23 March 2017

Critique: Electric India

Today’s poster comes from Anjali Sharma. It is being presented at the Energy For Society conference in April. Click to enlarge!

It’s... square. This is interesting, because I don’t see many square posters here on the blog.

Something you may not see (depending on browser settings and such) is that this poster has a wide margin. Margins are very undervalued on many posters, and the margin helps give this poster some lightness.

I’m having a hard time moving past the title. Those letters touching the top of the box are just killing me. There is room to center the text better vertically, since none of the bottom descenders (the lower case Gs) are threatening to touch the bottom of the red box.

The lines around the columns are not heavy handed. They are light and well placed far from the text, so they add some visual interest rather than feeling like an attempt shoehorn too much content into too little space. But I always like to see what a poster looks like without boxes.

Speaking of lines, there are a couple of stray vertical gray lines on either side of the bottom bar graph that seem to be left over from importing the graphic on to the poster.

Here’s a slightly revised version of the poster. I cheated with the title, extending the coloured box up rather than centering the text. this leaves the poster no longer perfectly square, nor all margins equal. But I think you can see what I was going for.

This is a rare case where I think the removal of the boxes does not benefit the poster.

The poster feels grey and text heavy, even though there are some reasonably nice big images on it. This might be happening because of the visuals are buried in the bottom and the right, far from where people look first.

But this poster is is clean, readable, and no one would be embarrassed to hand it on a poster board.

16 March 2017

Critique: Oil spill

Today’s contribution is an award winning poster from Ryan Gilchrist. Click to enlarge!



Ryan writes:
My aim here was to balance on the fence between a poster and an infographic, and try to convey some complex physics in an intuitive manner. My concern is that there isn’t enough information on the poster to keep the reader interested. Additionally, I’ve been trying to find an alternative colour scheme than ‘sideways traffic light’, but haven’t had much success yet!

This poster would definitely stand out at a typical conference. It makes a strong statement visually, with its big blocks of colours, curved lines, and slightly low fi images. It looks different than most posters you see at academic conferences, generally in a good way.

There are a few changes that I might try, although I’m not convinced I would implement them.

I’d try seeing how the central headings (“Subsurface spill dynamics”) would look if placed horizontally instead of at an angle. I appreciate that a little use of the diagonal breaks up the poster and adds some visual interest. But I would like to see it with the order and structure that a more typical placement provides.

All the different coloured sections have a black line diving them, except one. There is a colour shift between the top and bottom in the middle column. It’s even more noticeable because the implied line along the colour boundary continues on the right hand side, and there’s a black line dividing those sections. I might have tried making that middle section all one colour, or continuing the right hand black line (the one above “Research aims”).

I like the icons in the “Areas of uncertainty” section, though not their placement. It looks like they alternate between the left and right sides so that the icons don’t bump into each other. I suggest zig-zagging text and images, because it just makes more work for the reader. Again, the right column makes matters worse by comparison. In the list of research aims, the letters are so big and bold that they almost act like icons. And they are all on the left hand side. If you are going to zig-zag the icons in the central column, zig-zag the letters in the right list! Commit to the choice! Commit, I say!

Behind it all is a picture of an ocean spill on fire. The smoke mostly reads a texture, darkening up the central column, not as an image. I literally did not notice it until about the third time I looked at the poster. This is both good and bad. It’s good that I didn’t notice the photograph, because it means my attention was focused on where it needed to be: the content of the poster. But it’s bad because if I don’t notice it or recognize what it is, what is the point? What value does it add to the poster?

12 March 2017

Critique: Peak fusion protein

Today’s poster comes from contributor Braeden Schaefer, and is shared with his permission. Click to enlarge!


Braeden notes:

The poster theme colors had to fall within ASU’s maroon, gold, black and white color palette. The western blot in the results section is only a placeholder that I found online. I’m still waiting on my western blotting results but wanted to see how it would look now.

There is a lot to like about this poster. The two column layout is crisp from a distance. Up close, though, you notice that the left hand labels for the figure break through into the left column, rather than staying contained where they ought to be.

The left hand side is nothing but text, but it is typeset well enough. The text is big enough to be readable, has wide margins, and clear subheading that remove some of the intimidation factor.

This poster is a nice follow-up from the last entry about the design problem inherent in collaborative posters. In this case, it’s not the authors so much that are the problem as the institutional affiliations. The affiliations are chewing up for more space than I would like in the title bar.



There are five affiliations given. But four of them are different schools within the same institution, Arizona State University. I would cut the author affiliations down to lines: the university and the institute. Yes, you lose information about the schools, but I’m not sure anyone in the audience cares. You could then put the institutions on one line, freeing up more room for the title.

