25 January 2018

Critique: Bugs and beans

Desi Quintans was kind enough to contribute his EcoTAS 2017 poster this week. Click to enlarge!


This is a sweet poster that I like a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of the title, Desi wrote:

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

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

Related posts

Your title is 90% of your poster

18 January 2018

Critique: Let’s compare

Today’s contribution comes from Richard McGee. Click to enlarge!


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


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

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

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

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

Richard continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

05 January 2018

The view from SICB 2018: "The effect of..."

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










And no, "Impacts on" is not better.


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

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

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