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A resource dedicated to improving poster presentations. Part of DoctorZen.net.
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    This month’s link round-up begins with a big tutorial on making posters by Desi Quintans, “How I make conference posters.”

    Excerpt:

    About my design ethos

    I think that visual design is just as important as content. I believe that by adapting lessons from other fields of publishing, we can design posters that are unconventional and surprising, and yet attractive to look at and informative to read. The alternative is to be cursed with posters that all look the same.

    This lengthy piece covers some material that’s familiar to regular readers, but provides it in a convenient one-stop shop. It’s this month’s “must read!”

    •••••


    Nichloas Rowe has authored Academic & Scientific Poster Presentation: A Modern Comprehensive Guide for Springer. I may have a longer review later, but wanted to bring this to people’s attention now.

    •••••

    Earyn McGee also has a thread on Twitter that describes her lessons as an early poster presenter, presenting at the SACNAS 2017 conference. Hat tip to Toby.

    •••••

    Dan Quintana also provides helpful advice, but it’s more concise.

    Can it be read by three people standing three meters away after three beers?

    That’s the whole thing.

    •••••

    An academic poster in a cartoon style.


    Hat tip to Rainer Melzer.

    •••••

    Kayla Brandi makes a cape of her poster.


    Hat tip to Juan Ruiz and Auriel Fournier.

    •••••

    Amber Dance has a nice feature in Nature on what makes for a good conference. The take aways are that you need to create “hallway conversation,” have a diverse group of people, and pick a good location.

    •••••

    Up for discussion in the PeerJ preprint server by Foster and colleagues is a discussion paper on “Good Practice for Conference Abstracts and Presentations.” Here’s what they say about posters:

    3.2 Posters

    3.2.1 While it is technically possible to make posters permanently available (e.g. on conference websites or platforms such as F1000 Research), some journals regard this as prior publication so it may prevent full publication. Authors should therefore check the policies of their target journal(s) before agreeing to a poster being publicly posted.

    3.2.2 Posters are not peer-reviewed by conferences and may not describe all aspects of the research . Posters should therefore not be viewed as a substitute for a full article in a peer-reviewed journal. However, if a poster is publicly available (and, ideally, searchable via an indexing system or DOI ) it may be cited until the full publication is available (although some journals consider citation of posters as unpublished information rather than full citations).

    3.2.3 The lead author (e.g. principal investigator) should be given the first option to attend the poster session(s) but this role may be taken by other authors or a local presenter (if the authors do not speak the language of the conference). The poster presenter should be agreed before the abstract is submitted.

    Hat tip to Jackie Marhington and PeerJ.

    •••••

    Mice, as depicted in scientific journals:


    This collection, curated by Neuroskeptic, is a good opportunity to think about the choices behind each figure. No two are the same. Which ones work, and which ones don’t?

    •••••

    Jared Spool said:

    “Great designers do not fall in love with their solution. Great designers fall in love with the problem.”

    Hat tip to Julie Dirksen.

    •••••

    Men ask more questions than women in conference sessions. I wonder if this holds true in poster sessions, too? Hat tip to Amy Hinsley and Joshua Drew.

    •••••

    When competing for attention, playing against expectations can be powerful:


    Hat tip to Jason and Asia Murphy.

    •••••

    Kimm Hannula has a little Twitter thread about how conferences can create “social capital.”

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  • 11/02/17--05:00: Critique: Life in the cold
  • Max Showalter had the worst possible poster experience. The thing we all dread. Max wrote:

    I recently presented this poster at a large conference and of the thousands of people walking by literally no one stopped to look at my poster. Ignoring that could just be me (I thought I was charming!), could you provide some feedback on what aspects of the poster might be telling people “keep walking”?

    Ouch. I feel for you, Max.

    What happened? Let’s have a look at Max’s poster, which he gave at the 2017 Association for the Science of Limnology and Oceanography “Aquatic Sciences” meeting. Click to enlarge!


    Max’s poster is far from the worst I’ve seen. The layout is clean and the colours are attractive. Why didn’t it find an audience? As journalists say, this poster “buries the lede.” I think the issue is there is no clear entry point.

    For starters, the title is maybe a little small, and what it says is not helpful to me. I know what “low temperature” and “taxis” are. But I do not know what a “psychorphile” is.

    I don’t recognize the species name. I don’t know if it’s a fish or a flea. It’s a good idea to try to put sort of plain English common name in titles for that reason. In this case, the title might have said, “the marine bacteriumColwellia psychrerythraea.” To make matters worse, the poster switches from the full species name to Cp34h with no warning. If you are glancing at the poster, that is another little obstacle.

