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A resource dedicated to improving poster presentations. Part of
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  • 03/01/18--10:16: Critique: RNA capping
  • Today’s contribution comes from Melvin Noé González. It was presented at an RNA meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories. Click to enlarge!

    He writes:

    Through the years I experimented with various templates for poster presentation, and I’m proud to say I’m really happy with how this one turned out. As you will find, I used a piece of advice you mentioned in one of your posts regarding a short summary section — and people loved it! I was approached by several people just because they thought the layout was cool, even though I wasn’t related to their research.

    I’m always glad to have feedback that advice works!

    The title bar works well, by presenting everything cleanly. The logo is sensibly over to one side, and blends into the background. The authors names are prominent, with institution and contact information legible, but low key.

    This poster is well organized, which helps walk you though what is maybe a little too much material. The numbers by each heading ensure you don’t get lost.

    Some of the layout would benefit from a little more tweaking. The spacing between the boxes is inconsistent. The margin above the “Graphical summary” are wider than the margins between the “Background” boxes and the data boxes on the right.

    There’s one place where this poster goes off the rails. Fortunately, it’s down in the fine print section, in the acknowledgements and references. While I appreciate how beautiful that three-dimensional molecular structure is, and how much it adds visually to the poster, it does terrible things to the text around it.

    It’s tearing that text apart.

    When we read, we expect related text to be close together. When I look at the “Acknowledgements,” I see two blocks of text that I want to read separately.

    But how you are supposed to read the acknowledgements is far more complicated. What I thought was the first sentence of the first text block is the third fragment of the entire acknowledgements section.

    Just when I think I have gotten used to the lines broken into two pieces, the second to last line gets split into three pieces.

    The same thing happens in the references, with a DOI number danging far from the “doi:” text identifying it.

    Wrapping text around an object can look graceful and elegant. But you cannot just “set and forget” a setting in your layout software. You have to be willing to go in and adjust things by hand to avoid these kinds of problems.

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  • 03/08/18--05:00: #RSCposter 2018

  • The hashtag #RSCposter is short for, “Royal Society of Chemistry poster,” and it blew up on science Twitter this week. This was a seriously organized event, with rules as comprehensive as I’ve seen for some in person conferences.

    Organizer Edward Randviir explains (lightly edited):

    The goal of this is to provide a new innovative conferencing format that takes advantage of modern social media... We also wanted to gives presenters a free platform to present and discuss their work, and encourage particularly young researchers to participate in academic discourse to build their confidence. Twitter was the most appropriate social media platform. Many professionals across a range of sectors use Twitter for professional purposes, unlike Facebook or other social media outlets. Twitter limits the discussion to 280 characters, which challenges participants to be concise while communicating key messages from their work.

    This was the fourth time the Society had done this, but it was the first time I’d noticed. Edward explained that the first two years (2015, 2016) had about 80 people contributing (using the hashtag #RSCAnalyticalPoster). It expanded in 2017 to none areas of chemistry, and participation jumped to about 220 posters. “Following on from that success,” Edward continued, “we brought in chemical engineering this year. With help from several Royal Society of Chemistry journals, we have seen participation increase again by around 12%. We hope to grow the event further in the future.”

    Tweeting posters presents its own particular problems. Twitter is a mobile phone app at heart (as much as Twitter tries to make it the “everything machine”), and mobile phones are small screens, not big poster boards. I was viewing posters on big desktop computer. Even with a fairly high resolution computer screen, I worried about whether people would dump posters meant to be printed 2 meters across into a tweet and that it would be too small to see.

    Lucie Nurdin noticed one workaround:

    Opening the poster into a new tab allows to zoom on it and have a high resolution image. Glad I figured that out!

    To my surprise, most posters were readable. But alas, not all were. This poster by Jinchuan Yang, fell into the trap of not making the text big enough for a Tweet. Click to enlarge (or any subsequent poster).

    Progyata Chakma mostly did okay on the right and middle columns, but some of the left hand text is too small to read.

    This, from GKalqurashi, is another example of a poster that wasn’t readable on my desktop.

    Most posters were readable on my desktop, although some were often barely so.

    Another problem with tweeting a poster is that when you post an image on Twitter, it creates a preview image that is resized and cropped down. It used to be 440 × 220 pixels (a 2:1 aspect ratio) in landscape format (wider than tall). I’m not sure that’s still true, because I saw a lot of square preview images. And many people use clients other than Twitter.

    Regardless, most posters I saw were not optimized for preview images. I saw lots of posters in portrait format (taller than wide), which no app I know uses for Twitter previews.

    Because of the cropped previews, the poster’s title – the most important part of a poster – were often hidden. This problem was mitigated a little, because the tweet itself could serving the job the title usually does: to entice the passerby. (Or scrollerby, in this case).

    Luke Wilkinson’s poster caught my eye by placing a cute robot right in the middle, where it will be seen despite how Twitter crops rectangular images. Placing it in a circle also helps break up the rectangle monotony that you get when faces with scrolling through lots of posters.

    Yuanning Feng took advantage of the format to make an animated poster. This does not look as good here on the blog as the original tweet, because of the hoops I have to jump through to convert a *.gif posted to Twitter – which Twitter converts to a movie – back into a *.gif.

    Feng’s animation seems to be getting him about three times as many “likes” as most posters.

    But as of now, it seems one of the most popular posters was by Jo-Han Ng. (And once you visit that, check Errant Science’s riff on Ng’s poster!)

    As I scrolled through #RSCposter, my overall impression was, “Oh, there are all the problems that I usually see on academic posters. Too much to read. Too many boxes, not enough white space. Photo backgrounds that make the main stuff hard to read. Colour overlead.”

    “New bottles for old wine,” as the saying goes.

    External links

    Take part in a truly global scientific conference
    RSC Twitter Poster Conference 2018

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    Today’s poster comes to us courtesy of Mi Tian. Click to enlarge!

    The individual blocks (like “Background” and “Research goals”) are good. I like the colour choices and the “pins” by the headings as graphic elements.

