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A resource dedicated to improving poster presentations. Part of
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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

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    Today in, “Things I should not have to say.”

    A poster session is a place for exchange of scientific and technical information between professional adults. It is not a place for you to hit on people for a hook up or booty call.

    Beth Ann McLaughlin asked:

    Women of STEM,
    Quick question
    At any given science poster presentation, what percent of the time do you have a man at your poster who just won't go away and makes you uncomfortable?

    Results? 16% of women said every conference, 14% said 50-99% of them, 19% said 25-49% of them, and 51% of respondents said less than 25% of them.

    Now, sure I could niggle about the poll is structured might inflate perceptions of how common this is (there’s an option for 100%, but not 0%, so the most common situation could be women not getting bothered), but even if every one of that 51% was really never, that still means that half of women poster presenters had a bad experience. And that’s unacceptable.

    And reading the replies to that poll is not fun. (Some tweets lightly edited.)

    Bryony Hockin describes:

    (A) PhD student who comes to my poster at every single local conference for 30+ minutes, putting off everyone else and freaking me out. Some of his highlights include, “I like your dress.” I now get male friends to look out for him and warn me.

    Kimberly Harrison says:

    My fav was the time the fella didn’t ask any questions about my work, but did let me know he saw me swimming at the hotel pool earlier.

    kss wrote:

    I have been hit on at my poster, asked on countless dates, and even followed after a session when I went to a bar to meet up with friend.

    Sarah MacNamee wrote:

    (A) guy spent 10+ min at poster, complimented work, asked if he could call me. My reply: “Uhh, email is the preferred method of contact.” Looked down and was alarmed to see my number going into his phone - he lifted it from my poster tube’s “If found call” info.

    Meaghan Creed wrote:

    First SfN had a significantly older guy spend half an hour at my poster, no background in my field (i.e., asked what the words in the title meant, and what the differences between flies and rodents are). Kept touching my back/shoulder and would not move on until he took a photo with me. Still... bleh.

    Sarah Sheffield wrote:

    Yeesh. Happened to me once, long time ago. Called me sweetheart, while trying to show me he knew more about stats than me. Leered for an excessive amount of time. Blegh.

    The thread exposes other problems besides people trying to get a date, too. Tara Levin wrote:

    More common poster-related sexism for me: I go to someone's poster and ask a question, but am 1) ignored or 2) the presenter directs the answer to my question to the man standing next to me

    Angela Tringali was not alone in this sentiment:

    I gave a poster presentation once as a new grad student 10 years ago and haven’t done one since. Never again.

    Florentina Tofoleanu wrote:

    It happened enough times that I chose what conferences to go to depending on whether I got a talk, presenting a poster was not an option.

    This makes me sad and angry. I love poster sessions. As I’ve written before, I think they are the true beating heart of a scientific conference. It’s frustrating that something that has been so rewarding for me personally is an experience that has driven others away.


    Men in Science,

    Over 1100 women in STEM reported that they have been made to feel uncomfortable by a man who won't leave their poster 25%-100% of the time they present.

    16% of women say this happens to them at every conference.

    What are you going to do about it?

    Conference organizers: Make sure you have a code of conduct. I’ve seen the adoption and refinement process of this first hand in the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. I know it’s a lot for a small conference to do, but templates exist out there.

    I am seriously wondering if conference organizers should have poster session bouncers.

    I think I have only seen visible security at the biggest meetings I have been at. Maybe conference organizers need to put more thought into asking what venue security there is, and advertising that fact more widely to conference attendees.

    Faculty supervisors: You are responsible for the well bring and professional experience of your students. Don’t send new students to a poster session without a plan. Make sure the poster presenter has a contact number of people they can text if they want someone to come support them. There might be posters you want to see or people you want to talk to or grants you want to write back in your room, but make sure that you are in the poster hall when your student is and check in on them occasionally.