    The title says what the poster is about, but not what it found. The result numbered “1” give what may have made for a more compelling title: “a new low temperature record for chemotaxis.”

    A record? People love records and extremes! I might have just made that phrase alone the title of the poster. Extremes are scientifically interesting, because they tell us about what the limits of possibility are.

    The question right below the title helps bring some clarity that the title itself didn’t. But it’s too small, and not high contrast enough. The answer to that question is a block of text that is in a small point size, and stretches all the way across the width of the poster, making it hard to read.

    The layout of the three sections of the results is good. But bar graphs are so generic that they don’t help me know what this poster is about.

    The iceberg graphic in bottom third is promising. The idea of an infographic is awesome; it just needs refinement to clarify what you are looking at. It is a little unclear that I am supposed to be looking at an iceberg, rather than just a shape.

    Finally, the future work section is trying too cram too much stuff in not enough space. Pictures are too close, the type is not laid out consistently (sometimes centered, sometimes not), and boxes overlap boxes.

    There may be other ways to clarify and improve this poster, but I think the lack of turnout is due to a failure in the top third of the poster.

    Fortunately, Max did have a happier story to tell:

    I recently made another conference poster using some tips from your website and won the first place poster prize! Thanks for all the help!

    No, Max, thank you. Contributors like you keep this blog alive!

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    Iva Cheung fires a shot across the bow with a long blog post titled, “Why academic conference posters suck.”

    Ahem. Obviously, I have thoughts on this.

    Cheung begins by noting that there is not a lot of research on conference posters. This is true, but it is expanding. Melissa Vaught has been tracking this on Twitter with the #conferencetopub hashtag. Some fields, more on the health and medical side, are all over this.

    She then makes the arguments that poster sessions are socially awkward. “No one’s quite sure what to do or how to react,” she writes. First, this is a problem with the entire concept of going to an academic conference, not just poster sessions. She even goes on to say, “posters save people with anxiety from having to speak in front of a crowd.” Second, this is a case of, “Your mileage may vary.” I have seen many people who know very clearly what to do and how to react. Some people feel awkward during any social interactions with new people. People can get better at this.

    Institutions should have poster printing capabilities


    Cheung argues that “posters are expensive.” That is not a problem with the poster format. That is a problem of institutional support. I have not paid for a poster in years, because my university has invested in a large format printer and paper. Department chairs and deans should realize that conference posters are a routine part of academic presentations, and invest accordingly.

    Posters force you to think about what you’re doing


    “Posters take an enormous amount of time to prepare,” Cheung writes, “whereas presentation slides can be (and frequently are) prepared on the flight over to the conference.” This is a feature of posters, not a bug. You have to think about your content in advance, and make hard decisions about what you are going to include. When you print a poster, your work is mostly done. Making a PowerPoint deck on the plane trip is rushed, half-assed preparation in comparison. If you make a PowerPoint deck on the plane, you still have to practice delivering the talk so that you don’t go over time. At least you should!

    Cheung notes “travelling with a poster can be cumbersome. Because of their length, poster tubes technically exceed carry-on size restrictions(.)” I have no doubt this happens sometimes, but it seems to be vanishingly small. I know of nobody personally who’s had a problem taking a poster on a plane. Getting a laptop through security seems almost as bothersome.

    Cheung’s next section has the header, “most academic posters are a visual nightmare.” Well, yeah, that’s what keeps this blog in business. But so are most PowerPoint talks.

    We can do better on poster accessibility


    Cheung’s most important argument is about the accessibility of posters. This is an important conversation, and one that I don’t think conference organizers and presenters think about enough.

    Posters are a visual medium, which poses a problem for someone with poor or no eyesight. Cheung argues that “oral presentations give people with visual disabilities immediate access to at least some of the content.” This is true if there is no presenter at a poster. If there is a presenter at a poster, however, the one-on-one nature of a poster presentation means that a presenter can more readily adjust the discussion to take into account the visual issues of the listener. A presenter giving a talk is unlikely to adjust the talk to accommodate anyone in the audience with a visual issue. (See this post about the experience of a blind colleague listening to conference presentations. Also see this post about a blind poster presenter.)

    I have also seen posters incorporating 3D printed elements, which could make some aspects accessible to a visually impaired people in a way that a talk could not do.

    Some conferences are videorecording talks, which can again make content available to visually impaired people. Some people are archiving posters online, and I thought standard text to voice tools would be able to help this problem.