    The arrangement of the blocks on the page is not as good. The reading order is confusing. The little lines to the pins, plus the height on the page (i.e., closest to title), suggest I’m supposed to start with “Research goals”. But normal reading order would suggest I start with “Background.” I’d try flipping “Summary” and “Acknowledgements”, which would place those two blocks in positions that are more typical of where those are usually placed.

    The poster feels very crowded. Tons of elements are almost touching each other.

    1. The “Summary” heading is almost touching the edge of the blue box its in.
    2. The pin by “Introduction” is almost touching the graph above.
    3. All the logos down in the corner are almost touching each other.
    4. The “Applications” heading pokes up higher than the text in the section above it (“>86 kg/m3”), messing with the clear division of sections.

    Everything below the title bar would benefit from being shrunk a bit -- maybe 95-90%, at a guess -- to make more space between the elements.

    In the “Applications” section, it’s not clear why “Polymer” and “Composite” are capitalized, when nothing else is at that text level. Similarly, if “goals” (in “Research goals”) is not capitalized, “Solid” in “Investigation of Solid H2” shouldn’t be, either.

    The red and blue in the title image might be worth tweaking. Red touching blue can cause chromostereopsis, which a lot of people find distracting. It’s not bad, because the blue is dark, but still.

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    Today’s poster is about the Capricorn Experiment, not to be confused with the 1970s conspiracy movie, Capricorn One:

    The only conspiracy in the new poster, from Vidhi Bharti at Monash University in Melbourne, is the justification for “Capricorn”. It’s supposed to be an abbreviation for, “Clouds, Aerosols, Precipitation, Radiation, and Atmospheric Composition Over the Southern Ocean.” The experiment should really be “Capracoso.” I mean, you just don’t get to make abbreviations out of any letter somewhere in the word! It would be like abbreviating the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley as “EXONE”.

    But I digress. Let’s look at the poster, which you can click to enlarge!

    Vidhi wrote:

    I work on boundary layer meteorology, which basically deals with a lot of mathematical equations and unattractive diagrams. Therefore, presenting it all in an attractive package is a big challenge.

    Vidhi does a good job of rising to that challenge with this poster.

    I like the way this poster tackled the two column layout. While I normally would prefer the two columns to be even in width, when there are only two, having the two columns differ in width is perhaps not so annoying as when there are three or more columns.

    Everything could use more space around it. I would try shrinking a lot of elements, maybe 85-90%, to give each bit a little more breathing room. The main text of the poster is so readable that it can afford to be a little bit smaller, so that the overall appearance isn’t so crowded.

    The poster could also use a stronger sense of visual hierarchy. In particular, the author and institution names are bigger than the text below them. This causes two problems.

    1. The bylines chew up space that this poster needs to reclaim.
    2. The size indicates those names are more important than what the poster is about. With respect to the team, who I have no reason to think are anything other than fab human beings and scientists, the person reading the poster is probably more interested in the text of the poster than who wrote it.

    The bottom of the “Analysis” box is driving me a bit crazy, because the bottom margin is obviously thinner that the top or left. The text on the right of that box occasionally strays a little close to the edge.

    I like the fonts, but I noticed there were two of them: one in the main text, and another in the lower left box. I asked Vidhi if there was any particular reason to switch to a different font in the “Capricorn Experiment” box. She replied:

    I derived the layout inspiration from magazine articles where they usually divide the sections into different columns and keep one highlighted box. For my poster, I wanted “Capricorn experiment” to be that highlighted box.

    I’ve used callout boxes myself (see the 2012 Neuroethology poster here), and I applaud the idea. The execution might be improved with some different font choices. The two fonts are, to my eye, too different from each other, and they clash a little bit. What Vidhi needed was a font family: a set of complementary fonts deliberately meant to work together. Usually, they are all designed by the same person or foundry.

    Here’s an example of a font family in action on an infographic I made for CBC’s Quirks and Quarks radio show (the version below was tweaked slightly after I submitted to the show):

    There are at four or five different typefaces on that image. But they are all part of the same font family, Adorn. Adorn is an excellent example of a font family. In the case of Adorn, none of the edges are perfectly smooth. Every typeface, whether slab or Roman or script, has a hand-drawn feel, like it was created with ink and paper.

    For Windows computers, Arial is a font family that many would recognize. It comes in a narrow, black, and rounded fonts.Not as different from each other as Adorn, but the idea is the same.

    MyFonts, Fontshop, and other online font stores usually have bundles, families, or similar things for sale. Sometimes the fonts are simply different weights or styles of the same font (bold, italic, book weight, thin, etc.; see FF Tisa for an example). Sometimes, particularly with display fonts, the mixes of styles is more dramatic and ambitious, like Adorn or Phonema.

    While I do think imposing limitations on yourself can be useful, the system fonts are that come on most computers are sometimes too restrictive. Times New Roman was a default font for a long time, and many people still use it for much text. Yet it still seems limited on many computers to a single font. There aren’t light or heavier weights.

    While there is an initial cost outlay to buying a font family, just a couple of font families in your toolkit opens a lot of possibilities in design.

     Additional: Peter Newbury shared an example of fonts not working together:

    It’s like somebody was trying to win at Font Bingo.

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  • 03/29/18--05:00: Link roundup for March 2018
  • Animate Science has a “done in one” blog post about how to design a poster. Readers of the blog will find a lot of advise there familiar, but it’s very well done. It’s a much better “single serve” post than this blog is. (It’s not fair to expect newbies to read through nine years of posts.)

    I might do a few things in their sample a little differently, though. Why put that big, eye-popping octopus picture down in the corner? And those dark colours might not be very readable if the lighting is poor.

    • • •

    I’ve discussed accessibility issues with poster presentations before. But Sara Schley, writing for Inside Higher Education, argues that posters can, in some cases, be superior formats for students with accessibility issues:

    Consider a poster session. Many faculty members assign individual or team presentations as a culminating activity at the end of the term. The learning goals of such activities often include student synthesis of information, oral presentation and writing. But the experience of listening to student presentations can be frustrating and suboptimal for students in general as well as students who rely on language access services in particular. When nervous, many read aloud quickly (or quietly, or while mumbling), rather than pacing information well and narrating skillfully.