    Check in with your students and walk by their poster regularly if you are not co-presenting it with your students. Ask your students if they want you to take over presenting the poster. Beth Ann McLaughlin recommends having a code for trouble, like asking the poster presenter if they need a red Sharpie. If they say yes, they want help.

    If you are not able to go to the conference, at least talk to your students who are going. Make sure they are aware before they head to the conference. You, as supervisor, might know someone else going to the conference who can act as a “conference buddy.”

    Be willing to call this crappy behaviour out for what it is, as McLaughlin does:

    Physically get between the woman and the man, get his name off his badge and say, “Hey . I see you’re at UW. You’ve been here awhile. What do you need?” Smile. If he says they are “just chatting,” I’ll next level it. “Let’s not creep on my student. She’s working.”

    Fellow post session attendees: Two things. First, look out for other presenters. Suzy Styles wrote:

    If you see a presenter looking blocked or trapped, join the conversation to give them an ‘out.’


    Don’t be that guy.

    Nobody likes that guy.

    Additional, 24 August 2018: Perhaps because I chose the “singles bar” metaphor in the title, several people on Twitter suggested that having alcohol during poster sessions contributed to harassment. I’m not a drinker myself, and have commented to some of the societies I belong to about boasting about alcohol consumption, but I think it makes about as much sense to blame alcohol for harassment as as it does to blame Ambienfor racism.

    I suspect conferences are problematic partially because people are outside their normal social spheres. They can convince themselves that, “What happens at the conference, stays at the conference.” They are away from people who might normally see their bad behaviour, and think they can act without repercussions.

    McLaughlin’s poll was directed at women who had bad experiences with men, which are undoubtedly the most common problem. But it’s important to talk about these issues with everyone. Men and women. Presenters and attendees. This shouldn’t be a situation where men and women get different advice (i.e., women are told how to protect themselves and men are told to keep their hands to themselves). Discomfort isn’t just caused by someone doing something sexual or creepy. It can be someone who just won’t shut up or go away. Presenters who are men can be made uncomfortable by people who are trying to intimidate or bully them. Every poster presenter should feel someone has their back if they need it.

    Similarly, supervisors should talk to all their students about being a good audience member at poster and how to avoid making someone feel uncomfortable. For example, at international conferences, people from different cultures may well have different expectations and habits about professional interactions and personal space. Some cultures are more comfortable with a handshake or “air kiss” than others.

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  • 08/30/18--05:00: Link roundup for August 2018
  • Mike Pacchione at Duarte Design talks about how my wife created a powerful professional poster. Mike writes:

    Let’s summarize so you can apply this to your work, whether it’s a poster, slides or something else:

    1. Figure out the story you’re trying to tell. You need to be able to do that in a short sentence, two at most. (The ABT template is helpful here. - ZF)
    2. Write down everything you know about the topic, then remove anything that does not directly help tell the story you’re trying to tell. (Writing down everything could take a while. Maybe just continually ask, “Do I need this?” - ZF)
    3. Group your content together.
    4. Use visuals to express those groups.
    5. Make sure there’s enough white space.

    And here’s the makeover! Click to enlarge.

    Duarte Design doesn’t date their blog posts, so I’m not sure how late I am to the game on this one.

    • • • • •

    A big guide to tools to help you use colour effectively in data visualization. An update of an older post. Hat tip to Lisa Roust and Janet Stemwedel.

    I also liked this link out to this page praising grey for visualization.

    • • • • •

    Don’t be a ghost. Craig Maclean reminds everyone that if you’re not going to show up at a conference, inform the organizers.

    So for someone to ‘waste’ a presentation slot by simply not turning up, you are being unthinking towards colleagues as well as the meeting organizers.

    • • • • •

    Are conferences worth is? This paper suggests yes:

    he results of our study suggest that the annual symposium encouraged interactions among disparate scientists and increased research productivity, exemplifying the positive effect of scientific meetings on both collaboration and progress.