Speaking of the title bar, I have no love lost for logos bookending the title. The left institute logo looks like it has been distorted and squished horizontally. But I’m even more baffled here that the ASU logo is repeated at the bottom of the poster. And in an optically heavy black box, no less.

The use of the campus’s colours works well. Generally, campus colours have been picked by pros to go together. They are a good way to provide a subtle bit of branding that doesn’t chew up space. I have no clear idea if there is any reason why some of the bars are in gold and some are in maroon. It seems like the gold might be trying to highlight the main messages, but it’s a muddied signal (if that is the intention) at best.

02 March 2017

Showing authorship on posters

More and more academic projects are collaborative. This means more contributors, and more authors to list on posters. I’ve been thinking about how long author lists might be best displayed on posters, and have a few attempts here. You can click to enlarge any picture!

This might be the simplest multi-author scenario, where there are many authors, all from one institution.


Many big collaborative projects involve people from different institutions, however. How can you show the affiliations of those authors? Many people emulate journals and use superscripts.


This gets very complicated to read and difficult to read very quickly, however.

Another approach might be to group the contributors by their institution, relative contribution or alphabetical order or whatever other reason you have for deciding the order of authors be damned.


This chews up more space, so you might be forced to use initials for the authors and cut back on punctuation.


But if the team is that big, it is unlikely that they are all going to be at the conference. If we step into the needs of the reader for a second, what is the thing a conference goer might want to know? They certainly want to know who they might be talking to, that is, the poster presenter. They might also want to know the person behind the project, who is usually the most senior professor or staffer, and often the most recognizable “name” the poster might have.


Putting the full author list on an external link or down in find print in the corner might is harsh for the contributors. I know that. But in design, you have to grit your teeth and remember that it is not about you, or your friends. It’s about what the audience needs.

External links

When does authorship stop meaning anything useful?

01 March 2017

Eight is great!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog about making conference posters that don’t suck to note that this project has been running eight years now! Which is kind of awesome.

Thank you for your support!

Photo by Luca Sbardella on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

23 February 2017

Link roundup for February 2017


It’s been a slow month in poster land, but smile this gave me this makes up for the low volume of links this month.

Scott Kerr says:

I’m using this kid’s science fair poster for my next presentation.


Hat tip to Jeremy Fox.

09 February 2017

Critique: Feather sections

The poster contributors from the last Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting have continued to be generous with sharing their work. I’m pleased to show off another beauty from that meeting. This one was designed by Christian Laurent, and printed by VividInk printing in New Orleans. Click to enlarge!


Christian wrote:

This poster took a long long time to become what you see now. The cross sections on the left are actually tiled synchrotron radiation computerized tomography (CT) scans, with 325 nm per pixel! That means this whole poster was ~34 GB! (RAM = Rarely Adequate Memory 😛)

We wanted to show them in this much detail is because this work is showcasing a new method to identify fibre orientation by imaging proxy voids. These are much more visible in the grey portion of the text, which is an enlarged one of said cross sections. Have a look for the small white feather scale car next to the middle cross section and it should be evident why this poster is 34 GB, and how much data you can see if you look hard enough.

The CT scans were stitched together in Fiji. The poster was mostly composed in the GIMP, but the vector curved text was made in Inkscape. We’re very happy with the overall look of the poster now!

Christian’s poster succeeds because it understands that a poster is a visual medium. I can’t say this enough. Everything here starts with the graphics, and text is clearly secondary. This is clearest on the right, as the text wraps and conforms to the images it sits on, respecting that beautiful arc of the feather scan on the one side, and the curve of the wing on the other, rather than taking the more typical right angles. To make that work, Christian was obviously more proficient in Inkscape than I became. (I also tried GIMP for a while, but got too frustrated with it.)

One downside of this poster is that it is mostly monochrome. This makes it a little drab, but with only three levels of grayscale – black, mid-level gray, and white – everything is distinct from each other, and thus visible. However, the lack of colour in the main poster body does mean that the small patches of colour in the small logos in the bottom end up drawing your eye more than they should.

Speaking of logos, the “University of Southampton” logo at the top has about the same visual weight as the title. The logo is placed above the title, signalling greater importance. I might have increase the title by abour 10-20% and reduced the logo by 20-30%. Remember, the title of your poster should be the undisputed king of the poster. Nothing should compete with the title.

In addition to the poster shown here, Christian also some cut outs on his poster board. They were the same cross sections in the poster, printed larger on foam board, laid on top of one another. These again helped to make the board more interesting, and set it apart from the others plain old pieces of paper on most boards.

Related posts

The eye loves the circle
No more slidesters, part 7: Inkscape