26 April 2012

Link roundup, April 2012

Jessica Morrison at I ♥ The Road asked for feedback on her conference poster. It’s an interesting design worth looking at (and I reply in the comments).

Nature Preceedings has been a home for achiving conference posters. It is closing up and not taking new submissions. Existing ones will stay. For more, see Retraction Watch.

I love this article about comic lettering, focusing on Stan Sakai’s work in Usagi Yojimbo. I’m not sure how much of a lesson there is for posters, but I don’t care.

You know the difference between a serif and a sans serif. But can you tell your geometric sans serifs from your humanist sans serifs? Jenny Ambrose explains.

Some logos are so well designed, and so distinctive, they transcend language.

Kristina Killgrove (who was here last week) wrote on Twitter:

#PPA2012 / #AAPA2012 need to have "prettiest poster" contest. Not just 'cause I think I would win, but to show what good posters look like.

Preach it!

Before & After Magazine has a lot of helpful articles. This short freebie PDF remakes a business card, and ideas there are useful to posters, too. I particularly like the principle, “Colour attracts, black explains.” This related one of my “rules of two”: Limit yourself to two typefaces and two colours. Use a fancy type, printed in colour, for headings: headings attract people. Use a simple type, printed in black, for the main text: that’s there to explain to people.

Likewise, another post from their site has this gem:

No story, no design. No design, no story. I can’t underscore this enough. Without story, design is decorating. Arranging colors and shapes looking for something “cool.” ...

Only once you have the story will you have something to design.

Another great guideline is revealed by Chip Kidd in his TED talk. Kidd credits an instructor a Pennsylvania State University, Lanny Sommese.

Show this:

Or type this:


But never show this:

Because showing that is treating your audience like morons.

I now think of this as “the Sommese rule.”

Wired magazine has started a design section. While their manifesto seems to focus on “real stuff,” which I take to mean physical objects, rather than paper and text things, there may well be lessons to learn for those making conference posters.

Rosie Redfield has a nice post on conference networking, including how to handle a poster presentation:

At your poster: Maybe you’re explaining your poster to someone, thankful that it’s attracted at least a bit of interest, when a second person walks up. Don’t ignore them until the first visitor walks away! Make eye contact, smile, say ‘Hi, I’m just explaining how we collected our data. If you can wait a minute I'll be able to talk about our goals.’ Then continue your conversation, but make it easy for the new person to join in or ask questions.

Finally, thanks to John Hawks for the plug! Every bit helps, because there is still much work to do.

19 April 2012

Critique: Italian cemeteries

This week, I’m featuring a poster by Kristina Killgrove, one the Killer Ks from Round 1 of of SciFund. She recently featured this poster at her Powered by Osteons blog here. Click for bigness!

The first thing that pops out are those circles. They draw the eye immediately and powerfully. Dividing the big outer circle it into quadrants ties each section of the circle to its accompanying text box.

The symmetrical layout might benefit from providing slightly stronger clues as whether to read down or across, perhaps in the headings.This is one case where numbered headings might have been welcome.

The attractiveness of the circles helps overcome that the text is a little on the dense side. Four moderate length paragraphs is not horrible, but any editing that could make the text more concise would make the poster more appealing.

Working with circle is tricky though, given that so many graphs are rectangular. The data in the upper right quadrant is coming perilously close to puncturing its border, both in the graph and table. The table is the worse offender of the two, particularly as it is covering part of the dividing line at the bottom. The table would be better off if it were smaller.

I have mixed feelings about the display text in the title. On the one hand, I like the distinctive flavour. On the other hand, it is a bit difficult to read at a glance, which is critical for a poster title. For example, look at how similar the shapes of the “L” and “I” are. Plus, it’s set in all capital letters.

The very bottom “fine print” boxes might have followed the colour scheme above, bringing more continuity to the whole poster. The cost of doing that, however, might have been less clarity in differentiating which parts are data, and which parts are not.

My favourite part of this poster, though, is a detail that might be overlooked. But there’s a delightful little Easter egg for those paying attention...

Related posts

The eye loves the circle
The uphill battle for QR codes

12 April 2012

Critique: Neuropsychology of schizophrenia

Update, 8 February 2016: This post has been taken down at the request of the submitter.

Additional: Laura has started blogging here.

05 April 2012

Critique: Priming

Today’s poster comes from Alejandro de la Vega, and is used with his permission.

My big concern with this is the reading order. Here’s a “red line”to show the order you’re expected to look at the pieces:

The poster starts off going down in columns, which makes you think when you get to the Methods section that you should keep reading down. But no! Suddenly, you’re snaking back and forth across the page.

This is a major structural problem, and everything else is comparatively minor.

Something you can’t see on small pictures is a little detail in the graph. You may have to click to enlarge to see that the yellow bar in the graph has cross-hatching in it. The differences in colours are so obvious, and the cross hatching is so subtle, though, that the graph would be better off without them.

Speaking of graphs, the error bars on both graphs are unlabelled. And error bars only need go in one direction.

In the text, the bullet points do not clearly distinguish between the main points and less important sub-points. To put it another way, the hierarchy of information is not clear. All the text is the same size. All the bullets are the same size. Using smaller text and different bullets (perhaps open rather than filled) for the secondary points would help.

The only cue that some points are major and some are minor is the indenting. And even that isn’t handled well. Bullet points look better when the text of the second and later lines are aligned with the first word of the top line.That is,

● This is how points are currently displayed;
with words left aligned with bullets.

  • But it would be better if they looked like this,
    with words left aligned with other words.
There are other little typographic nits with symbols. There’s a letter X instead of a multiplication symbol (×), and a hyphen and greater than symbol (->) instead of a proper arrow (→).

Finally, I would just use the lighter blue that the text is on for the whole poster. The darker blue just makes the poster more “boxy” and complicated visually.