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- 08/09/18--05:00: _You have options fo...
- 08/09/18--05:00: _Critique and makeov...
- 08/23/18--05:00: _Poster sessions are...
- 08/30/18--05:00: _Link roundup for Au...
- 09/05/18--15:20: _#SICB2019 poster cl...
- 09/06/18--05:00: _Posters are like mu...
- 09/14/18--10:18: _Critique: Keep the ...
- 09/20/18--05:00: _Critique: Enemy myna
- 09/27/18--05:00: _Link roundup for Se...
- 10/04/18--05:00: _Critique: Marked frogs
- 10/11/18--05:00: _Critique: Virtual c...
- 10/19/18--06:46: _Visual density
- 10/25/18--05:00: _Link roundup for Oc...
- 11/01/18--10:33: _Critique and makeov...
- 11/08/18--05:00: _Blackout: Poster pr...
- 11/15/18--05:00: _Critique: Digitized...
- 11/22/18--05:00: _Critique: Stimulati...
- 11/29/18--05:00: _Link roundup for No...
- 12/06/18--05:00: _Critique and makeov...
- 12/13/18--05:00: _Lessons from battle...
- 12/20/18--05:00: _Should we train all...
- 12/27/18--05:00: _Link round-up for D...
- 01/03/19--05:00: _Critque and ruinati...
- 01/10/19--09:14: _When posters fail
- 01/17/19--05:00: _Critique: Lending l...
- 08/09/18--05:00: You have options for numbers (PowerPoint users need not apply)
- Make your numbers right aligned.
- Use the same number of decimal places in each column.
- 08/09/18--05:00: Critique and makeover: Bird timing
- 08/23/18--05:00: Poster sessions are not singles bars
- 08/30/18--05:00: Link roundup for August 2018
- 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)
- 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)
- Group your content together.
- Use visuals to express those groups.
- Make sure there’s enough white space.
- 09/05/18--15:20: #SICB2019 poster class plan
- 09/06/18--05:00: Posters are like muffins
- 09/14/18--10:18: Critique: Keep the home fire burning
- 09/20/18--05:00: Critique: Enemy myna
- The “g” in “findings” in the title is almost touching the “J” below it.
- 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.
- 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!)
- 09/27/18--05:00: Link roundup for September 2018
- 10/04/18--05:00: Critique: Marked frogs
- 10/11/18--05:00: Critique: Virtual conferencing
- 10/19/18--06:46: Visual density
- 10/25/18--05:00: Link roundup for October 2018
- 11/01/18--10:33: Critique and makeover: Middle Earth sea temperatures
- 11/08/18--05:00: Blackout: Poster protests travel ban
- 11/15/18--05:00: Critique: Digitized manuscripts
- 11/22/18--05:00: Critique: Stimulating brain to lower pain
- Good structure that lets me know I read in rows.
- Visual hierarchy is generally good.
- Looks crowded. Would benefit from more space around everything, but particularly between text and edged of blue boxes they are in.
- Underlining text in discussion would probably be better as bold or italic text.
- Another editing run to cut more text might help. (I know, that bit is hard.)
- 11/29/18--05:00: Link roundup for November, 2018
- 12/06/18--05:00: Critique and makeover: Buffer it out
- Get rid of lines and boxes.
- Line things up.
- Put space between things.
- Make the text consistent.
- 12/13/18--05:00: Lessons from battle scenes: It’s all about the build-up
- 12/20/18--05:00: Should we train all students in graphic design?
- 12/27/18--05:00: Link round-up for December, 2018
- 01/03/19--05:00: Critque and ruination: Antibiotic resistance CARD
- 01/10/19--09:14: When posters fail
- 01/17/19--05:00: Critique: Lending low tech tools
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:
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.
Web typography: Designing tables to be read, not looked at.
Design better data tables
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:
Critique and makeover: Migrating birds
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,
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
Information form for SICB poster class planning
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.