    In contrast, the structure of poster presentations requires students to have short, clear summaries of their material ready to discuss with attendees. Students synthesize their work on the poster, prepare shorter chunks of summary information to share with multiple people and gain practice in responding to specific questions about their work

    That changes the learning experience from one focused on summarizing what they have learned (and presenting it once) to a shorter summary alongside more in-depth question-and-answer periods. It allows for a better learning experience over all for many students in the course, as well as students with disabilities who have an extra load in trying to process and access information.

    Hat tip to Anne Hilborn.

    • • •

    Speaking of accessibility, Kira McCabe has a lot to say about how to make posters (and oral talks) more accessible:

    Poster sessions can be a nightmare for me. Sometimes I just want to skim the titles of posters, but I have a hard time doing this most of the time due to low contrast or small font of titles. ... I love posters, but I always have a hard time with them, too.

    The post has seven awesome reminders: use larger font than you think is necessary, use less text, upload your poster, and more.

    Hat tip to UTRGV Engaged Learning.

    • • •

    Cool use of augmented reality on a poster by Darren Ellwein.

    Hat tip to Al Dove.

    • • •

    Illustrator Shiz Aoki curated timeline the BioTweeps Twitter account from the week of March 12! And she had tons of good illustration advice.

    Check out figure makeovers!

    • • •

    Quote of the month, from Katie Mack:

    Cool images of science things don’t just materialize out of the ether. They represent a real person/group’s work and they can help us better understand the world and the cosmos, in addition to being beautiful.

    • • •

    If you’ve made one chart, follow the conventions you set there for all the rest! Dr. Drang describes this blog post as:

    It’s me being a grammar Nazi but with charts.

    This is a good critique of an Olympics stats article in the Washington Post that randomly switches from bars graphs to stacked bar graphs to dougnut graphs. And that’s only the start of the problems. Hat tip to B. Haas.

    • • •

    Found this very nice cheat sheet of RGB and CYMK values that work well for making figures visible to colour blind individuals:

    From here. Another useful resource page is here.

    • • •

    I had never heard the name Herb Lubalin before, but I should have. There is a celebration going on for his 100th birthday (had he lived). Excerpt from a bio:

    Lubalin’s four decades-long career revolutionized American advertising and editorial design and his ideas were instrumental in changing designers’ attitudes and approaches towards typography. Lubalin characterized this approach as Graphic Expressionism: “the use of typography, or letterforms, not just as a mechanical means for setting words on a page, but rather as another creative way of expressing an elicit an emotional response from the viewer”. According to Lubalin “nobody was bothering to fool around with the way you form the letters themselves”. That is exactly what he did. Letters became objects, and objects were transformed into letters.

    Hat tip to Melissa Vaught.

    • • •

    Another name I didn’t recognize, but who was an innovator who pushed for the respectability of posters, is Aubrey Beardsley. Maria Popova at BrainPickings has this to say:

    (H)e championed the poster and large-scale print work as a modern medium of graphic art. Born under the tyranny of oil painting as the only acceptable form of “picture,” he rebelled against the notion that a picture is “something told in oil or writ in water to be hung on a room’s wall” and tirelessly defied the conceit that the poster artist is somehow a lesser, lighter artist than the painter.

    An attitude rather similar to that in this blog, if I might be so bold.

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  • 04/05/18--14:32: Critique: Calcretes
  • Today’s poster is from kindly contributor Jessica von der Meden. Click to enlarge!

    One of the most distinctive features of this poster is that there’s a title, or perhaps a subtitle, running down the right hand side. I’ve often toyed with the idea of placing a title on the side of a poster rather than the top, but have always chickened out. I imagined that on a wider than tall landscape style poster, not a portrait style poster, which gets turned sideways to fit. I like the sideways title for its style, but it’s impractical to read.

    The main body of the poster has six boxes, with white lines around each one. The white lines are, luckily, thin, so they are not as obtrusive as I’ve sometimes seen. But the boxes would benefit from having more space, and more consistent space, around them. The horizontal margins between left and right boxes are wider than the horizontal margins between up and down boxes, for instance.

    For a second, I thought I would try cutting those six boxes down to two vertical boxes. That, I thought, would emphasize the column structure, and remove some of the unnecessary elements, clearing it up.

    Then I looked again, and recognized that there are numbers in the text boxes. This poster is meant to be read in rows, not columns.

    There are two problems. First, boxes 1, 3, and 5 have a consistent width. So do 2, 4, and 6. That creates the visual impression that they are grouped together. If you want me to read across, adjacent boxes (i.e., 1 and 2, 3 and 4) need have a consistent height to signal they are in rows.

    The poster tries to compensate for the visual gestalt with the numbers by each heading, but that’s also a problem. Guides have to be prominent, and these numbers are not “popping” like they need to. They are more important than the heading, but nothing about them indicates their place in that heirarchy. They are the same weight and same colour, which makes them vanish into “Something at the top of the box.”

    Making the numbers bold would help. Making them bigger would help. Putting them in a circle with a contrast colour would help even more. Maybe more like this:

    When listing the author credits, why have superscripts behind each author name if all authors are from the same institution?

    The photo background behind the title works, because the dark trees fit almost perfectly between the title and the authors. But the image is repeated down in the references, with less good results. Those dark trees cross right through the text, and that’s more distracting.

    Finally, I’ve never been a fan of arrowhead bullets. They always look too fussy to me.

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  • 04/15/18--09:29: Giving credit to designers
  • It’s nice when people spread the news of good work:

    Emily Jones, grad student at University of Dayton, presented a poster on her field work plan for exotic species interactions in a Texas coastal prairie.

    This got sent my way on the twittersphere (hat tip to Meghan Duffy) because it is a very nice looking poster.
    Her stunning poster was co-designed with an undergrad graphic artist as part of a class. How cool!
    But several people (including Andrea Kirkwood and Hannah Brazeau) mentioned that if the design is noteworthy enough to mention, maybe throw in the names of the students doing that design, too?

    The designers’ names are on the poster, up at the top under the title, which is great to see.

    I know from some people working with illustrators that the people making those graphics often significantly help bring clarity on the conceptual side, too. Good designers are often colleagues, and should be given that level of credit, not just down in the “Acknowledgements” fine print.

    Graphic design work is hard work.

