24 July 2014

Critique: Immune cells

Matteo di Bernardo reached out to me on Twitter to ask for feedback on this poster (click to enlarge):


My first and fiercest reaction is, “Ditch the abstract!”  Shorter text and a visual may entice people more than a big block of small text, which sucks away energy like a tombstone in a graveyard.

Likewise, the conclusions seem to have a lot of writing for only a couple of data figures. The conclusions are written as a long list of bullet points. An alternative is to turn the first level of bullets into subheadings. Then, there are a few short bullet lists instead of one massive list.

I had a hard time figuring the main take home message of the conclusions. The poster shows a bunch of evidence, but doesn’t make a single definitive statement that ties it all together. (Matteo replied that the data was not very conclusive, making a punchy concluding statement difficult.)

Speaking of headings, the underline should be removed from the headings. Bold does the job.

I am never crazy about logos bookending the title, although this is not the worst case I’ve seen.

The references are chewing up a lot of space, so I would look for ways to abbreviate them. Perhaps they could be shortened with an “et al.” instead of a complete list of every author, or omitting titles or articles. Remember, the point of a reference on a poster is to allow someone to locate a citation unambiguously, and you don’t need every piece of information in a journal reference to do that.

The figures would benefit from captions. Currently, I have no idea what those images mean.

I would also try lightening the dark box around the western blots. The line could be thinner and more subtle, perhaps with a gray instead of a hard black. Similarly, I might try removing or lightening the horizontal lines in graphs, and changing the red in the bottom graph to something in the blue/green palette the rest of the poster is in.

Matteo asked, “Does the color scheme work? Seems a little bland to me...” I replied, “You want bland. Or, if you prefer, subtle. Colour is very, very easy to overdo.” It may be better to use colours in the images on the poster, rather than bringing it on the background and text.

I do like the ample space on this poster. The use of space is done well enough that I would remove the three boxes around the columns, and just let the margins divide the text.

17 July 2014

Critique: a poster about posters

This was up at this year’s annual American Association of Law Libraries conference: a poster about a poster (click to enlarge).



I like the idea of this, but I don’t see it as a terribly well designed poster. Too many colours, and too few elements are aligned. The reading order is chaotic, starting with a column, then flipping to rows.

The big red suitcase dominates the poster, but it seems to be one of the less important points of information.

Some of the content is also weak. “Choose software for layout,” for example, has little indication of what software is better than others, or why. Why not use Microsoft Word? (At least, I’m guessing that is what they are trying to convey with the barred red circle.) Further, I have no idea what the middle two icons are.

The poster is 41 inches high, and the (sideways) text on the right suggests that it couldn't be carried on several American airlines. Most of my posters are 42 inches tall (width of our plotter printer in our building), and I’ve never had to check my poster tube.

The fabric poster shows why I still prefer paper posters: fabrics are hard to get to hand as cleanly as paper posters.

Hat tip to Megan Lynch for drawing my attention to this, and to Sarah Glassmeyer for taking the picture.

10 July 2014

Your title is 90% of your poster

I’m riffing off of this post by Randy Olson (click to enlarge):


In today’s short attention-spanned world, headlines are about 90% of your communication effort (the text is just a bunch of stuff to justify the headline, meant only for people with a lot of time on their hands).
If someone were to read just your poster title, would they know what you wanted them to know?

03 July 2014

Lessons from Facebook: use more photos


People like photographs. Here’s some evidence from Social Bakers. This graph shows the most popular posts on Facebook: overwhelmingly, they’re photos.


That wasn’t because 87% of Facebook posts are photographs, either: only 75% of Facebook posts are photos.

You can also check out how Google Plus users use that network. Watch how photos get more and more popular.




This suggests that if you want people to stop at your poster, you should work hard to find relevant photos. Make those photos big and prominent.

And I do specifically mean photos, not just pictures. Graphs probably are not going to have the same attention grabbing impact.

Hat tip to Joanne Manaster.

External links

Photos Are Still King on Facebook 
10 Significant Things You Likely Didn't Know About Social Media But Should

Photo by Marla Elena on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

26 June 2014

Link roundup for June 2014

Points for honesty. Hat tip to Alan Rice.


The Science of Comic Sans is an interesting article on research about type, and how type has, for lack of a better word, “personality.” (Comic Sans is apparently the Upworthy-esque keyword that makes people click links about type.) Hat tip to Mary Canady.

Studies done in the past decade or so have identified the range of type traits with more precision. Broadly speaking, serif types are more focused and organized and calm than sans serifs – and much more than scripts. Rounder types elicit happiness; sharper types, anger. Odd spacing can be interesting but aggressive; consistent spacing feels professional but boring. Some work argues that most typefaces can fit into three personality groups: elegant, friendly, and direct.

It seems a little early to do a “2014 trends” article, but here’s one on logo design this year (so far). I had no idea pom pom logos were big this year. Hat tip to Mike Weytjens.


“Then” and “now” in design always make for interesting points of comparison. How does the humble pop can fare? Not to well, alas. Hat tip to Sleestak.


This painted type is here purely as eye candy.


19 June 2014

Critique: Skin, close up

Today’s contribution comes from Edgar Guevara, and is shown with permission. Click to enlarge!


The clean layout of this poster makes the reading order so clear that you don’t really need the circled numbers in the heading. I like the circled numbers as a bit of a design, though. But they would be even better if they were used consistently: the fourth column gets a “Cont” heading, but not the second.

The major concern I have is that the text has almost no margins around it. The letters at the start and end of each line are practically kissing the background image. I did a very quick and dirty attempt to widen out the margins:


If I were to keep at this, I would try to move the columns up, so that the white boxes weren’t scraping the edge of the paper, and even out the spacing between the columns. But I think this shows that a slightly wider margin improves the look of the text within the columns.

The graphics, while generally nice, are mostly down in the bottom half of the poster. I would be trying to move those images up closer to eye level if possible.

The background image is simple, so it doesn’t detract too much from the main content of the poster.

Although the logos are tastefully contained in the bottom corner, there are so many that they do start to look a little like a car in NASCAR.

12 June 2014

Critique: German chamomile

Today’s contribution comes from Reyna Gutierrez Rivera, and is used with permission. Click to enlarge!


On the plus side, the “Finding” box at top works well in providing a clear take-home message. The methods flow chart is also a good idea, although it could benefit from being smaller, because...

Everything is too close together! This poster needs wider margins between the columns, between the graphs, just everywhere. Making text smaller or cut some material will be worth it. The place where the poster needs the most clean-up is in the results. You kind of have two columns, but nothing lines up, so it looks disorganized. For instance, the figure and table legends don't line up with their data above them.

Given how much is crowded below, a lot of space can be freed up by putting the institutional address on one line. It's chewing up a lot of space.

Tables are always a problem on posters, because they are not very visual. Can you think of a way to show this graphically? If not, Table 1 would benefit from being wider (or a graph), so you don't have so many words hyphenated. Also, try removing the vertical lines in the table so you don't have a "data prison".

Figure 2 is squashed; the text in the axes give it away.