Today’s contribution is a prize-winning poster from Alexandra Lai! This was presented at the International Aerosol Conference. Click to enlarge!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
Your blogger is extra busy this week, and only has time to steal this cartoon from Red Pen / Black Pen on Twitter (https://twitter.com/redpenblackpen/status/1050417709106704384):
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.
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.
Critique and makeover: Hot Mediterranean
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:
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.
Critique: Virtual conferencing
This blog mostly uses sciences as examples, so I am always positively delighted when I get contributions from the humanities. Today’s contribution is from Cornelius van Lit. Click to enlarge!
One of the things like about getting other people’s posters is they try stuff I would never do. I’d never put my title in the middle of the poster. And yet, it works here.
The poster is a great example use of using size to indicate reading priority. That large text in the middle makes it very clear where you are supposed to start reading. Nothing competes with that title.
The downside of having the title in the middle is that there is some potential confusion about how you are supposed to read the remaining text. But it’s okay here. After reading the middle introduction, people will jump up to the upper left corner (which starts “Scholars use digitized manuscripts...”) because that’s just where you look first when you read English.
After reading that section, I think most people will read across to the top right (which starts, “In one chapter...”), because of the proximity of the text. Having that big title in the middle stops you from looking down and trying to read in columns. If the title and introduction were at the top, people would get lost. (But with only four sections, they wouldn’t get lost long.)
I tried making two changes, both subtle, in the revision below.
First, I moved the author information and the QR code from the top of the poster to the bottom. I really didn’t like how the QR code was sitting “corner to corner” in the first version, so I lined it up with the map below. Besides, both bits of material looked like “fine print,” and fine print is more logically placed at the bottom. It might also be easier for shorter people to scan the QR code if it’s lower rather than higher on the poster.
Second, I added a very subtle neatline around the map in the lower left corner. (You may have to enlarge to see it.) Three sides of the map have segments with clear straight edges, but the left side doesn’t, making the map a strange, irregular shape. By using a thin, light gray line, the shape of the map becomes more consistent with the shapes in the other three corners.
Among digitized manuscripts
Today’s poster comes from kindly contributor Emma Taylor, who was generous enough to share her honours project. Click to enlarge!
This month’s contender for “Best conference poster” was spotted by Greg Fell:
If you have a fabric poster, Crystal Lantz can show you how to turn that ol’ science communication into a lovely tote bag!
She’s got detailed instructions, but you’re on your own for the sewing machine. Hat tip to Crystal Lantz and Caitlin verder Weele.
I missed these tweets from Suzy Styles about poster club back in August, when there was discussion about harassment in poster sessions:
The First Rule of Poster Club is...
🤛🏻you 🤛🏻do 🤛🏻not 🤛🏻 talk🤛🏻about...
🤛🏻the presenter’s appearance
🤛🏻the presenter’s phone number
🤛🏻who you think ‘actually’ wrote the code
🤛🏻basically anything other than the poster and relevant scientific context 🤷🏻♀️
The Second Rule of Poster Club is...
🤛🏻try to look down the presenter’s top
🤛🏻stand unnecessarily close
🤛🏻touch the presenter 🙅🏻
🤛🏻block the presenter with your body
🤛🏻talk about anything other than the poster and relevant scientific context
The Third Rule of Poster Club is...
🤛🏻be aware that if you are much taller, standing close can be intimidating
🤛🏻be aware that if you are more senior, standing close can be intimidating
🤛🏻check - am I being a jerk atm?
🤛🏻do not talk about anything other than the poster++
Phylopic is a great resource for biology presenters. It provides silhouettes of different animals. I tried, “Crab.”
Weirdly, I tried clicking Callinectes sapidus, which has an icon next to its name, and found there was no image of that species! But with a little more clicking, it provided this outline of Liocarcinus vernalis.
The “illustrated lineage” feature is also pretty nice. Hat tip to John Vanek.
More conferences should use magnetic name badges, says Jennifer Rohn.