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  • 04/26/18--05:00: Link roundup for April, 2018
  • Charlotte Payne, I love you! Well, not in that way. I love you for tweeting about posters in haiku. I think my favourite is this one, on de-extinction:

    resurrect the lost?
    can we really right our wrongs
    with a tweaked dodo?

    • • •

    Here’s how Meredith Rawls made an award-winning poster. Here are a couple of points in her description that I like:

    Re-read the abstract you submitted to the conference weeks ago. Is it overly ambitious? Totally off-base? No matter. Your poster is an opportunity to communicate what you’ve done as of TODAY.

    Do you know what I did with all the words I wanted to put on my poster but didn’t? I used them in conversations, and they appear or will appear in papers.

    And here’s said poster:

    Very nice!

    • • •

    A lot of people on Twitter were impressed by this poster:

    This is a great example of how a poster can be, at one time, very simple and focused conceptually (there’s really only one figure, and no text elaborating introductions and methods and so on), and yet still show be very rich, showing a lot of data.

    • • •

    Nominee for “Best title of a poster, ever”, from Bryan Ward:

    • • •

    More unsolicited recommendations. Kirsty McLeod reckons Alecia Carter makes “the best posters I’ve ever seen!” Here’s one, and it would certainly stand out at a conference:

    Check out more of Alecia’s work here.

    • • •

    Interesting presentation (in blog post) on whether design is too insular. Hat tip to Melissa Vaught.

    • • •

    Adam Calhoun lets us look into his creative process for designing a poster:

    They all start like this.

    • • •

    Dyslexie is a font intended to aid dyslexics. Their page shows lots of clever ideas to distinguish letters.

    Hat tip to Margeaux and Asia Murphy.

    • • •

    The May 2018 issue of American Scientist has a nice little feature on the design of business cards by Henry Petroski. Excerpt:

    It was because of incorporation into mechanical filing systems such as the Rolodex that business cards became standardized in size. A square or outsize card might have stuck out from the bunch, but it also might have made the system jam and become useless. Being different for the sake of being different can defeat the object of any design.

    It runs on pages 144-147.

    • • •

    There is a font inspired by Charles Darwin’s handwriting.

    Hat tip to Andy Farke.

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  • 05/03/18--05:00: Critique: Generic python
  • Today’s poster is from Leonardo Uieda. This was presented at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting last year. Click to enlarge!

    A modern Python interface for generic mapping tools

    Leonardo explains:

    It’s about a software project I’m working on and not really about research results. That’s why it has no results figures (though the background of the poster was generated by the first code block on the right, so it serves as a kind of result).

    The message I was trying to get across is: “We’re building this thing. This is what we currently have. Come help us!”

    It’s always tough to have a poster that is just text. I might have tried to bring some element of the map off the background and somewhere into the foreground. The subtlety of the background enhances the legibility of the text, but at a glance, I can’t see anything that says, “maps.”

    Leonardo continues:

    I expect that my main talking points during the presentation will be around the code. Each line was put there so that it would represent an idea in our design and why we think it’s a good choice. The online demo and websites have a lot more information for people to read.

    Colour coding the text in the code block is another nice touch that adds to the visual interest of the poster. I have no idea if the colour highlight consistent elements of the code, but that would be the principle to look for.

    Finally, Leonardo says:

    After printing, I realized that I should have made the margins wider, particularly between the two halves of the poster.

    I agree with Leonardo that a bit more white space between the halves would be a good idea. But luckily, the text on the two sides only approach each other at about two points, so this is not a horrible problem.

    There are two QR codes. Leonardo is good enough to give brief descriptions of what they are, which is excellent. I might want a little more detail about what the demo consists of, though. Can I run it on my phone? Is it interactive? Is it a video?

    This poster shows a lot of good decisions. I just wonder if there are enough people browsing during the conference who would recognize and care about “Python” or “Generic Mapping Tools” to come and chat.

    External links

    Poster: A modern Python interface for the Generic Mapping Tools

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    Today’s poster is courtesy of Catherine Chen. Click to enlarge!

    The “Background” section is good, because it explains a lot in very little space. I was confused by the “Key Points” until I read the “Background.” I would take those “Key Points” and replace the “Conclusions” with them.

    Eight “Future Directions” seemed like a lot. When I read them in detail, two points stood out as candidates for editing: the ones written in past tense. “A screening questionnaire has been added” is not a direction for the future. It’s done.It’s done and dusted.

    This combination of typeface and subject runs into a kerning problem. Look at the word “CIWA” in the title.

    There’s a bigger gap between the “W” and “A” than the other letters. This is something typesetters know about and watch for. “A” and “V” is another combination where this is a problem. It’s not as bad in the main text, because the point size is smaller, so the gap is less noticeable. But ideally, they should be closer together.“Tight but not touching” is a common typesetter’s instruction.

    Always look at common words in your text when selecting a typeface.

    Catherine did her poster in PowerPoint. In PowerPoint, this can be fixed by selecting two letters, going into “Home” tab on the ribbon, then the “Font,” pop-up menu, the “Character Spacing” tab, picking “Condensed” from the drop down menu, and fiddling a bit.

    If possible, it would be great if you could get those middle charts all aligned horizontally. In particular, the rightmost “Nursing survey” pie chart, the circle sits noticeably lower than the other three pies. It’s distracting. Same with the two bar graphs underneath. They’re so similar in shape and colour that it draws your attention to one being higher than the other.

    I wasn’t able to do much with the middle graphs, which would require going back to the original plots, but I tried tidying up the outer columns and title, and all the kerning issues with “CIWA.”

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  • 05/17/18--05:00: Fighting the fade
  • I get emails! Yesterday, I got email asking, “How can I stop posters from fading over time?” I’ve touched on this in the blog briefly, but did a little more digging.

    I remembered from working with people who supervised our departmental plotter printers was that there were different inks available for the printer. Some were billed as more fade resistant than others.

    But I quickly found the situation is more complicated than that, based on this page about consumer inkjet printers. The printer manufacturer and the paper and the ink are all important variables in determining fade resistance.

