the journal article details. Make the design process easy – use large, pertinent photographs, succinct graphics, and a minimal amount of text.

    Don’t use dark or brightly colored backgrounds. Instead, keep the background white or use a light, neutral color so that your graphics and photographs can pop.

    Don’t use boxes! Instead, leave plenty of white space between columns and sections of information. If you “need” boxes, you have too much information.

    Please avoid 3D charts and gradient fill patterns! Remove all “chart junk.” Read Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information to learn more. Choose a limited color palette and a limited number of fonts and font sizes.

    Consider a handout or a business card with links to sources for more information.

    Q: What other kinds of visual information are you charged with making in your work? How do the design considerations differ?

    A: My work is divided between technical/research-related items for the scientists and other design products for semi-technical and public audiences. I have designed technical manuals, including all graphics contained therein, figures for journal articles, technical brochures, research-related PowerPoint presentations, and some web graphics. On the other hand, I create items for public consumption such as semi-technical handouts, fact sheets, web graphics, PowerPoint files about Forest Products Laboratory, and posters/displays that again are general in nature. The design considerations (principles), to me, are the same for both audiences, yet designs for public consumption allow for more creativity.

    Q: Straight graphic design geekery now: Do you have a favorite typeface?

    A: No! It depends on the subject and audience. For research posters, I like Myriad Pro Semibold for titles and heads. It’s an easy-to-read sans serif face. I also like Cronos Pro (sans serif) and two serif font families (Minion Pro and Adobe Text Pro).

    Thanks to Karen for taking the time to answer some questions!

    Related posts

    Combining art and science: Karmella Haynes interview
    Critique: geese and swans

    Cronos Pro sample from here.

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  • 01/03/15--09:36: Poster auditions for movie!

  • Calling all biochemists! Jorge Cham, creator of the popular Ph.D. Comics, is looking for your posters!

    Biochemists! Send us your research poster. It might show up in the new PHD Movie! Send .pdf to:

     Picture from here.

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  • 01/08/15--05:00: Critique: Plague
  • Alison Atkin has an interesting and award-winning poster here. Click to enlarge!

    The first thing that stands out about this poster is that it is hand drawn. Wow. I’ve only had, I think, one other completely hand-made poster on the blog before. That was done by someone with fine art training, but this is different. It’s lo fi, and personal.

    What I love even more about this poster is how it invites you in to come and play...

    For more examples of “interactive” (that is, pop-up) panels, make sure to read the full blog post.

    It’s a little difficult to judge the poster in its entirety here, because Alison notes the image was is a composite. Assuming that this is reasonably true to the original, the only thing I would have liked to have seen would be stronger visual cues to read across in rows, not down in columns. This could be done by making the horizontal gaps a bit wider than the vertical ones, or by placing the test very consistently at the top. The critical first two panels put the text at the top, which set the pace for the rest of the poster.

    I love this poster. Something like this would stand out at any conference for the amount of work it represents, its uniqueness, and its charm.

    Hat tip to, er, Alison Atkin and Wellcome Trust for this Storify on accessible scientific writing.

    Related posts

    Combining art and science: Karmella Haynes interview

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    Using what everyone else is using can be both a problem and a solution. It just depends on who “everyone” is.

    When “everyone” is academics, the type faces that appear never seem to reach beyond what’s installed on their computer. And people use those default fonts to death. Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri... all get overused.

    Here’s a shortcut to making your poster look more modern:

    Use what everyone else is using – except that by “everyone,” I mean designers, not academics.

    If you take a second to life your head up and look around at what people outside academia are using, you’re liable to find something that looks contemporary rather than tired. Heck, for a lot of academics, you that might even look edgy and daring.

    MyFonts just released put out a big blog post of their most popular typefaces of last year, and you won’t find any of the familiar default computer fonts there. It notes:

    Popular typefaces in 2014 seemed to come from two opposite directions. They were either clean and simple, or informal and festive, with a hand-made touch.

    And this is good news for poster designers, who are normally looking for something in the “clean and simple” department. I see no less than four good candidates for posters. We’ve got Brix Sans up top. Here’s Texta:

    And while many of the other typefaces might not be great for the main text body, they might do wonders for titles or headings.

    Go to the post to see more! And don’t forget to keep looking at the kinds of typefaces you see on the opening and closing credits of film and television shows, on magazines, on billboards, and other places.

    External links

    Most popular fonts of 2014

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    Today’s poster comes from Sam Hardman on Twitter, and is used with his permission. You can click to enlarge!

    This poster pulls off a few things that could have been disasters, but work here because there is not a lot of stuff. Normally, I advocate either columns, or rows, but this one kind of has a mix, as shown by the reading order:

    You read down, then across, down, then down and across, and so on. But because this poster is four simple quadrants, without a huge amount of text, you can grasp the order quickly.

    The clear headlines, “The experiment” and “The results” effectively structure the poster into top and bottom halves, then the columns do the rest. I wondered if the lines were all the necessary, so I tried removing them:

    The poster works without the horizontal lines on the bottom “Results” section. This reinforces my theory that generous white space is almost always better than black lines in creating sections on a poster.

    The top section isn’t quite as clearly defined, because the author’s name and institution are a bit too prominent. They need more “down pop.” De-emphasizing those text sections does two things. First, they don’t compete with the title. Second, they create breathing room between the title and “The Experiment” section heading, which would more clearly delineate the top half of the poster.

    Apart from some of these minor spacing details, this is a clean design that is very approachable and attractive.

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    A poster using augmented reality, courtesy of creator Stuart Eve.