OMG - a magnetic name badge so you don’t have to pierce your expensive clothes! Where have you been all my life?
This blog post mainly about bootstraps (in the mathematical sense) but also contains warnings against the problems of bar graphs and error bars.
(T)here is no substitute for a scatterplot, at least for relatively small sample sizes. Also, using the mean +/- SD, +/- SEM, with a classic confidence interval (using t formula) or with a percentile bootstrap confidence interval can provide very different impressions about the spread in the data (although it is not their primary objective).
John Burn-Murdoch has a nice analysis of this wide-distributed graphic of US election results.
With that constraint gone, you can label them all directly! Immediately more readable.
Kathleen Morris gives us a list of free graphics resources.
Hat tip to Lisa Lundgren and Emily Rollinson
Today's poster is a contribution from William Elaban. This was not for a conference, but a class. Click to enlarge!
Now, I have to apologize to William here, because my first reaction to this poster is not a kind one. But sometimes, my first reaction to a poster is:
“Blow it up. Blow it all up. Blow it all up and start again.”
This poster has deep structural issues. There is too much text. The reading order is all over the place. When the problems are that big, you want to see a fresh page.
But first impressions can lie. Then I calm down and start tinkering. And by following some of the usual design principles, the poster slowly but steadily gets better.
The first thing I did was get rid of lines. Underlined text and boxes were immediately banished. Headline case was replaced with sentence case.
Next, I tackled the table. I gave it a more standard format, with just horizontal lines separating the top, header, and bottom. I cut the large number of decimal places down to a more reasonable three.
Getting rid of the long numbers in the table made it more compact. I started pushing the elements around so I could line up the left edge of the table with the text blocks above. I did the same with the figure on the right. Columns started to take shape.
All the headings were made bold.
The text was a mix of Calibri and Arial, so I made it all Arial. I continued to try to make the text the same point size whenever possible.
I justified the text blocks to emphasize that things are aligned on the page now instead of scattered higgildy piggildy.
The deep problems remain – to get rid of those you really do have to blow it up and start again. But I’ll be darned if the poster doesn’t look noticeably better. And there isn’t anything complicated about what I did here. It mostly boiled down to:
Sometimes, I’m kind of amazed by how much the appearance of a poster can improve with simple fixes. It’s not crazy complex stuff. It’s like how getting a good haircut and a little makeup can take years off someone’s apparent age.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers features a fantastic battle scene: the battle for Helm’s Deep. There’s a lot of reasons why it works. The scale and physicality of it is awesome. But there is one factor that is underrated.
In the DVD commentary, director Peter Jackson talked about watching famous sieges and battles of film, like Zulu. He said that what he learned from those was that the secret was all in the build-up.
The movie spends a lot of time making sure that the audience understands the situation. The fortress is literally set against a mountain, creating the impression of “backs against the wall.” The city is outnumbered, with hundreds of defenders against thousands of attackers.
And you see that army of thousands marching in. Not doing anything at first. Just standing there. Then thumping their spears and yelling.
And then the army charges and all hell breaks loose and it is on. And when those orc charge and start throwing ladders up against the fortress walls, you are invested and ready to see what happens next.
The battle itself is only about ten minutes of film. It would have been easy to not show the orcs doing their “haka” and charge into the action, particularly in a movie that asks you to stay in your seat as long as the Lord of the Rings films do.
On a poster, the Results section is like the action part of the battle, when arrows are flying, axes are wielded, and explosions are going off. Too many poster makers want to charge into the action. Many poster presenters want to get to the stuff they find exciting as soon as possible.
But an audience member has to care. They need the set up. They need to know what the stakes are. They need to know the landscape the project is set in.
That means you should spend a lot of time thinking about the first part of your poster. This is important both in the design of your poster, and how you are going to talk about your poster. How are you going to bring someone who has never thought about your subject on board and interested in the outcome?