    To start, there are various paper types. Microporous paper is more fade resistant that cast coated paper. Matte paper holds colour longer than glossy paper, according to this page.Which, again, is a trade off. Personally, I think glossy finishes looks sharper and better than matte finishes in the short term.

    Ink types also come in a few different varieties. This page divided inks into dye- and pigment-based inks (pigment being more fade-resistant, because the colour comes from solid particles). This one further subdivided inks into water- and solvent- based (solvent being more fade-resistant). The trade off is that dye-based inks are brighter and look better in the short term. And there are even more types of inks.

    To make matters worse, there is controversy about how to compare the longevity of printed materials. “Archival” is an advertising term that has no particular meaning consumers can rely on.

    One independent testing agency, Wilhelm Imaging Research, as been working on these issues since at least 1998. A quick visit to their website is... not a quick visit to their website. There is a lot of material on their website, and it’s not organized in such a way you can quickly dip your toe in and grab some answers. It’s clearly a deep and ongoing issue.

    Even knowing all of this, however, may not be information that the average conference goer can leverage for their own use. If you print in your department, the choice of printer, paper, and ink may not be up to you. Someone else probably handles purchasing and isn’t necessarily concerned about whether someone’s poster meets archival standards or not. If you are working with a commercial printer, the options they present to their customers might be limited.

    The amount of fading can be reduced if you cover the poster. You might use some sort of lamination. You could frame your poster, but that will probably cost a lot more than the poster is worth.

    There is only one partial solution for fading that I know: put up your poster someplace with dim light. That's why museums and art galleries are often dimly lit. If there’s no light, there’s no fading.

    I know that’s not very helpful. Curse you, physics.

    Related posts

    Fade out

    External links

    Inkjet print longevity
    Wilhelm Imaging Research

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  • 05/24/18--05:00: Link roundup for May, 2018
  • Poster season has started, so we have people tweeting the coolest ones. Here is one by Alison Wardlow:

    She starts with a blank page, then draws the poster while explaining her theory. Bold move. And people told me it couldn’t be done when I suggested this years ago! Hat tip to Nancy Chen and Emily Austen. and B. Haas.

    • • • • • •

    The biggest debate in typography rears its ugly head again. One space or two after a period? I’ll save you a click.
    • The effects are small – at best.
    • The study was done with a monospaced font, which you rarely see any more. It may not apply to most typefaces you will see.

    • • • • • •

    Confession: I’ve been interested in conference badges since I read this article about them in American Scientist. I keep scans of my badges from meetings I’ve been to.

    So I was interested in this website, which does for conference badges what this blog tries to do for posters (though it doesn’t seem to be updated). It sprung out of this post on how to make a better conference badge. Hat tip to Michael Hoffman.

    • • • • • •

    Vintage IBM posters from the 1970s.

    The posters were a creative outlet for imaginative minds working in a corporate job. Even projects that were clearly made for internal use only – like a Family Day at the local fair grounds – became artistic experimentation.

    So much Helvetica. Hat tip to Doctor Becca.

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  • 05/31/18--05:00: Coming round the corner
  • Regular readers will know of my distaste for boxes around things on posters. But that’s doubled for boxes with round corners.

    There is a “square peg in a round hole” problem. Blocks of text typically “want” to be rectangular. The corners of the rectangle implied by the text fight with the round corners of the box.

    Most graphs want to be rectangular, too. And most photographs.

    PowerPoint has some sort of algorithm that rounds the corners more for bigger boxes. So if your boxes are different sizes – which they almost always are on posters – your corners are going to be rounded off by different amounts. Click to enlarge!

    You can fix this tweaking the corners by hand. There’s a yellow dot near one corner of the box that you can drag to make the corner more or less rounded. The problem is that to do this, you have to recognize it as a problem!

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  • 06/08/18--07:05: Critique: Hansard
  • Asad Sayeed nominated this poster for a design award. You really need to click to enlarge this one to appreciate it:

    You can see it in pieces in first author Gavin Abercrombie’s Twitter feed.

    “Lessons from comics” is somethingof arecurringtheme on this blog. And I’ve featured posters that used the vocabulary of comics before, but this might be one of the best examples I’ve seen.

    The poster makes the “row by row” reading order clear because the panel heights are all identical, so there is a straight horizontal gutter marking out each row. The panel widths vary, so there is no white gutter running down the page that suggests “columns” to your eyes.

    The one area where I would try a few things differently is the title. I’d use one typeface for the title instead of two. The two styles are just similar enough that the combination looks like it could be a mistake instead of a choice. I’d also like to see the looser, freehand style used through the rest of the poster reflected in the title, too. The generic Arial-style type used for the “‘Aye’ or ‘No’?” line looks uncomfortable and out of place with everything else on the poster. I think the same font is used for the author credit, but that is less noticeable and bothersome because it is so small.

    I reached out to Gavin about the making of the poster. He wrote (lightly edited):

    This was the third poster I have made. For the previous two, I had focused on trying to use as few words as possible on the page (bearing in mind that language and text are the object of my research).

    This time, I had the idea that comics might be a great medium for scientific posters. Comics comprise image driven communication of ideas with a fairly limited use of text to help tell the story, and they also naturally focus on the narrative – which is generally a good move for science communication.

    I used mainly Adobe Illustrator and a little Photoshop. Here’s the process I used:

    1. I made a list of comic cells based on the key points I wanted to make, and wrote the text content for each cell.
    2. I sketched out rough storyboard.
    3. I laid out titles and story cells in Illustrator.
    4. I drew images in Illustrator, mainly using the shape, line, pen and fill tools. The only exception is the second cell image, which is a photo altered in Adobe Photoshop using the color halftone filter.
    5. I created speech bubbles and narration boxes, and added text using fonts I found on Google Fonts.

    All in all, it was quite a lot of work, but this is a three-year PhD project, so I anticipate being able to reuse quite a lot of this for future presentations.

    Hat tip to Mary Ellen Foster.

    External links

    Google Fonts FAQ (How to download fonts is not obvious)

    Related posts

    Learning from Superman
    Scott McCloud’s “Big triangle” and poster design
    Critique: Protein biosynthesis
    Don’t hold my handCritique and makeover: Captain Canuck

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  • 06/14/18--05:00: Critique: Future work
  • Today’s poster is contributed by Bayo Adeniji. Click to enlarge!

