08 October 2015

Critique: CEOs

This week’s contribution is from Christine Haskell, who was nice enough to share. Click to enlarge!

Chistine writes:

I’ve seen a number of these now and no one reads their poster, it’s used as more of a discussion tool. I therefore chose a visual, a mobile, to reflect the short and long term balance leaders need to manage their strategies. I will have handouts with references for people to takeaway.

I love the graphic approach using the mobile. It’s awesome. It’s the sort of bold choice that you don’t see often on academic posters, because it’s hard to pull off. It’s super effective.

I worry a bit if breaking up the title along the mobile hides it too much. The individual words are large and readable, but it took me a couple of passes to realize that the phrase “How do purposeful CEOs” leads to “experience growth” leads to “in their organizaions?”, and that it’s all one sentence.

More subtle is that the letters in the title don’t always follow their lines as closely as one might like. Particularly the bottom one, "in their organizations?" is diverging and drifting higher than the line below it.

There’s variation in the spacing between letters. “How do purposeful...” is much tighter than “Experience growth.”

Christina replied:

I’ve reached my graphic-capability threshold. I did this in PowerPoint, and need to move on to other things like writing articles and looking for consulting. I can’t figure out how to make those pesky curves behave better.

Down in 5B, I’m not a fan of the underlining of “Values have lifecycles.” Italics alone does the job.

That sections 4, 5, and 6 each have different bullet styles is a minor inconsistency that Chirstine admitted she just caught at the end. Thus obeying the Law of Maximum Inconvenience.

02 October 2015

Posters in the humanties - Plus! Critique: Safety

Today’s poster comes from Joschka Haltaufderheid. Before I get to a critique of the posters, I want to start addressing something Joaschka wrote in the email accompanying the poster:

(F)or researchers in the humanities, making a good poster seems to be quite challenging. Normally we do not present empirical results but rather lines of arguments, considerations of pros and cons, ideas, etc. That makes it very hard to balance text and graphical elements in a proper way since we first need lots of words and second do not have any figures, tables or diagrams at hand.

This is something I’ve thought about more than I’ve written about. Different disciplines in the humanities will likely have different tools at their disposal. Historians might have images of artifacts. Those studying literature will have texts. Both might have representations of the people they are discussing.

But, if you are in a situation where your main tools are words, there are two skills you need to master: editing and typography.

I’ve talked before about how uninviting long blocks of text are. You must find ways to convey your key point in as few words as possible. You must be ruthless about editing your text. Try to find a few, choice, tweetable phrases, and highlight those. People love aphorisms.

You can turn words into graphic elements with good typography. Compare this bit of text:

Give thy thoughts no tongue. - Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3

Sure, you could put that bit of text on a poster like that. Or you could put it like this:

Magazines and newspapers turn words into graphic elements all the time. Pull quotes. Drop caps.The choice of typeface and colour. These are not simple techniques to master, but they can give a text-based poster a graphic appeal that a document does not.

On with Joschka’s poster, which is used with his permission. Click to enlarge!

The accompanying picture of the sign is a good attention getter, and a signal that viewers will understand. There may not be enough contrast between the sign and the text where the two overlap, however. Look at the words on top of the “TY” in “SAFETY”, for example. Some slight repositioning might allow you to keep the interesting overlap with less conflict between the image and text.

I love how the title is handled. It’s given plenty of white space around it so that nothing competes with it for attention.

The rest of the poster reminds me very much of international typographic style that was popular in the 1960s. It’s a very modernist look using a sans serif typeface and a strong grid.

A few changes in typesetting could make the text less intimidating. The “Background” section appears as one text block, the right indentation indicates its meant to be read as two paragraphs. These paragraphs might be separated by a bit more space, indents, or both.

Similarly, a little more space between the headings and the text below might be useful in emphasizing the headings.

The figures are helpful graphic elements and well placed, although the top of Figure 1 comes too close to touching the text above it.

Overall, this is a strong design. I’m intrigued that the design strikes me as very “European.” I wonder if I could have guessed where Joschka is writing from.

24 September 2015

Link roundup for September 2015

FoxTrot starts off this month’s link roundup...

Hat tip to J.D. Wikert.

“What’s that font?” Trying to identify a font is one of those tasks that, until recently, was something that in many cases could only be done by someone with a near encyclopedic knowledge in type design. Indentifont is a good tool for the rest of us. It walks you through a series of questions, and makes suggestions all the way.

Using Identifont, I was able to nail down the typeface on this book cover as a slightly compressed ITC Fenice...

And my new institution’s new logo as PMN Caecilia with a customized rockin’ R. Bold, specifically.