By telling them what the conflict is. By telling them the complication you are trying to solve. By setting up a scenario, then throwing in a “But...” moment. You have to be crystal clear in that introduction. If you can do that, people will follow you through the battle to see the resolution.
15 years later, no one’s matched LOTR’s Battle at Helm’s Deep
When faced with this kind of question, I often see people say, “We should include this in our training for students!”
As an educator, I never want to be the person to say we shouldn’t train students. I’ve done it myself, often. I support this sentiment, but I’m wary of calls for “more training,” for two reasons.
First, suggestions for “more training” make me worry about mission creep. Over time, I’ve heard that students need more training in statistics. And in writing. And in ethics. And in grantsmanship. And in social media. And diversity issues. And in dealing with media. And in public outreach. And so on.
Don’t get me wrong, these are all worthy topics where I think training would be beneficial. But there is only so much we can realistically expect to make students competent in during their time in our programs. It’s hard enough to attain competence and eventual mastery in one discipline.
Second, graphic design is a professional skill that takes years of study and practice. “Training” research students in graphic design would probably end up being a few credit hours over a multi-year program, taught by a non-professional (e.g., a research scientist in the department who is smart enough not to use Comic Sans but never took a class in design) rather than a skilled graphic designer (e.g., someone from over in an art department who does this on a daily basis). (And I say that as someone who has been asked to do those kinds of classes and workshops. I mean, I’m that guy!) I worry that calling for training could trivialize the skills needed for excellent design and become a curricular box-checking exercise.
Instead of expecting academics to become one person bands, we should try to create more access and respect for experts in other fields and be willing to use them, credit them, and pay them.
Picture from randychiu on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.
It’s a small link round-up for this holiday season, but I have one I want to share, particularly given that last week’s post was musing about how we train students in graphic design.
This article talks about teaching data visualization to kids. Fourth grade students, in fact. That’s what makes it a perfect holiday post, because kids love holidays. Or something.
We might be taught how to read line, bar, and pie charts in elementary school because they have been around longer than others and are used the most. ... I’m not foolish enough to think I could teach 30 kids an array of new graphs in one afternoon, but I could at least help them understand that there’s more to the world than line, bar, and pie charts.The post also talks about a Match-It game for data visualization that looks interesting.
And for a lighter touch, here’s a graphic artist’s breakdown of all the Marvel movie posters.
That wraps up the year for the blog. Next year will be big for this blog. I have some very cool things in the work in the coming months!
For the first blog post of the year, allow me to ruin a poster.
This week’s contribution came from Sally Min. Click to enlarge!
When I first opened the file, I thought, “This is strong.” We have that intense White Stripes colour scheme. The diagonals add a lot of visual interest and make the poster look different than the usual rectangular format. There is not a lot to read, because the poster uses icons flow charts effectively.
But those diagonals, which bring so much of the cool look to the poster, also mess with the poster.
They look like arrow heads. We expect to follow arrows.
At a glance, this is how I expect the order of stuff on the poster to flow.
But the numbers make is clear that this is the order the authors intended.
Because those numbers are so helpful, it might be worth making them bigger or more prominent somehow. Maybe numbers inside bullets would make them more visible. Here’s a very quick and dirty version:
While I know intellectually what the problem is, I don’t know how to fix it in a way that doesn’t make the poster look worse.
My first thought was, “The top row is confusing. It looks like there is an arrow pointing right to left, from black section 2 to the red section 1. I’ll keep the diagonals, but reverse it so the implied arrow is consistent with the reading order.”
I tried that, but you have the same problem with the diagonals looking like arrow on the right side of the section 4, which pointed across to section 6, when the authors want you to go down to black section 5.
I tried to create a visual cue, another arrowhead made of diagonals, to show the authors preferred direction, and that’s a hot mess. The shape created by black section 5 is just a weird polygon that makes no sense.
Maybe the solution is to flip the content. Put the material in black section 5 where red section 6 currently is, and vice versa.