    Bayo wrote (lightly edited):

    Can you spot the influence of the Better Posters blog in the poster?

    I hoped to create a poster that was uncluttered and which had a clear message devoid of management theory jargon. My PhD is multi-disciplinary, and I’m learning to straddle the divide so I don’t alienate either fields. My worry though, is the issue of oversimplification.

    I replied:

    I think “oversimplification” is a worry too many people have. It's the kind of thing that makes undergraduates reach for a thesaurus when writing essays, n the mistaken belief longer, rarer words make them sound smarter. They are judged less intelligent by readers when they do that. Simple does not mean stupid.

    While Bayo was nice enough to say this blog influenced the poster, I never would have made a poster that looks like this. It’s very much Bayo’s own creation. I’ve talked before about using circles to break up the monotony of rectangles, and using a few intense colours to make a bold aesthetic. There is no obsession filling of every inch of the poster.

    I would think about how to change the width of the “Background” text. The first five lines that make up the bulk of the text have an average of 22.8 words in them, which is about double what typesetters usually aim for.

    So if it’s twice as wide as what you would normally read, there is one thing to try: chop it into two pieces.

    Because you need a margin between the two columns, you will either have to use up a little more vertical space, or make the point size slightly smaller.

    And if I had the ability, I would try to make the text in the circles circular to avoid that “bubble pop” feeling.

    Bayo got back to me about the response.

    The feedback about the poster was also quite interesting. The designers seemed to like it, and a few even took pictures. But the manufacturing engineers, not so much. My second supervisor, who is from an engineering department, said my non-use of pictures, bold colours and technically worded title is the reason (ha!). One good thing though, is that the university’s Deputy-Vice Chancellor of Research was there, and he loved it!

    As the saying goes, you can please all of the people some of the time, and please some of the people all of the time, but you can't please all the people all the time!

    Related posts

    Coming round the corner

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    A colleague of mine was at the 9th Bird Working Group Meeting, The archaeology of human-bird interactions. He snapped a pic of a poster by Beatrice Demarchi which he thought would interest me. It did. I contacted Bea... who thought I was punking her.

    I almost binned the message thinking that it was a joke then I figured that it must have been real as not many people know about the Bird Working Group! :)

    She was nice enough to send along a better version of the poster. Click to enlarge!

    I love the clarity and simplicity of vision here. I love how text and visuals, instead of being two separate elements, are fused into one element. The words are the picture.

    I was impressed, because I had tried to design something similar – text forming the outline of a shape – for a t-shirt. I was not able to make the text fit the shape anywhere near as well as Bea did. She explained how she did it (lightly edited):

    I popped an image of the bird into Adobe Illustrator, and then text that sort of stopped at the boundaries of the image. I then deleted the image below and voila! It took me 30-40 minutes, plus a bit of tinkering, which is precisely why I resorted to this type of presentation. I had no time!

    As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and constraints are a friend to creativity.
     I can see how the horizontal lines of text would be easy to fit the outline. The last curving line forming the auk’s chest might have been a little more challenging if you were starting from scratch. It would probably be quick if you fit text to paths all the time.

    I suppose if I am being a typographic and editorial purist, I might grumble that the text could be hyphenated. But the lines are so short, and the outline so unusual, and not surrounded by any other nearby text blocks, that I can live without hyphens. Just this once.

    External links

    9th Bird Working Group Meeting, The archaeology of human-bird interactions.

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  • 06/28/18--05:00: Link roundup for July, 2018
  • Starting off this month with a “Done in one” advice article on poster design by Tullio Rossi. I disagree with a few very minor points (bullet points are not your friend), but overall very good!

    Hat tip to Anna Clemens.

     • • • • •

    A five tweet thread from Tolpa Studies from the recent Twitter conference, #BTCon18, about visual literacy.

     • • • • •

    This guide on making graphs more readable is very good. One of the key things in this graph makeover and why it works is the designer listened to what the scientists said about it. They used the expertise to defined the graph’s “talking points”, so to speak.

    Hat tip to Garr Reynolds.

     • • • • •

    I recommend against tables on posters almost always. But if you must have a table, make it a nice table. This is a nice animated makeover of a table by Joey Cherderchuk from Dark HOrse Analytics.

    Hat tip to Catherine Crompton

     • • • • •

    Picture in Portal is a course for making scientific graphics. Hat tip to B. Haas.

      • • • • •

    Lauren Oldach invites us to look and contribute lab logos in this Twitter thread.

      • • • • •

    Julia Jones liked this poster:

    I like the simplicity, but I am not a fan of how I have to read the poster in a reverse “S” pattern.

     • • • • •

    Richard McElreath shared this lo-fi poster, saying:

    In a world of look-alike LaTeX conference posters, the hand-written manifesto gets my eyes every time.

    Hat tip to Jarrett Byrnes.

     • • • • •

    Tom Patterson describes a situation where text is preferable to graphics.

    My boss recently asked me to design a symbol for Clothing Optional Beach, a challenge that I gleefully accepted. But I couldn’t come up with a clear and tasteful solution. In this case, conveying the message with text worked best. It also kept me out of trouble.

    Hat tip to NeuroPolarBear.

     • • • • •

    A Twitter thread about posters on screens versus posters on paper, particularly with regards to the issue of waste. Andrew Pruszynski calls screens:

    Massive environmental burden for effectively no gain.

    The thread is lively. Hat tip to Justin Kiggins.

     • • • • •

    Another poster that appeared in my Twitter timeline, by Adam Stone. It’s an excellent pastiche of a favourite science web comic. Click to enlarge!

    Hat tip to Lorna Quandt.

     • • • • •

    You normally have to submit an abstract when you register for a poster. Hilda Bastian has tip for how to write a good abstract.

     • • • • •

    The only good way to do 3D charts.

    Hat tip to Hadley Wickham.

     • • • • •

    How to make a colour palette in R. Hat tip to Flo Débarre and Meghan Duffy.

     • • • • •

    I made one.

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    Last Thursday, there was a shooting in the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.

    On Friday, the Gazetteput out a damn paper, and ran this as its editorial page.