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  • 09/05/18--15:20: #SICB2019 poster class plan
  • Wordmark for Society for Intengrative and Comparative Biology
    Besides writing this blog, I am currently the chair of the Student and Postdoctoral Affairs Committee (SPDAC) for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB).

    Today was the abstract deadline for the next meeting in January 2019 in Tampa, Florida. Did you put in a poster abstract?

    If you did, I want to help! I am planning on doing a short online class to have SICB students and post-docs make posters that rock.

    If you are interested in taking a short online class to improve your poster for the Tampa meeting, click here to go to a form! I need to judge interest so I can plan on the best way of making the class happen.

    Please reply by 1 November 2019!

    External links

    Information form for SICB poster class planning

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  • 09/06/18--05:00: Posters are like muffins
  • Posters are like muffins.

    The top is so much better than the bottom.

    In muffins, the top is better because of the wonders of caramelization, and because that’s where it’s the easiest to put on ingredients like chocolate chips, glaze, fruit peeling, cream cheese, or what have you.

    The bottom of muffins are just okay in comparison.

    It’s not surprising that there are many products that are designed to give people only the delicious muffin tops and not the less appetizing muffin stumps.

    In posters, the top half is better because it’s sitting at or above eye level. The title is above eye level, which is important because it moves the title above most people’s heads so it can be seen from a long way away. The space underneath the title sits right around typical eye levels, and that’s where people look the most.

    Put as much of the good stuff on your poster in that top half. Your big, important question, hypothesis, or prediction. Your sexist, biggest result. Your bold interpretation or conclusion.

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    Today’s contribution is a prize-winning poster from Alexandra Lai! This was presented at the International Aerosol Conference. Click to enlarge!

    Poster: Chamical composition of cookstove emissions

    The title bar is particularly well done. It’s an excellent example of a clear visual hierarchy: the title is biggest and in bold. A subtitle is big, but not bold. The authors are smaller, and the affiliations are smaller yet. And the type is fits the space, so there isn’t a lot of empty space on the right corner.

    The colour scheme is a little busy, but generally works. The main oranges in the title and callout boxes and blue in the background are contrast colours. The colurs in the graphs might benefit from being a little more harmonized with the two main colours. Some of the greens and pinks don’t seem to fit that well.

    Alexnadra has done a good job with the typography here. The font is clean, the emphasis is clear, and the table is not a mess of lines. In the Methods, I might like to see fewer words, but the words are set out in a very readable way.

    The main body of the poster has a generally good foundation, but creating a grid and aligning objects would have improved the poster dramatically.

    Poster: Commented version of "Chamical composition of cookstove emissions"

    The graphs in the upper right need the most reworking. A reader has to do too much zigzagging in that section to read everything. There are two problems.

    First, the graphs are not arranged in any sensible way. There are six graphs there. Either laying them out as two rows of three, or three rows of two graphs would have helped.

    Second, and possibly worse, is that the figure legends to the graphs are pretty much in every place they could possibly be. Sometimes, there is a big description on top and a legend underneath. Sometimes both are on the left of the graph. Sometimes both are on the right of the graph. Pick one and commit to it!

    Of course, another solution would be to cut down the number of graphs. Alexandra wrote:

    I realized as I was presenting it that I only had time to discuss about half the plots, but otherwise I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

    As Alexandra should be!

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  • 09/20/18--05:00: Critique: Enemy myna
  • Today’s poster comes from Jennifer Pannell. Click to enlarge!

    Before I get into some details, Jennifer noted that this poster isn’t exactly the way she wanted it to look:

    I had some problems with the font, though. Scribus won’t embed them and so they look terrible unless you zoom in 100%, so it might look terrible as a png.

    I don’t know if the export problem might explain a few little issues, like dumb quotes instead of curly quotes. Or that there are lines after paragraphs on the left, but not the bottom right. “Fig” should probably have a period after it throughout.

    Jennifer’s poster has a clear two column format, with some attractive graphics to bring the casual browsers on board.