    I pulled up a PDF of my last poster, and asked Acrobat Reader to read out loud. Reader’s “read out loud” was not working for any document, but Acrobat Standard did read it. I learned that the kerning I did to make the poster look better disrupted the text recognition: it treated words where I had moved a letter as separate words. Hyphenated words were also read as separate words. I learned that if I was to archive posters, I should include a plain text version in the description. Like most issues around accessibility, this is not an unsolvable problem.

    Cheung argues that posters are horrible for learning, citing ideas about glucose use that sounds rather similar to some contentious ideas about sugar and willpower. She argues that academic posters are too complex to learn from. I agree that most posters are too complex: this is, again, one of the reasons this blog exists. It is seems to me that any form of academic communication faces this problem.

    Posters help start dialogue


    Cheung suggests more short talks as alternatives to posters. This looks sensible on the face of it. Most people prefer talks, both as a presenter and an audience member. I love talks in the Ignite format. They can work well for small meetings. But I have extreme doubts that they can replace poster sessions or many meetings. The number of presenters is too large, and there is not enough space or time to accommodate them.

    I also worry that a whole bunch of five minute talks will blur together in memory. It is hard to stand out when you have four or five talks an hour; imagine if you are sitting through 10 talks an hour. For eight hours. For several days.

    Talks, by their nature, are synchronous “one to many” communications, typically with limited time for discussions. (And can you image the difficulty in people switching from room to room every five minutes?) Posters are more complex. Audience members can listen to the speaker at different times. The format permits conversations in ways that talks don’t.

    The other main suggestion she has is for conference organizers to building in more networking time. Those hallway conversations are often the best thing about conferences. But just having “the explicit expectation that people with similar research interests can use that time to find each other and chat” is, perhaps, overly optimistic. Talking to strangers is hard. You can’t just put people in room and expect conversations to flow freely. Having a “social object” like a poster helps people identify others with similar interests, and gives them something to talk about.

    Poster sessions fill a niche. Posters provide a straightforward way for a listener to identify who is working on topics they are interested in. (There is rarely enough time to read all the article titles in the abstract book, but you can easily scan rows of posters to find who is doing what.) Posters give people more opportunities to talk individually, and to take as much or as little time as possible.

    I agree with a lot of Cheung’s points, but not the conclusion that we should kill all poster sessions. Let’s make posters better rather than abandoning them.

    External links

    The Zen of Presentations, Part 34: Lessons from the blind
    The Zen of Presentations, Part 40: Lighting a fire under speakers

    Hat tip to Mary Ellen Foster.

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    Justin Kiggins wrote:

    The zone of PIs chatting with each other between the posters was always super intimidating to me.

    Science writer Bethany Brookshire agrees.

    It was super intimidating to me. The only thing that gives me courage now is a press badge. ☺️

    I know exactly what my colleagues are talking about: little knots of people with grey hair talking to each other, and not to the poster presenters. The age differences make it clear who are students and who are the senior scientists.

    The “zone of intimidation” is probably more common and more obvious at big conferences, because there is ample space between posters for people to mingle. Big conferences are more likely to have attract people who go there every year, so there is greater chances for people to establish annual “conference cliques.”

    While that hallway conversations are the best part of conferences, it can be poor form on the part of conference veterans to interact mostly with each other. Some say they plan on being in the “zone of intimidation”:

    Visit posters from labs you like, introduce yourself. Many PIs will be lurking nearby (including myself) and would be happy to chat briefly then.

    Why “lurk” in the PIZI? And why tweet that you can talk “briefly”? Why not talk extensively to students and earlier career colleagues? The organizers of the Keystone Antimicrobial resistance meeting sent this to their participants:

    Please attend the poster sessions and interact with junior colleagues. You are the reason the rest of the attendees were attracted to the meeting. Please mingle and inspire the next generation of researchers, clinicians, and policy makers to remain engaged in this amazing important topic.

    Yes, talk to your colleagues, but try to not have your full academic reunions (“It’s been so long! How’s your partner and kids? Are you still at...”) in the poster session. Get a phone number, send a text, and meet for dinner.

    Another possible solution to that senior people should present a poster of their own. (This is a variation on my belief that senior scientists should have a project of their own.) Get in there in the trenches and remember what it is like to try to attract an audience and talk about the project for hours at a time. Posters should not be the sole domain of first time conference attendees.

    Hat tip to Kat Holt and Michael Hoffman for the Keystone quote.