Pro tip! Check the suggestions after every question. I found that sometimes, Identifont would make a correct suggestion that would go away after I answered more questions. I don’t know why, but there it is.

Be it resolved that:

It is unethical to present the same scientific poster at more than one meeting.

Drugmonkey started the debate; read the replies to the tweet for people’s responses.

There is an entire blog of free academic images. A promising resource, although it is a bit difficult to browse and search. For example, although this blog is all about images, it is entirely written in plain text.

Here are five reasons to go to conferences. Hat tip to Paige Jarreau.

How Scientific American makes its infographics. Quote from one of the illustrators:

The designer must realize that things are always more complicated than they seem. Particularly in any biological science. Moreover, any kind of catchy headlines like ‘we share 99 percent of DNA’, while not entirely wrong, are ultimately useless because they tell people nothing. Journalists must dig for surprising, engaging stories that reveal and manage complexity to the reader.

Hat tip to StoryBench and John Rennie.

17 September 2015

Critique: The social network

Something about this looks familiar. Today’s poster comes from Igor Mikloušić. Click to enlarge!

I love this idea. I’ve talked before about how it can be so helpful to base a poster off an existing design. Make a poster about Facebook look like Facebook. Brilliant. It immediately helps viewers recognize what they’re in for.

The poster runs into problems because it doesn’t follow the Facebook format closely enough! Facebook posts are usually short, and accompanied by a picture. Instead, we get some sizable blocks of text with no pictures, and they look gray and uninviting at a distance:

This is a limitation of copying another design. The design of a poster would benefit from changing the text size. But following the design of Facebook means you can’t, because then it won’t look like Facebook, which is, after all, the point.

This might be fixed by a substantial restructure of the middle of the poster to break the big posts into several small ones, perhaps with a few graphics. This would not be a simple change, but might be worthwhile.

10 September 2015

Critique: Quality mitochondria

Today’s poster comes from Arunas Radzvilavicius, and is shown with his kind permission. Click to enlarge!

The layout, the colour, the generous space, the use of graphic touches are all things to like on this poster. It’s very nice. But sometimes, a poster’s own worst critic is its designer. Arunas wrote:

The optimal amount of text on the poster is something I still can't seem to get right. I always seem to reduce the amount of text to the possible minimum, but that often leads to the poster becoming unintelligible to people not familiar with the details of my research.

How much to write on a poster is always a challenge, although most academics have the opposite problem of Arunas and leave in far, far too much.

The low amount of text is inviting to a reader from a distance, but perhaps confusing when you get up close. Here’s the start:

Isogamy: mitochondria inherited from only one (UPI) or both (BPI) mating types. Ancestral metazoan state. BPI if mutation rate was low.

This is so condensed, it’s close to shorthand. I struggle to revise this into full sentences, because some of the logical connections between words have been erased by the editing. I think this might be close to true:

In isogamy, mitochondria are inherited from one (uniparental isogamy, or UPI) or both (uniparental isogamy, or BPI) mating types. Isogamy is the ancestral metazoan state, with BPI favoured if the mutation rate was low.

Full sentences add more clarity than they take up space.

Seeing this poster shrunk down, it might benefit from the headings being a little more prominent. The poster is a little dark overall, and the reduced contrast dos not help the headings to “pop.” Likewise, using all capitals for the headings make them a little harder to read from a distance.

03 September 2015

Critique and makeover: PrimerMiner

Today’s poster comes from Vasco Elbrecht. Before I get to his poster, Vasco has a whole series of YouTube videos on making posters in InDesign, so you might want to check those out!

On to the poster that Vasco sent to me and let me share it with you. Click to enlarge!

My first reaction was that there’s a lot going on in this poster. It was a little overwhelming and intimidating.

The layout of the poster isn’t to blame for the feeling of busyness. The structure of the poster is actually reasonably clear and easy to follow.

A lot of the feeling of busyness has to do with the colours. Looking at it felt a like looking at a busy city’s business district:

There are five big blocks of colour on this poster: a red box, a green box, a yellow note, and orange note, and a light blue sidebar. And there is the data at the bottom, which also uses bright primary colours.

There may not be much that can be done about the data at the bottom, but the other five blocks might benefit from being more similar. Here is a quick and dirty example:

This redesign points out that the logos are also contributing to the business. Three of the five are dark blue, which isn’t in line with the rest of the poster. The dark blue blocks are also competing with the title for attention: the position says “the logos are important” (Cosmo principle), when the title should be most important.