    There are some positioning choices I find odd, though. There is more open space on this poster than many I see, which is good, yet somehow items still seem to end up feeling crammed together. For example, here’s a close up on the upper right corner:

    There is open space around the images of the bird, and that’s good. But there are at least three points of things touching or almost touching that makes it uncomfortable to look at. Two of those could be fixed by making the birds about 90-95% of the size they are now.

    1. The “g” in “findings” in the title is almost touching the “J” below it.
    2. The upper wingtip is almost touching the institutional address. Why the address is split over two lines I cannot say. It seems like there is enough space to put it on one line.
    3. Most seriously, the beak of the lower bird is overlapping with a data table and partially obscuring a number. (A statistically significant one, no less!)

    Speaking of the table, I have mixed feelings about having the table and figures on white backgrounds. If you’re going to use a gray background, I’d be tempted to use that gray throughout. Instead of white, I might have tried either a transparent background or a very light gray (maybe 10%) to make the figure edges less obvious.

    The gray background is an interesting choice. It means that you can use either back or white as text and it will still be readable, which makes it more visually interesting and open up some options. But the contrast is half what it would be if the background was solid white or solid black.

    Figure 3 is missing some information needed to interpret it. There are no standards for what box plots show. Is the line dividing the box the mean or the median? What does the box show? 50% of data? Do the whiskers show a calculation of variation (like standard deviation) or a representation of actual data (95% of data)?

    I do like the big circle acting as a way in to the poster, and the little decorative touches like the branches in the left column.

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    Always fascinated by what happens to posters after the conference, particularly posters in the hands of crafty people. Beth Stuart says of her poster quilt:

    I’m not sure this version is any worse at communicating science than the original.

    Hat tip to Katy Kennedy.

    • • • • •

    As part of a larger argument about public engagement, Bex writes:

    Imagine if our poster sessions were held in public transport stations and you had to explain your research to commuters - and have an eye-catching poster!

    If anyone does this experiment, let me know!

    • • • • •

    Nice thread from Tracey Weissgerber on graph design. It’s based on this article from 2015, so I’ve probably mentioned it before in this blog.

    • • • • •

    Speaking of complex graphs, Predromics has purrfected the box-and-whisker plot:

    Hat tip to Ai Lyn Tan.

    • • • • •

    I’m had to ask Alisha Oshlack what a “rapid fire poster” is. But the Genome International 2018 meeting had them! It was a super short talk – one, single slide – that a person could give to advertise and pump up interest in their poster.

    I’m not sure about this. It seems to be more work for minimal benefit. Bit if any Genome International presenters like them, let me know! Hat tip to Melissa Wilson Sayres.

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  • 10/04/18--05:00: Critique: Marked frogs
  • Today’s contributor is A.Z. Andis, who is sharing an award-winning poster presented at Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. Click to enlarge!

    This won the Victor Hutchinson Outstanding Poster award in the most popular category!

    What leaps (no frog pun intended) out at you with this poster is the discipline in the colour palette. We are using black, and we are using green, the text is white, and you will like it! This brings so much cohesion to the poster.

    The first section of the poster (“Introduction”) is placed further right than the second section (“Experiment”), which violates our normal reading expectation. But at least readers get warned of this, because the sections are numbered.

    The varying widths of the text and images takes away a little of the cleanliness of the layout. Visually, it is unclear if the box with the white background belongs to the “Experiment” section or the “Results” section.

    The rotation of words is an interesting way of emphasizing key words in the title.

    The creator wrote (lightly edited):

    This is the first real conference poster I’ve made. I worked as a communications director for a non-profit and taught myself the Adobe suite and basic design principles. Even with some design background, crafting this poster made it exceedingly clear that design is really a minor part of the final product. For me, succinctly communicating science that I’ve worked on for months without rewriting my paper in poster-form was the biggest struggle.

    Editing is hard.

    It might be that when you know something about design, the design part seems easy.