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    The National Academy of Sciences of the US regularly sponsors the Sackler symposium on science communication. I’ve had gripes with them in the past. I have another this year :

    Increase of poster sessions, at the expense of actual speaking opportunities, has a negative effect on #scicomm training of young scientists. – John Burris (Tweeted by Kat Bradford)

    “We’ve moved away from encouraging graduate students to speak as part of their training – poster sessions instead of seminars etc. Creates an oral skills gap.” (Tweeted by Lou Woodley)

    Burris: Our educational system has moved away from #scicomm (ex. grad talks have been replaced by poster sessions). (Tweeted by Sarah Mojarad)

    This sounds a lot like a “Back in my day...” opinion that is not provable. Are presentation skills worse than they used to be? Maybe, but maybe not.

    Poster sessions are the domain of academic conferences. Presentations at conferences, whether oral or poster presentations, are not the sort of broad science communication. Giving a lot of academic conference talks to peers does not in and of itself does not make someone an effective science communicator.

    Similarly, it’s weird to worry about an “oral skills gap” when most scientists are never going to get to speak in front of large audiences. Successful science communication isn’t about going on a lecture circuit now. Science communication that reaches a lot of people is about television and the internet. (Smaller scale science communication is important too, but

    I appreciate Mammody coming to defense:

    I mean okay, yes, getting up in front of people is important, but “audience” is not always literally an audience in a theater or conference room – poster sessions do provide great opportunities to talk about your research and actually engage in dialogue.

    Exactly. Burris seems to think that people giving a poster don’t talk. In contrast, someone at a poster session may be talking for hours instead of 12 minutes.

    I’m going to flip the script. We should not chastise conference organizers and poster sessions for taking away students’ opportunities to talk (which I doubt). Instead, we should praise posters for introducing visual skills to students that would otherwise not be taught at all.

    Look, it seems that one of the most effective communication campaigns last year was carried out by Russia. It appears Russia successfully influenced the 2016 US election. What was one of their methods of choice? Tweets, Facebook posts, and memes, like this one:


    This is visual communication.

    This is what thinking and working with posters can teach you.

    And for all its problems, there is no denying the success of I Fucking Love Science, which has something in the neighbourhood of 25 million followers. It got to that number the same way as Russia: with pictures. As this critique of IFLS notes:

    What you actually “love” is photography, not science.

    As I noted elsewhere:

    There is a lot to learn from the successful formula of I Fucking Love Science. Pictures get shared; see the data from Google Plus below:


    People interested in spreading their science shouldn’t just work on their sound bites. They should work on their social media meme images.

    Visual communication is powerful communication. Making posters should teach scientists how to focus on creating fewer, more focused, more powerful images.

    Update: Close to the end of the day, someone finally remembered imagery:

    What picture do you use to illustrate your point? What is this picture conveying to the audience? Finally the importance of #visualcomm mentioned at the #SacklerSciComm – Tweeted by Dominique Brossard

    External links

    Self-defeating prophecy (2012)
    Sackler symposium still doesn’t practice what it preaches (2013)
    Sackler improves (2013)

    Visual communication image from here.

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    A couple of weeks ago, I featured a poster that had no visitors. This, followed by having to defend poster sessions the next week got me wondering.

    Just how many people put in the time and effort to give a poster and talk to nobody?

    I ran a Twitter poll. I even ran it during the Neuroscience meeting, one of the biggest venues for poster presentations in the world. I was surprised.


    Almost half of respondents have put in a good faith effort and got shut out, with no one talking to them.

    This might explain why people have such differing reactions to poster sessions. I have given 38 posters at conferences. I have never lacked an audience. And I don’t think that’s because I’m particularly charming or do the hottest science or make the most visually interesting posters. (Of those 38, I’ve made maybe two or three posters I’ve been very happy with). I think I’m just another presenter in the session.

    My experience has been consistently positive, but now I know I’m in the lucky half. I can see how the experience of having nobody talk to you could turn someone off poster sessions right quick. Many would probably never want to do a poster after even a single experience like that.

    This points out how important it is for those who are not presenting posters – often the senior academics – to get out into the poster sessions and be the most active audience members, not hanging around in the “zone of intimidation” (which I dubbed the PIZI).

    Madison Fletcher wrote:

    During undergrad poster sessions especially, I actively seek out students who have people walk right by even if I don’t know anything about their topic. Invariably, I learn something!

    Be like Madison!

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    The link roundup after the massive Neuroscience meeting is always fun. Just ask Shaena Montanari, “How big is that meeting?”

    Was at the bar tonight in DC and saw poster tubes... I’m not even a neuroscientist and I knew. #SfN17

    With tens of thousands of posters, I find classics like this, from Steve Ramirez:

    Always check your dimensions before printing.