    Stuart writes:

    I am of course not the first person to use AR in a poster, but I am sure that it will become a lot more popular as it really is an excellent way of adding content to a poster, without being too intrusive. I guess at the moment it could be seen as being a little gimmicky, however this isn’t all that bad when trying to attract people to your poster and your research. One of the important things to remember though is that the poster needs to be able to stand on it’s own without the AR content, as it is quite an ask at the moment to get people to download an app on their phone just to learn more about your research.

    The Biophysical Society has a short post on how to prepare for a poster presentation.

    Katie Mack reminded us of poster etiquette (my emphasis)

    Escalator policy is: Stand on right, let people rush past to catch sessions/etc on left. No clotheslining with poster tubes.

    Not everyone agreed.

    Isn’t that the whole reason for making posters??? - Michael Jewell

    That and cardboard tube sword fights. – Matthew Buckley

    Jon Tennant notesORCID offers a new service:

    Just ordered some ORCID QR code stickers - snazzy and useful! Can put on poster presentations, etc.

    The problem of too many logos on posters, revisited by Kim Martini. The solution:

    While the title of this post is 7 tips for women at conferences, the ideas within are helpful regardless of your gender. Hat tip to Ivan Oransky.

    While few people want to be jackasses, sometimes, we forget and end up being jackasses. Stacey Patton reminds us how not be be a jackass at a conference. Perhaps most relevant to poster sessions is this tip:

    Once it has served its purpose, don’t stare at the name badge.

    Paul Armstrong provides a reminder of why you need to align things by eye sometimes. The responses to his original tweet are worth reading, too.

    Shit Academics Say contributes this bit of poster philosophy:

    A. There is nothing new under the sun.
    B. Sure, but at least change the poster title.
    A. Fine.

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  • 02/05/15--05:00: Don’t get mad, get playful
  • Most people want to give talks at conferences instead of posters. David Schulz was denied the opportunity to give a talk, he was mad. His anger drove him to “go there” in poster design – and the result was a roaring success.

    Let’s break it down and look at some of the elements that gave him such success.

    First, he has balloons. Balloons! Not only does looking at them make you reflexively smile, they act like a highway sign for his poster. The balloons will be visible from almost anywhere in the poster hall, rising above the horizon. People will see them and wonder what they’re for, and might wander over to have a peek.

    When they get there, the viewer is invited to play a little game:

    You can get the answer by lifting the flaps. It’s very hard to resist interacting with the poster now, because it almost captures some of the feel of a pop-up book. I’ve shown a few examples of other “pop up” panels and flipbooks, and this falls into that category.

    The answers are also written on the handouts that David has on the table. This encourages people to pick them up, and makes them more likely to take them away, which means more connections between David and the people who saw his poster.

    Looking at David’s set-up, I would have liked his poster to be bigger and use more of the available space. I also might have gone for a more subdued colour scheme. But this poster is so good at saying, “Hey! You! Yes, you! Come over here and look at me!” that it clearly overcame some of the weaker elements of its design.

    At the end, David said:

    (I)t was one of the most engaging scientific activities I had ever done. Given that the average attendance at any given session was less than 100 people (and usually 30-50 people), I received more substantive feedback from people during the poster than the one or two polite questions I would have received had I given an oral presentation. I gave out nearly all my handouts, which meant that I directly interacted with at least as many as would have likely sat passively through an oral presentation.

    Never lose sight of what a poster is for. It’s a conversation starter. And this poster did that job admirably.

    David’s blog, Eloquent Science, has many other posts about conference posters that I’m just starting to dig into.

    Related posts

    How to show a dung beetle running
    Critique: plague

    External links

    Rethinking Poster Sessions as Second-Class
    Proof that a poster can be attractive to an audience

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    Check out the hashtag #RSCAnalyticalPoster on 5-6 February 2015. It’s an online poster session on analytical chemistry, sponsored by Royal Society of Chemistry Analytical Science. Read more about the whys and wherefores here. I’ll try to update this post with some comments later.

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    The UTRGV mascot was unveiled... At 4:00 pm on Friday afternoon. I do not think the timing of this release was accidental. After the uproar that followed the announcement of the "Vaqueros" name, I think someone hoped that late Friday afternoon would provide a "soft launch" for the logo.


    I like the look of the logo overall. The horse and rider look dynamic and distinctive. It reads well from a distance.

    There is one thing I absolutely love about this logo. It's a little Easter egg that shows a very sharp, professional graphic designer did this.

    There is a map of Texas hidden in the negative space of the horse's front and back legs. That is just a detail that delights. 


    In the full colour version of the logo, the rider looks like he's had a spray on tanning mishap. Sort of like Ross in the Friends episode, "The One with Ross's Tan."

    Our female athletes got ignored. We have dozens of alternate logos, and there are no Vaqueras. Not even a team name. 

    Our friends at Brownsville got short changed. Again. Most seriously, several of the logo variants have a the outline of the state of Texas, and a single star in the Valley... Pretty much right on Edinburg. Either there should be a start for each campus, or no stars.

    On a more minor note, the UTRGV colours are supposed to be orange, green (UTPA's heritage colour) and blue (UTB's heritage colour). But in the full colour logo, the navy blue it so dark that it doesn't read as blue.

    Some people have said there are some similarities with the Texas Tech Mascot, the Red Raiders. Both have a man on horseback. I personally don't see this as a big problem. The colours, poses, letters... There is no way the two would ever be confused.

    The lettering looks very similar to the type used for the current UTPA logo, and to other institutions.

    Overall, the logo is sharp, but it's a shame that it doesn't show awareness of the criticisms of the Vaqueros name, and the regional tensions that have been brewing because of it.

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