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    Today’s contribution comes from Parisa Mehran, PhD student at Osaka University. This poster was presented at EUROCALL2018, but talks a lot about what went down at EUROCALL2017. You can read that story here, but as for the poster itself? Click to enlarge!

    The upper left side is blank on purpose to hold some documents that Parisa clipped to the poster. You can see this in her picture below, from her Facebook post about this:

    The poster’s biggest successes are the organization and the colours.

    The poster is clearly meant to be read in rows. Using gray bars to separate elements within rows means that the break between them is less conspicuous than the black bars between rows, so your eyes group the rows together.

    Yellow has the advantage of being a bright colour that is naturally light enough that you can readily read black text on top of it. The boldness of colour fits with the boldness of the thick sans serif type.

    I like the type choice here so much that I wish it was used throughout more consistently. “Live streaming” and “No ban no wall” are in the same compressed sans serif style, but they aren’t the same font. Those sorts of “almost but not quite the same” elements are risky, because people wonder if it’s deliberate or a mistake.

    The words “Develop” and “Design” in the bottom work well, because those are so obviously different. The geometric type used to spell out “Design” evokes the concept the word expresses.

    The flowcharts in the bottom left section would benefit from some elements having higher contrast. The “Development” box is almost vanishing from view because it it is a light, warm orange that is close to the background.

    The poster’s QR codes might benefit from a little more indication of what scanning them would get you. The top one is not bad, because it ties into the “Denied yet present” title next to it, suggesting you’re going to the “memoir.” The bottom one’s description, “Behind the scenes: All about OUGEO” is more cryptic.

    In fact, I wouldn’t have minded getting a little more explanation of the material across the board. I bet this is a great aid when Parisa is there to tell her story, but as a stand alone document, it is a little difficult to work out what the narrative is.

    This is the latest award-winning poster to be featured here! Best PhD student poster award, to be exact.

    Picture from Shannon Sauro, showing Parisa getting her award. Congratulations, Parisa!

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  • 10/19/18--06:46: Visual density
  • Your blogger is extra busy this week, and only has time to steal this cartoon from Red Pen / Black Pen on Twitter (

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    Bergstrom and West think tilting graphs will make people less likely to make mistakes about them. An article in Nature provided this example:

    Hat tip to Nature News and Comment.

    • • • • •

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    No, I haven’t gone full Tolkien this week. Mediterranean means “Middle of the Earth,” right? This week’s poster about the Mediterranean Sea comes from kindly contributor Francisco Pastor. Click to enlarge!

    Francisco is a repeat customer of this blog. One of his earlier poster was reviewed here last year, but this iteration is in Spanish. One of the things I like about graphic design is that you don’t always need to be able to understand the exact language to be able to offer advice! (Though I’m not sure what I would make of a poster in Korean or Hindi.)

    Francisco’s aims were to “increase importance for graphical info and reduce text. I also tried to highlight conclusion sections and added a screenshot to publish our sea surface temperature website.” Compared to the previous poster, I think this version is more successful at meeting those goals. The images are bigger and the take home message is more obvious and cleaner.

    But some problems that were in the previous poster are still creeping in on this poster. They’re small, mind you. But again, alignment is driving me crazy. Some elements are almost aligned. But not quite.

    I’ve added a few black guidelines on this version of the poster so you can see more easily if you click to enlarge.

    These sorts of little details are the monsters you see out of the corner of your eye: they almost escape your notice, but once you catch a glimpse of them, suddenly you see them everywhere. I first thought, “Oh, the conclusions don’t like up with the web portal.” Then I spotted another. And another.

    In the revision below, I just moved a few pieces around to square things up.

    In general, if you are working with rectangular elements – which is the most common thing on posters by a long way – align objects by their edges. And be super obsessive about it.

    This can become tricky when you have maps and graphs that have small axis labels or other annotations, because you might think the edge is defined by the text. In some cases, it will look better if the edges of the blocks are aligned that exclude the text. I tried this down in the lower right corner. The maps for such strong visual impressions that you want to see the edges of the maps aligned, latitude and longitude markings be damned.