    I have written before about how people incorporated video into their poster demonstrations (QR codes, iPdas, etc.). But this is the first time I have seen anyone do a virtual reality (VR) demo at a poster:


    Advice from Caitlin Vanderweele:

    Convince your labmate to carry the poster tube.

    Justin Kiggins noted:

    Incredible how many posters at #SfN17 have "Preprint available at @biorxivpreprint"& a DOI/QR #asapbio

    Coffee & Science asked:

    Poster session didn’t go well?


    • • • • •

    Everything old is new again. Fabric posters have been done since the 17th century:


    The thesis of François Marescot, printed on silk, is on display at the British Musuem. Hat tip to Raychelle Burks.

    • • • • •

    A couple of weeks back, I wrote a bit the relative accessibility of posters. I am pleased to be directed to this preprint on making scientific presentations of all sorts, inclduing posters, more accessible.

    Hat tip to Simon Goring and Toby (itatiVCS).

    • • • • •

    May Gun has been curating a list of unusual scientific graphics.

    • • • • •

    I don’t think I’ve mentioned this conference guide by Errant Science from late last year before .


    Hat tip to Helena and Prachee Avasthi.

    • • • • •

    Today in type crimes:


    Punctuation makes a difference. Hat tip to John Lopez and Mark Siddall.

    • • • • •


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  • 12/07/17--05:00: Critique: baby heads
  • Today’s poster comes to us courtesy of Laura Steinmann, presented at the 2018 American Nurses Association conference. Click to enlarge!


    She writes:

    I developed a 4 foot by 8 foot poster which is crammed with great info, and that’s the problem. ... The poster is less data and more instructional, based on two publications I wrote to teach providers how to recognize asymmetry.

    Laura went on to say that she used a poster template provided on a commercial site. Coincidentally, the last talk I gave on posters, one of the questions from the end was about whether I knew any sites with good poster templates. This is a good example of why I try to steer people away from templates. People slap up templates that are... not necessarily very good.

    Let’s look at just the template background, with the content removed:


    The space alloted for the title and author is tiny. The space between the columns, and the margins around them, are also tiny. A poster maker would be better served if those areas were larger:


    I’m still not crazy about this as a template for a poster, but I think it would have gotten someone off to a better start.

    I agree with Laura’s self assessment: this poster is crammed. I often complain that people try to turn a manuscript into a poster, and in this case, there are two manuscripts residing on this poster. While I absolutely sympathize with the desire to tell a complete story, the complete story exists in the papers. They do not need to exist in the poster.

    The first column is perhaps both the best. It is the best because it has a clear, wonderful diagram that Laura created (highlighted at right). Laura’s diagrams are very good, and I wish they were bigger and more prominent. They convey so much information.

    The first column, unfortunately, also features some inconsistent typesetting. And it is crammed. For instance, several paragraphs in the first column might be cut down to a couple of sentences: “Infants’ skull growth is affected by internal factors, such as the normal malleability of the skull. Skull growth is also affected by external factors, such as the positioning of infants.”

    There are about 1,800 words on this poster. While I personally never aim for some particular arbitrary target number, other people have had good success with posters containing a few hundred words.

    Ruthless editing is hard. But that is what this poster needed.

    Update: Laura sent me her revised version of the poster. Click to enlarge!


    So. Much. Better.

    Yes, it is still crammed. I would still want to cut down the number of words and resize some things. For instance, the references might be printed in a smaller point size. That would free up some space to make the takeaway messages in that column bigger and bolder for the viewer.

    But the title is readable from a distance. The images are bigger. There’s less distracting background. The typography is consistent. It’s more inviting and interesting looking.

    I particularly like the thin line running along the left side of the headings. It provides a little definition to the columns, but is subtle, and is a nice graphic touch.


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  • 12/14/17--07:45: Critique: Badger parasites
  • Today’s poster comes from Rachel Byrne. Click to enlarge!


    Rachel was kind enough to respond to my request to share this, which I think is just a delightful work. It demonstrates the old adage that necessity is often the parent of invention. This wasn’t supposed to be a poster. Rachel explains (lightly edited):

    To be completely honest I had applied for a talk at the 32nd Mustelid Colloquium held in Lyon, but they didn’t have space so offered me a poster. That’s when I began to panic. I am just one year into my project and did not have any real statistic analysis (which I think is often present on posters). Because my topic is very much about parasites, I also was a little worried that a bunch of behavioural ecologists and mustelid enthusiasts wouldn’t be that interested/familiar with parasitology jargon, so I might have to spend half my poster space on definitions etc.