    Capital Gazette editorial: Today, we are speechless. This page is intentionally left blank today to commemorate victims of Thursday’s shooting in our office.

    Today, we are speechless. This page is intentionally left blank today to commemorate victims of Thursday’s shooting in our office.

    I nearly cried looking at this. What gives it power is not just the words. It’s the space around the words.

    Imagine if that powerful statement had appeared like this:

    There’s no impact at all.

    I’m always telling people, “Don’t fill up your poster! You don’t need to cover every inch with stuff!” This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about.

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    Errant Science is on form again:

    I loved this, but I thought it didn’t include options I see surprisingly often, at least for bar graphs. Click to enlarge!

    Hat tip to Justin Kiggins.

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    Adam Stone was kind enough to share this poster from the Third International Conference on Sign Language Acquisition in Istanbul, Turkey. You’ll definitely want to click to enlarge this one!

    This is the second comics-inspired poster in as many month (the first was here). I was a little caught off guard when I read there was a connection between them, as Adam explained:

    I was inspired by this tweet by my colleague who saw a comic-inspired poster at LREC.

    So this poster is a direct descendant of the one featured on the blog last month!

    Adam continues with how he made the poster (lightly edited).

    I love xkcd so I went with that. I used to vectorize the stick figures so I could resize them easily. It’ll be nice to have a graphics tablet to draw more fine-tuned artwork instead of hacking it out in PowerPoint.

    I added eyes to them because my postdoc supervisor and co-author Rain said, “These are deaf people, right? And it’s about eye tracking, so the characters should have eyes!” And I’m glad we did that.
     With a comic-inspired poster, you really need to get the comic panels/storyboard locked down first, then do the artwork second. I made an entire draft of the poster, complete with text and artwork. But then we had to make many not-trivial revisions to it, which was painful after all the time I had already put into it. Lesson learned!

    The response to it has been phenomenal. Infant and child language/education advocates want to hang the posters in their offices/waiting rooms, and others have proclaimed that all scientific posters should be produced in comic format.

    While there's room for all types of expression in science publications, I think comic-inspired posters do well in making scientific discoveries accessible to the public. Just look at xkcd or PhD Comics or many of the other science comics out there!

    This poster is another great example of the power of pastiche. If you can find something that you like, design wise, imitating aspects of it helps prevent complete disaster. You’re not starting from scratch, and you have to pay attention to what are the design elements that make the thing recognizable. Even if don’t follow it perfectly, and find that sometimes, you just gotta add eyes to stick figures.

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  • 07/25/18--07:15: A T-shirt tangent
  • If I may be permitted a moment of self-indulgence, I would like to share this:

    This is a T-shirt design I entered into a contest for the International Association of Astacology. And it won!

    • First place: “Astacus fluviatilis” by Zen Faulkes
    • Second place: “Euastacus,” front and back design by Premek Hamr
    • Third place: “Astacolic” by Alexa Ballinger

    I can now say the Better Posters blog is written and curated by an award-winning graphic designer.  😉

    Over at the NeuroDojo blog, I wrote about the design of the shirt, other designs I made that I like even more but that didn’t win, and my newfound admiration for Rösel von Rosenhof.

    External links

    Crayfish clothing contest conqueror!

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  • 07/26/18--05:00: Link roundup for July, 2018
  • Paul Frankland compares the electronic poster session to the traditional paper poster session at the 11th Federation Of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) Forum of Neuroscience. Here are electronic posters:

    And here are the paper posters:

    I think this may be a “attendance vortex.” If the number of e-posters is small, there will be few people browsing no matter how good the posters are. People will go where there are people, which reinforces the poor attendance.

    Electronic posters were courtesy Morressier, according to Gemma.

    • • • • •

    You are going to have to click through to see the video of this poster from the lab of Prosanta Chakrabarty. It... spins. Like Wheel of Fortune spins. This serves no communicative purpose. But it is fun.

    Hat tip to Tidepool Ann.

    • • • • •

    The littlest poster presenter, at the International Congress for Neuroethology.

    • • • • •

    Dr. Petra has a Twitter thread about taking pictures at conferences. While it’s mostly about photographing oral presentations, much of it applies to poster presenters, too. (Lightly edited.)

    As it's conference season I'm seeing loads of pics of people presenting. Some are really great, but often the photos are shocking - blurring, bad angles, massively unflattering pics of presenters and slides you can't make out (but are encouraged to read). So here are some tips about photographing and sharing conferences/presentations/events. ...

    1. If you’re going to take pics, ask if people are okay with this. They may be, but they may not (and it’s not your business to question this).
    2. Even if they are okay with being photographed, check they’re also okay with that being shared on social media. And if their slides or any aspect of their presentation identifies others (patients or participants, etc), either don’t photograph or don’t show this aspect.
    3. Remember not to interrupt or otherwise get in the way of someone’s talk because you want to film or photograph it. Audience members may struggle to follow if you’re in the way.
    4. Really liked a speaker or slide? Want to promote yourself or a friend? If time allows, ask them to pose by said slide(s) at close of talk. Chairs? Allow time for this during questions. This also means you can take a few snaps to ensure the photo is good quality.
    5. If you’ve taken a pic of someone presenting, look at it and imagine it was of you and was about to be shared across social media. If you wouldn't be happy with a grotty image of yourself going out, don’t do it to someone else.
    6. So yes, appearance shouldn’t matter, but unfortunately in may ways it does. Which means if you're okay to be photographed, it might be worth checking you’re happy with how you look from all angles. (Trust me. I’ve learned the hard way on this.)
    7. This also applies to your slides, posters, etc. They’re not just there to appeal or be accessible to your immediate audience. If you’re okay with being filmed or photographed, they also need to translate to folk who're not present. (You can do this, by the way! It’s just a shift in focus)
    8. Again, if you're photographing people's work and you want others to see it (and you’re sure that's okay), then take a few snaps so you can pick the most clear, accessible, or understandable one (and annotate or explain if context is needed).
    9. If, after you’ve shared an image the presenter asks you to remove it, do them a solid and take it down. They may have very good reasons (including personal safety or safeguarding participants) for this to happen.
    10. Also, don’t be a conference creep. Seen other delegates at dinner, the conference disco or some other venue? Don’t sneakily snap and share. Certainly don’t snap, share and shame.