    Related posts

    Critique and makeover: Hot Mediterranean

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    You are not supposed to take pictures on the poster session floor of the Neuroscience 2018 meeting.

    Photography, video, filming, tape recording, and all other forms of recording are prohibited during the poster sessions, lectures, symposia, minisymposia, nanosymposia, courses, workshops, and on the exhibit floor.

    But people broke the rules to take pictures of this poster.

    Here’s a closer look at the one visible section of text:

    It reads:

    Unfortunately, due to the travel ban imposed on citizens of Iran and other countries I am unable to be here to present my poster. My supervisor and I therefore decided not to present the poster at all. Science should be about breaking down barriers not creating new ones. I hope to be able to make the next SFN conference in 2019.

    This situation has been brewing since August, according to co-author Chris Dayas’s Twitter timeline. Starting 20 August:

    My PhD student who was so excited to attend her first SFN has been denied a visa to enter US based on her nationality... very helpful to progress science in all countries and break down barriers

    On 8 September:

    Disappointed that @Neurosci2018 @SfNtweets won’t refund my students membership to use at another conference in a country that won’t deny her entry based on her citizenship.... I asked nicely twice ....

    On 20 September:

    I just spoke with the Executive Director of SFN. He explained SFN's position re membership to SFN V meeting registration i.e. Thus, although she joined solely for attending the meeting only the latter would have been refunded based on her VISA denial @SfNtweets @Neurosci2018

    (I’m a little disturbed that the student is almost erased in this discussion. Her name doesn’t appear on by her picture or her words, and Daya never refers to her by name in his tweets. I am guessing she is the first author, L. Akbari.)

    This was not unique. Moataz Assem wrote:

    It's not just Iran, my turkish wife also didn't get the visa to present her poster. it sucks.

    The Lim Lab tweeted:

    So far we’ve seen many withdrawan posters due to the travel ban, at #sfn2018. Add many more who even didn’t bother to submit since they knew they won’t be able to attend. This needs to be addressed by @SfNtweets. Stand by #ScienceForAll #NoBanInScience #NoDiscriminationInScience

    Matthew Leavitt has a spreadsheet to collect the names of neuroscientists affected by the ban. I’d also point out that this blog recently featured another story of a denied visa.

    But back to the poster, and why it is so effective. Click to enlarge!

    I’ve seen notices of withdrawn posters before. Usually, someone sticks a page of letter-sized paper with a hand-written note explaining that the poster has been withdrawn. It gets no attention. Making a full-sized poster of the fact that there is no poster has gotten attention.

    And it’s not just the “no poster” aspect that gets attention. This is a smart design.

    First, you have a bunch of question marks in the left hand side, where people will look first. Any viewer would be wondering why there is not a typical poster with boxes and graphs and data to see here. The image acknowledges, “Look, I know you’re confused. Let me explain.”

    Second, the image fades pretty quickly to black around the sides. Black is often used to represent censorship, whether by black redacted lines in text or the word “blackout” itself.

    Third, the message from the author is placed on the right, the “bottom line” area. It’s placed at eye level, against the darkest part of the poster so it pops out.

    Fourth, when you look closer, you can see the outline of a poster underneath. A scientific ghost of what could have been, which drives home the frustration that there was something ready to go, that could have been presented.

    If the author had been slated to give a talk, what could have been the equivalent statement? The session chair would have just said, “The speaker cannot come because of the travel ban. We’ll resume in fifteen minutes.” Even if a co-author would have put up a slide like this poster for those fifteen minutes, nobody would have paid attention. People would have carried on with their business, going to another talk or checking their email while they waited for the next one.

    This poster makes a point better than any talk.

    Posters have been used for political purposes far longer than they have been used for academic communication.This poster harkens back to that earlier and more common use.

    Photos by Lionel Rodriguez, Chris Dayas (poster co-author) and Fergil Mills.

    Related posts

    Critique: Virtual conferencing