I think this style of design could work, but the back and forth reading flow would need to be built in at the beginning. Something like:
You end up with “half boxes,” which in this sketch I’ve used for fine print.
The thing is that after all this struggling, I’m actually not sure it matters much. This is still a shapr looking poster, and that the authors were smart enough to add the explicit guideposts by numbering each section means that I am only momentarily confused looking at the poster.
When a poster fails, it’s usually because it failed early in the design process.
Years ago, I showed this poster:
It does not matter whether this poster does a lot of the detail work right. It does not matter how good the layout is, or how good the typography is, or whether the colour scheme is consistent and pleasing to the eye, or whether there is enough white space. None of that matters.
The authors of this poster doomed it at the very beginning, when they picked a page size... and got it wrong.
In my experience, there are two places where posters fail early on.
On the content side, people do not edit enough. They want to include everything, rather than focusing on one thing, and the poster suffers.
On the design side, people do not make a grid. They start drawing boxes without any underlying thought to structure, and treat their data like some sort of jigsaw puzzle to fit together.
I was reminded of the while I was making a poster for the Student and Post-Doctoral Affairs Committee (SPDAC) for the recent Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) meeting in Tampa (#SICB2019 on Twitter).
This poster was not a typical data-driven poster. Authorship was on my mind, and I wanted to do some consciousness raising about this issue to early career researchers.
What struck me was how little the poster changed from beginning to end. You can see this in the animation:
Here are a few frames from that process. I had created a six column grid template for a poster class I was doing for SPDAC:
I decided to used that as a basis for a three column layout. And I what kind of graphic I wanted*. And those were apparent in the very first stages of layout, shown below:
Even as the poster is filling out, the underlying structure stays the same:
And here is the final version:
Looking at it now, I should have made the title bigger. Oh well.
I have noticed a similar pattern when I’ve created animations of my design process before (here and here). This first one from 2015 keeps the same five column structure throughout the design process. A second one (from 2017) has a little more movement early on, but quickly settles down.
While you can see in the animations that a lot of time is spent tinkering. But the late stage tinkering is the polish that will differentiate the “okay” from the “excellent.”
It’s the early stage decisions that make the difference between “competent” and “embarrassing,” “okay” and “crap,” “success” and “fail.”
* From this blog post:
(T)wo chess pieces suggest conflict. But if you know how knights move in chess, the reality is that neither can capture the other. In other words, from the point of view of those pieces, it’s a “no win” situation.
I think that represents most authorship disputes pretty well.
Posters should not be usable as drapes
A poster with no conference, or: What I made in that #SciFund poster class
Critique: Sand crab summer
Today’s poster contributor is Scott Johnson. Click to enlarge!
This is a great marriage of content and form. The content is about something that is unabashedly “low tech,” so the hand-written, slightly lo-fi (okay, low tech) look is completely right here. It adds character and interest.
Regular readers know that I personally am anti-underlining, and try to remove it in almost every instance I see it. But here, because it’s hand written, I can see the case for it. When people write by hand, they do underline for emphasis. I would experiment a bit with removing the underline, but I don’t know if removing the the underlines for headings and making the headinga a bit bolder would lose the look.
I appreciate the purity of the monochrome greyscale, but it does wash out from a distance.
I would like to see a little colour – even if subdued, and not everywhere. To keep the “low tech” look, I would suggest referencing some old photos, like daguerreotypes. They often weren’t pure shades of grey – certainly not as pure as here. Old pictures often have creamy or brownish overtones to them, as you can see in this picture of American write Edgar Allen Poe.
Making the background of the page a subtle shade off-white or something might help.
Alternately, the poster might use a single colour to highlight a few elements, like duotone printing.
I'm thinking of maybe a very light yellow for the “sunburst” behind the building.
If the poster stays pure monochrome, it could use a little more contrast to make some portions stand out. I like how the lines around the house and title are heavier to make them stand out at distance. But the text, as mentioned, is fading a little.
Very charming work!
Picture from here.