    As badgers live in underground burrow systems called setts, I wanted to use this as a way of laying out my poster. As I’m a keen (but not very good) artist I played around with the idea of drawing out my poster.

    Author Dan Roam is often faced with people who say, “I can’t draw.” He replies, “Everyone can draw, even people who know they can’t.” I think Rachel undersells her skills. I’ve lettered comics by hand (Time City #5), and it’s not easy to get hand drawn text to look as as consistent and readable as Rachel did here.

    Rachel continues:

    I wanted it to be very clear and easy to read and, and very importantly, eye catching. I posted a preview on Twitter and it received a very positive response. I think at poster session the key is getting people over to talk to you and ask questions. I decided to include my twitter handle rather than my email address which I think demonstrates the move for a more social and communicative science community.


    To quote Dan Roam relevant here is again, “Hand-drawn pictures make people smile, and smiling people think better.” And it’s hard not to look at Rachel’s poster and not smile. There is a charm to something so obviously personal.

    In a time when computers are everywhere, and it’s easy to pop together a few pictures and text blocks in a computer file, something hand drawn is going to be remarkable. It will be worth talking about.

    And people were definitely talking. Despite being started in a moment of slight desperation. Rachel’s efforts were rewarded with a first place prize poster!

    Rachel may not go that route every time, though:

    I definitely won’t be drawing every poster for conferences but I think if it’s a friendly and accepting group, it can be very fun!

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    One of the problems with free fonts is that they often don’t have special characters that are necessary for proper display of characters from other languages, or symbols.


    Google Noto is a series of fonts meant to have almost every character (and emoji!) in as many languages as possible. When I scrolled down the list and saw, “Canadian aboriginal,” I knew they were serious.


    I downloaded Noto Sans, and was impressed.

    Not only are there over 30 variations of Noto Sans, including thin, bold, condensed, extended, and combinations thereof, going into “Insert symbol” to see the individual characters is eye-opening. You think you’re a typographic sophisticate for recognizing and using an interrobang? Noto has that, and an inverted interrobang. There are combinations of letters and accents and umlauts and currency symbols I have never seen before.

    The range of options is, frankly, staggering. There is no font package that comes Windows standard with this many options. Buying a font package with this many options would usually cost you many hundreds of dollars.

    And Noto fonts are all free.

    You have no excuse to use a lower case letter x in place of a multiplication sign, or not put an accent in a co-author's name, ever again.

    Hat tip to Robert J. Sawyer.

    • • • • •

    Asada and colleagues have a new paper reviewing effective graphs, particularly in the are of public health. They’re very big into dot charts. I’m not convinced by their representation of variation in dot charts, though.



    Hat tip to Hilda Bastian.

    • • • • •

    Another hat tip to Hilda for spotting a timeline of data visualizations and graphs.

    • • • • •

    Tony Roepke has good advice:

    Note to poster presenters...don’t go out for a cigarette break right before your poster session.


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    I am in San Francisco for the annual Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting. At every meeting I go to, I am looking for trends in poster design, either good or bad. This year, I have noticed this on posters more than usual: poster titles that begin with some variant of "The effect of,,,"











    And no, "Impacts on" is not better.


    This is a bland, worthless phrasing for a title. Practically every scientific study is trying to find the effect of one variable on another. Surely you have some idea of what the likely effect is, either from your hypothesis or from your data, so why not tell us what the effect is? Do X increase Y? Does X decrease Y? Does X benefit Y or does X inhibit Y?

    If I might ancitipate the excuse -- that the conference abstract deadline is so far in advance that we don't know what the results are yet -- my reply is, "Change the title of your poster." There is nobody checking to ensure that your abstract title and printed poster title match perfectly,

    Comic Sans on posters census: one so far. Well done, SICB poster makers, for keeping that number so low!


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  • 01/18/18--12:16: Critique: Let’s compare
  • Today’s contribution comes from Richard McGee. Click to enlarge!


    Before I get to the critique, Richard has a word of warning for us. Here he is presenting his poster. See any differences in the photo below compared to what is above on your screen?


    For me, the right triangle and the bottom triangle are clearly different in the top image, but almost the same blue in the bottom one. Richard writes:

    The printer I went to couldn’t print it to the size I wanted. It ended up being smaller than anticipated. Also, the colours looked different on printing than I had expected, based on the computer screen and my trial run on A4 paper.

    This is why professional artists get proofs from the printer before going into production. Both the printer and artist should be sure that reproduction is as expected. Unfortunately, academics sometimes don’t have the time or money to go through a proofing stage.