    • • • • •

    Posters will be getting their own museum next year: Poster House. But it already has some cool online stories, including this one about how the Woodstock was made.

    • • • • •

    Nominee for best poster title: “wtf causes aneuploidy”. (Pretty sure wtf is a gene or protein.) Hat tip to Ethan Perlstein.

    • • • • •

    Rock on Doctor Freeride:

    If you're a senior(ish) academic who wishes there was more space for new voices at your professional conferences, consider submitting your own research to the poster session rather than as a talk.

    • • • • •

    I blundered across this stirring defense of typography on Project Gutenberg:

    (Typography) is Noble... because it is the nurse and preserver of all other arts and sciences; and is unquestionably the most important as well as the most beneficial invention the world has ever seen. It is the disseminator of every other discovery; the commemorator of all other inventions: it hands down to posterity every important event; immortalizes the actions of the great and good; and requires, moreover, in all who would thoroughly excel in its practice, the highest attainable combination of mental alacrity, educated intelligence, and expert manual dexterity.

    I almost wanted to applaud when I read this. By William Skeen in 1872.

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  • 08/02/18--05:00: Critique: Alfree
  • Andrzej Zielezinski‏ was proud of this poster, made entirely in the freeware package Inkscape. Impressive to me, because I struggled with Inkscape. Click to enlarge!

    One of the most interesting aspects of the poster is the diagrams on the diagonal. As Ellen Lupton notes in the book How Posters Work, many great posters use diagonals to bring action and life into a design. Here’s how Andrzej did it:

    I drew all 5 main elements (home page, 2 diagrams, ROC curves and navigation) in 2D. The image showing a guy on the mountain was also pasted in 2D. Then I skewed each element -63* horizontally and -27* vertically (Inkscape menu - Object - Transform - Skew). Shadows are just skewed and black rectangulars with some transparency (RGBA: 42424248) and blur set to 2.7.

    An issue with that diagonal, though, is that because the figure reaches up into the upper right corner, the title can’t reach over into that space. So the title seems a little small to me. And when the title is 90% of your communication effort...

    But this does a great job of making the images strong focal points that if the title was bigger, it would weaken the figure. It might be a case of swings and roundabouts: you might be able to make those two things different, but not necessarily better. Andrzej agreed:

    You perfectly pointed the issue with the small title. I spent very long time trying different font sizes and locations of the title. At the beginning the title was larger and reached almost the right corner. But it seemed not right to me, so I decided to justify the text.

    The bold heading for each callout works well, and the difference between the heading and paragraph under it is strong and clearly distinguishes the two. But the main text of the callouts use a very lightweight type and fades away slightly. I’m wondering if the weight on the callout text could be just one step heavier to make it a little more visible from a distance. But this is the sort of thing that I can only guess at. If the callout text was heavier, it might mess up the nice contrast between the heading and the text below. Again, Andrzej and I are on the same page:

    I also had many trials with the weight of the text in abstract. I started with heavy font, but as you noticed, I was loosing the contrast between the text and the heading. Also, a less heavier font seemed somehow more elegant to me.

    Another little detail I like is that this is one of the few times I’ve seen some text right justified, with the left edges ragged.

    I like that the background isn’t perfectly white.

    The QR codes and logo are not only placed unobtrusively in the bottom, but they are perfectly aligned and distributed. It helps that the funding agency logo is square, like the QR codes.

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    If you must  have a table on your poster, look into what options you have for your numbers. Many fonts have number variants.

    Proportional numbers have skinny numbers (e.g., 1) and wide numbers (e.g., 0). Two numbers differ in width depending on what numbers they have. But tabular numbers are all the same width. So decimal places and dividers will line up if the numbers are lined up, as they are in a table.

    If you have a table, it only makes sense to use tabular numbers if you can. They are explicitly designed to make your tables more readable! But tabular numbers will only do so if you follow a couple of other good practices:

    • Make your numbers right aligned.
    • Use the same number of decimal places in each column.

    You may also find a couple of other options. numbers can be either lining numbers (all the same height) or oldstyle (with ascenders and descenders, like upper and lower-case letters). That means you have four options for many fonts.

    In Microsoft Office, these options are sometimes buried. In Word, open Fonts and then look under the Advanced tab. In some Office components, number options are flat out unavailable. I’m looking at you, PowerPoint! The image in this post is a PowerPoint slide, but the numbers were made in a different graphics program (CorelDraw), exported to a WMF file, and then imported into PowerPoint.

    To make things more confusing, which numbers a font shows by default are not standard. In the sample above, Corbel uses proportional numbers as its default, while Times New Roman uses tabular numbers as its default.

    External links

    Web typography: Designing tables to be read, not looked at.
    Design better data tables

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    Today’s poster comes courtesy of contributor Carolyn Bauer. Her work has been featured before, and I’m pleased she liked the experience enough to come back for seconds! Click to enlarge this poster that was recently presented at the International Congress of Neuroendocrinology!

    I like this. The illustration on the right is an approachable entry point. I also like the columns, one for each hypothesis.

    What I wasn’t as crazy about was the title area. Two lines for the title and three for the authors was chewing up a lot of space than it needed. I changed the all capital names to regular letters, and dropped a lot of department affiliations and cities that I honestly think nobody cares about.

    Some of my other revisions were my most common ones: to open up the margins, both around the border and between elements. In the revision below, there’s at least an inch around the edge.

    I continued along with a few other changes. One of the things that bugged me was the birds are all facing to the right in the infographic... except one. So that bird got flipped! There were some other minor little movements to get the birds more in alignment in a column, too.

    I also made a few little edits to the text to make the capitalization of the labels consistent. I tried a more condensed font and some light editing to make some of the labels fit the space a little better.

    After those changes on the top and left, I still think the right side could use some improvement, but I’m not sure how. The “Hypothalamus / Pituitary / Gonads” labels essentially stick out into a margin between columns where nothing else is, and the look terribly intrusive. I’m not sure how to fix that. I might try rotating the words 90°.

    Here are the changes in animated form:

    Related posts

    Critique and makeover: Migrating birds