24 November 2016

Link roundup for November 2016

The posters up for the National Science Foundation’s annual Vizzie awards make for an interesting gallery. Some nice work there! Vote for your favourite!

Every panel in the figure above shows the same data. It’s a nice example of the choices you have to make in the design process, from Rousselet and colleagues. They are also the latest to fire salvos against bar graphs, with neuroscience being their main target:

Unfortunately, graphical representations in many scientific journals, including neuroscience journals, tend to hide underlying distributions, with their excessive use of line and bar graphs.

Your colleagues in Human Resources are making posters, too. Check this guide for making posters for Human Resources procedures.

I disagree with the final advice of, “Start with a template,” though. To me, that leaves too many decisions in the hands of other people, and they may not be good ones. How many below par PowerPoint decks have we sat through because people just grabbed whatever template was there?

Hat tip to Sarah McGuire.

I’ve been on a social media diet, so I don’t have as many poster related goods from Neuroscience 2016 as I sometimes do. But:

Fabric posters still don’t look as sharp as paper, according to Anne Martin:

I’ve yet to see a fabric poster that isn’t fairly wrinkled.

 Elizabeth Sandquist gave us this haunting image of a poster graveyard:

17 November 2016

Critique: Making enzymes

Today’s contribution come from Ian Haydon, who is kind enough to share it with us. Click to enlarge!

Ian writes:

The attached poster won best in show at my departmental retreat last week. I think why this took best poster was that two of the judges commented that I “told a nice story” (at least when I talked them through the poster, not clear it's as evident as a static document)

I designed the entire thing in Google Slides.

I think that makes Ian’s poster a first. I don’t think I have ever shown a poster made in Google Slides on the blog before. Ian wrote:

I love Google’s web apps. I make all my presentations in Slides and use Docs for all word processing so I’m quite comfortable with the controls. They offer all the essential features I’d use in fuller apps like Powerpoint/Keynote/Word, plus they cut out all the junk fonts and themes that I’d never use anyway. The ability to access all my media from any device is a huge plus. The collaboration tools are also top notch. I shared this poster with labmates in comment-only mode to get feedback before printing, for example. And Google apps never crash on me.

The only trick to using Google Slides to make a poster in is setting up the slide size. File > Page Setup > Custom. This should be done before you do any work, because changing it later will cause everything to scale to the new slide size.

Once I am happy with the final poster design, I save it as a giant PDF and print that.

This poster is built on a solid foundation. It’s a three column layout with a clear reading order, and everything is big enough that it can easily pass the “arm’s length” test. The colours are consistent and relaxed.

I appreciate that the institutional affiliations in the title bar are widely spaced. That makes it easy to match the subscript behind the author’s name with the institution.

My main concern is with the amount of white space on this page. Everything fits. Nothing is touching, but nothing feels comfortable, either. It feels like:

For comparison, standard letter paper (8½ × 11”) usually has about a one inch margin. If this poster is shrunk down to about that size, 7½ × 10”, the margins would be something like an eighth of an inch. When we are so used to seeing documents with larger margins, tiny margins look weird, no matter how well organized everything is within them. I would try shrinking major elements of the poster by 90-95% to provide those wider margins.

I’m never a big fan of logos bookending the title. But the title here is short, at least, so the logos are not chewing up room the title needs. But my objection to having the logos in the title is compounded a bit by the right one, the stylized “P,” being repeated down in the right corner. Putting two logos down in the corner doesn’t quite work. First, one is left aligned, while the other is centered, creating some visual tension between them. Worse, the two don’t line up:

Some of the colours used to highlight phrases in the text are a bit cryptic. The colours seem to be referring to elements in adjacent images, but I’m always not sure how. In the example below, the highlighted gold text refers to “missing side chains,” but the yellow in the diagram below (the closest visual match) seems to show alpha helices that are present, not side chains that are missing.

This may reflect my own ignorance more than it represents a design flaw, however.

10 November 2016

Critique: Establishing axons

Today’s contribution was tweeted out by Christopher Leterrier. Click to enlarge!

This poster promptly attracted compliments, and Christopher asked for my take.

This poster has one obstacle standing between it and total victory: it is dense.

This poster was made for the massive Society for Neuroscience meeting. With attendance usually around 30,000, people at that conference are already coping with information overload. Unless someone is already very interested in axons, she or he is unlikely to stop at a poster with 108 micrographs and 25 bar graphs (I counted).

That said, this poster convinces me that anyone who does stop to talk to the author will be rewarded. It’s clear that Christopher put a lot of thought into organizing this.

The layout is clear. All the data sections are structured exactly the same way, so that once you understand one, you should be able to follow them all.

Each section has a clear take home message. The one exception is one that Christopher himself identified:

Now that I look at it, “Conclusion and Perspectives” is wrong. Obvious title and zero specific info!

I agree with that self-assessment. Positive statements win over generic headings!

Looking at this poster shrunk down at thumbnail size, the poster number in the upper right is a shade too big. It’s bigger and more prominent than the title, and I generally argue that nothing should compete with the title. That said, this problem is not a bad one, because the poster number is well separated from the title, and the title is large and easily read.

This poster tries to fit an entire manuscript on to a single piece of paper. I do not recommend that as a strategy for a poster. But, given that decision to put all that information on the page, this poster solved the problem probably as well as it could be solved.

03 November 2016

Critique: Catalyst judging

Today’s contributor is Luca Biasolo, who gave me permission to show this:

This poster has more ambition and design sense than probably 90% of the posters I see at conferences.

I like that Luca committed to the green colour scheme, but I almost want a little more variation in colour. There is a little red and blue in the figures, so I wonder if those could be used someplace else in the poster, like the numbers in the headings. Maybe even some lighter or darker shades of green would break it up a little more. I’m not sure if I’m right on this; maybe it should stay the way it is. Luca wrote:

I’ve tried few colors more but it was a bit confusing. Maybe I haven't choosen them right ones or I mixed them to much. You are free to try. ;)

My major in looking at this poster was whether the numbers in the headings reflected the intended order? Luca replied that yes, that was the intention. That is, the reader is supposed to go around the poster clockwise:

My reaction to this might be summed up thus:

I think the idea is that because the central image is a cycle, the rest of the poster should also follow the path of that cycle. I think that’s going a bit too far. That might work if that central cycle was much bigger and more dominant part of the poster, but it isn’t. So the cycling around just seems out of place.

In fairness, I do think that the use of numbered headings here is appropriate. If you are going to deviate from the expected reading order, I do appreciate that you warned me about it.