    This also means that the text, which is mostly readable, in the top version gets lost in the printed version. The darker colours are making it harder to pick out the black letters. This is a slight problem in the top version, particular at the bottom, but looks not so great in the printed version.

    Richard continues:

    I had a specific goal in creating my poster in having it stand out as a bit different and generating interest, so more like an advertisement rather than providing a synopsis of a paper.

    I have noticed that students beginning a project give among the best talks and posters, because they are not burdened down by data. This is true of this poster, too.

    Not having to fit in a lot of text let Richard to use a big, bold colour patches of colour. Because they are all in the same region of the spectrum, down in the blues and greens, the colours aren’t clashing and being an eyesore, which is always a risk with big blocks of colour.

    And I like that those big bold blocks of colour are in triangles! The text blocks could have easily been three rectangles, but the triangles make this so much more distinct. It’s a good example of harnessing the power of diagonals, which Ellen Lupton talks about in her book How Posters Work.

    I like the use of the “1, 2, 3” in the central circle to indicate the slightly non-standard reading order. If you’re going to use a slightly non-standard reading order, it’s only polite to guide the readers through it. I don’t think anyone would be confused by the order here.

    It is a shame that the printer did not quite come through for Richard.


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  • 01/25/18--12:57: Critique: Bugs and beans
  • Desi Quintans was kind enough to contribute his EcoTAS 2017poster this week. Click to enlarge!


    This is a sweet poster that I like a lot.

    It is not crowded; there is plenty of white space to separate everything.

    The use of wide margins and a few subtle reinforcing lines make the reading order clear: you read this across in rows.

    There are plenty of different colours. Even though there are lots of primary colours (red, blue, green, and so on), they are low key enough that the colours are not competing with each other. Instead, it feels very harmonious. The colours are used not just in the figures, but in the headings to make them pop and reduce the “greyness” of the text.

    There is only one place where I feel there was a missed opportunity. Unfortunately, it’s a critical one. It’s the title.

    The culprit is the photo background. The photo and the title are in the same orange to brown colour range. By making the text box transparent to let the photo show underneath, the contrast between the text and background is reduced so much that the title is practically camouflaged from a distance. Even usual tricks like making the title bigger or bolder would probably not be enough to make the title stand out from a distance. That being said, the title could stand to be both bigger and heavier.

    I also love the idea of the one sentence take home underneath the title. Again, though, the photo background robs the idea of the win by hiding the text.

    Speaking of the title, Desi wrote:

    I regret the generic title of my poster, but it’s what I gave to the conference before I even knew what I’d be presenting. The conference materials were already printed by the time I came up with the poster. In hindsight, no one cared about my title in the printed abstract and I should have gone ahead and changed it anyway.

    Desi’s point is a good one: abstracts are submitted so far in advance that nobody expects them to be reflect what is on the final poster perfectly. While there is a case that changing the title might cause confusion, I think people usually find poster by the numbers of the posterboard. Changing a title probably does not make it difficult to find.

    Related posts

    Your title is 90% of your poster

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  • 02/01/18--05:00: Subtle, gaudy, and bold
  • Last week, I showed a sweet poster from Desi Quintans. Desi added a great question in his email that I thought deserved its own blog post:

    I noticed that the posters that did well in real life were made with strong, almost gaudy colours. In particular, the ones with very large blocks of strong colour were quickly noticed compared to the understated ones like mine. How can one walk the line between elegant design and the reality of grabbing a person's attention in a room that's already visually and aurally noisy?

    Let’s look as Desi’s poster again, just for context. Click to enlarge!


    Desi calls this poster “understated,” which is an apt description. As I wrote last week, I like this power a lot, but I think Desi’s description is apt. You might also call it subtle. What are the characteristics that give it that look? (Click to enlarge.)


    A lot has to do with the colour scheme. There are a lot of earthy tones, particularly up in the title. Even when using primary colours in the graphs, they are not saturated, intense colours.

    The typography is a straighforward sans serif. It’s very readable, but there is nothing distinctive about it. Indeed, that is the point of many book typefaces: they are supposed to fade away so that you can focus on reading.

    Now let’s consider what looks gaudy. Something like one of those unsolicited flyers you get in your mailbox would count:


    The choice of colours contributes to the feeling of cheap. These are bright, primary colours that are hard to ignore.


    But it’s not just bright colours. It’s the business of it all. There are so many things on the page! There are a lot of fonts, in a lot of sizes and colours.

    This is one of the major factors that make so many academic posters look gaudy: too much stuff, too small, too crammed.