Again, a quick revision that tries to bring the title out by repositioning and shrinking the logos (the title size is the same):

Now the emphasis is clearly on the title. Shrinking the logos helped emphasize the title by creating more white space to separate the title from everything else. The overall effect is a little calmer and more approachable.

Let’s revert back to the original colour scheme for a moment and have another look at that.

Over on the left hand side, the brightly coloured boxes again create a problem of emphasis. The highlighted colours and boxes, particularly from a distance, say, “I’m important, read me first!” The text supports this, too: “The problem” and “The solution” are in bold, and meant as key summaries.

If all the graphic and text cues say, “read me first,” why not put them first?

Some of the things I like about this poster? This poster has uneven sections, but there are visual signals that make it easy to follow. The lines between the columns is better done than on many posters, providing a clear guide that isn’t overwhelming. The use of subtle “A,” “B,” “C” icons help make the order clear and add a nice graphic touch. The sidebar clearly signals stuff which is nonessential to the main presentation of the poster. The spot for stickies is also a nice invitation for interaction.

City photo from here.

27 August 2015

Link roundup for August 2015

And this month’s winner for best repurposing of a conference poster goes to Will Mandy:

BioMed Central is starting a series on scientific illustrations called, What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The collection has three articles so far, each of which examines a different specific graph and how it could be improved. The one above takes on bar charts versus box plots and rescaling the Y axis.

This title for the upcoming Society for Neuroscience meeting is sure to ignite debate about whether posters should have funny titles:

12 things you didn’t know about high responder/low responder rats, stress coping, and the dorsal raphe. Number 5 will blow your mind!

Hat tip to My Cousin Amygdala.

Icons can be useful things for all sorts of graphics. There is a big icon library call the Noun Project that might be useful for in poster design. Its splash page boasts that it has 150,000 icons. I gave it a whirl by searching for “crayfish,” because those have been on my mind:

Not bad. You have a choice of downloading PNG or vector based SVG images, and it’s all available under a Creative Commons license. I will forgive them that two of their icons are definitely crabs and not crayfish. Hat tip to Paige Jarreau.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield has an album of songs from space. Fellow musician Jud Haynes (of Wintersleep) talks about the process of designing this cover.

Jud is an academic at heart:

I set out on the first phase of every good design project, “research”.

Hat tip to none other than the man himself, Chris Hadfield.

I’m a bit late to this article from two scientific illustrators talking about their craft. These guys are not doing literal interpretations of data, but they still want to get it right. Jon Hendrix says:

In my visual language, science is one of the easiest things to illustrate. There are so many nouns involved. The great thing with science, even in something as abstract as arithmetic, is there’s always some sort of image involved in it, and lots of stuff—whether it’s robots or plant material—that’s exciting to draw. It’s funny, sometimes when I do a science piece, I don’t have to draw things accurately, but I do want to value the science and the research.

Journal covers can have some similarities with posters: a big focus on key images and findings. Cell Press discusses how they pick their cover images: for the journal Neuron:

In particular:

(T)he editors have varying opinions within the team about what they prefer in a cover. Some like somewhat abstract images that require the viewer to stop and think about the connection between the visual and the experiment or idea it represents, and others prefer a beautiful scientific image over a metaphorical work of art. ... Images that look like simple reproductions of figures will most likely not be selected. In other words, no scale bars.

Rebranding a university is always tricky. I’m going through this process now. Penn State is doing this and has a new logo:. Compare the left (old) and right (new):

It hasn’t gone down well. I like the new Penn State logo in its overall design. The only problem is the eyes of the lion looks zombie-like, or, as one person said, “hypnotized.” But there isn’t much you can do about that when that is what the statue looks like:

I’d be a little creeped out having that on my campus.

Speaking of logos and rebranding, here’s an article about the creation of the distinctive NASA logo from the 70s.

Which conferences should you go to? You know, the location on the map doesn’t necessarily tell you about what the conference experience will be like. Jacquelyn Gill has some reflections on this based on her experiences with the Ecological Society of America conference:

I can attest that meeting location usually has little to do with the quality of amenities. Milwaukee, which had the lowest attendance in the last decade, is on a beautiful waterfront with lovely art deco architecture and great breweries. ... Portland and Albuquerque... were far from amenities and it was challenging to get to and from hotels and local restaurants. I hope more folks will realize this, and check out the places that aren’t as glamorous.

I wrote a guest post on the Edge for Scholars blog, describing the top three things you’re doing wrong on conference posters. Yes, I wrote and listicle, and yes, I feel dirty.

I’m also quoted in this article about the future of research conferences. The overarching theme seems to be that people want more interaction at conferences.