    There’s the sense that everything on the page is screaming, “Look at me!” 

    But the lesson from the above is not, “No bright colours.” Lots of great movie posters and magazine covers mastered the art of being bold without being gaudy, with no loss of their ability to command attention.

    This movie poster has lots of bright blocks of colours, high contrast black and white shapes. But it looks classy, not gaudy.

    A bold design has focus. It tries to do a few things, not everything.

    Bold designs don’t necessarily use a gold font. There may not be a lot of words in such a design, but they can be set in typefaces that are exaggerated in some way. It could be narrow font, a cursive font, a wide font, an italic font, or an engraved font.


    Bold designs use lots of space. There is no compulsion to fill every inch of the page with something.

    Some designs mix elements styles. Here’s a movie I can’t wait to see:


    And here is an alternate design:


    The posters for The Shape of Water are both very subtle in their use of colour: the palette is limited, and the contrast is low. But it is also bold in how it focuses on a single, striking image.

    Your poster should be bold, not gaudy. This means that you need to edit. You need to find, as much as possible, a strong image that can represent the major point you want to make. You need to give that image space around it to breathe.

    Related posts

    Critique: Bugs and beans

    External links

    The hand drawn journey of the ‘Shape of Water’ poster
    Gaudy vs. Glam: Guide to Wearing costume Jewelry without looking tacky

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  • 02/08/18--13:50: Critique: Sudden stop
  • Last week, I talked about the difference between gaudy and bold. Stacy Shield provides two examples of going bold in poster design. Click to enlarge!


    Red, black, and white. Talk about a striking choice of colours. The limited colour palette gives this poster an almost “duotone” look:


    It wouldn’t look out of place at a White Stripes concert:


    Another poster from Stacy again showcases her strong sense of colour.


    Stacy’s posters are not based on the same template, but are recognizably by the same person. It shows that you can develop a distinctive personal style in creating posters.

    The colours are so strong and vibrant that they leap out at you. But they are selected carefully. There are not many colours; just three carefully chosen ones. They don’t look like an“all over the place” clash that can make a poster look gaudy.

    I would like to see that same discipline that is brought to the colour choices also brought to the content. These posters feature a lot of text and small graphics. The posters would be even stronger if they had fewer words and bigger images.

    Stacy has two tricks that almost hide the amount of text, though.

    1. She interspersed the text with lots of small graphics throughout the poster, so the impression of “big intimidating text blocks” is reduced.
    2. She changes the colours and size of the text, particularly in the spider poster. For example, the title has two colours and three font sizes. In the second column, “Explaining the” is smaller than “Motion of the Spider.” The words become a graphic element instead of a purely textual element.

    The posters are well structured to make it clear what order they are read in. The first poster has strong bands of colour, with white diving lines, that make it clear to read across in rows. The second poster is not as clear cut, because it switches from reading across (“Background”) to reading down (“Methodology & Testing”).

    You would be hard pressed to walk by either of these in a conference hall and not notice these posters. They command that you take a second look, which is critical in a conference setting. I’m still not entirely convinced I that would read the whole thing if the presenter wasn’t there, though.

    If the presenter is there, you’re in luck. Having met Stacy at the last Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting, I will say that she is definitely worth talking to!

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    Neuroskeptic asks whether conferences are hostile environments.

    I have never been the target of a harsh question at a conference but one of my colleagues was, a couple of years ago.

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    When I wander through department hallways and professor offices, I often see posters like this, from Rottner and colleagues (2017; tweeted by journal here). Click to enlarge!


    These sort of posters often feature cellular processes or biochemical pathways. They are often professionally done, attractive, and valuable teaching tools. But they are not good examples that conference poster makers should be trying to imitate.

    A poster like this is meant for experts, so presumes a high level of knowledge. It is intended to be something you can look at for days, weeks, months, sometimes even years. They can show lots of fiddly little details that you can discover over that long period of time.

    In a conference poster session, you have a few minutes for someone to absorb the work, not months. You can’t stuff in the same level of detail in conference poster that you can in a lab poster.

    Hat tip to Prachee Avasthi.

    Reference


    Rottner K, Faix J, Bogdan S, Linder S, Kerkhoff E. 2017.

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  • 03/01/18--05:37: Nine is fine!
  • Happy blogiversary to me!

    It is a little bit crazy for me to think that this blog has been running for nine years straight. And still going (reasonably) strong!

    It is mostly thanks to my readers and contributors – which is to say, you. I appreciate your attention, and hope this resource continues to help you.

    Thank you for stopping by.

    Picture from here.

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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 idea...to 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.