29 July 2010

The F1000 poster bank: Update

It’s been over two months since the Faculty of 1000 poster bank was announced.

I submitted a poster, and heard nothing.

Even if it had been accepted and put on the website without my knowing it, I could probably not find it, because there is no search function on the page. I can only browse through predefined categories. I guess they are counting on users to know how to use Google’s advanced search function to dig through the archive. (For the record, put “site:http://posters.f1000.com” behind your search term on Google’s main page to look only through the F1000 poster bank. It’s not a good solution, but it’s better than guessing.)

This is starting to feel more like an advertising ploy to promote F1000 to targeted scientific societies rather than making a tool that is generally useful to scientists. I hope that I am wrong, and that the website will blossom.

But as of right now, I’m with turtle on this one.

Additional: See the comments for an update from F1000.

Related posts

The F1000 poster bank
What to do with the poster?

Picture from here.

22 July 2010

Look into the poster: Gaze and graphics

We look where other people are looking. We follow lines of sight, gaze, arrows, or even long lines. This short resource on visual grammar calls such things, “vectors” (last two pages) and reminds us that they are powerful ways to focus attention.

I use this technique all the time on my blogs. Here’s a picture of a recent post:

The image of the fish reinforces the location of the main text. The fish is “pointing” to where you want your reader to look. Compare it to this:

Not as good. Now your attention is being drawn away from the main text into less relevant marginalia. It would be even worse if there weren’t a sidebar on the right.

What if you have the perfect picture, but pointing the wrong way? Any decent graphics editor will be able to flip the picture into a mirror image.

And the moral of the story is:

If you have pictures of people or animals or arrows on your poster, make sure that their gaze or the line of attention is directed inwards, towards the middle of the poster if possible.

Of course, this can sometimes run afoul of other conventions. I once was told that in anatomical drawings the tradition is always to have anterior end of the animal facing left, for example.

20 July 2010

Catch the worm!

For presenters: Get your posters up early!

For conference organizers: Could you please get out a flippin' tape measure and measure your poster boards closely, so that our posters, made to the exact size you tell us, won't be spilling over an inch or two on either side?

15 July 2010

Critique: RNAi and hepatitis C

“Comic Sans? Are you serious?”

I hate to say it, because I try not to be a font snob, but that was my first reaction to this award-winning poster up at ePosters.net. Click to enlarge.

This poster features the typeface Comic Sans. Prominently. Unfortunately, this type has become synonymous for bad design. It’s made the list of regrettable tech inventions (not just fonts, or design, but all of technology). Todd Klein has an analysis of how it compares to real comics lettering.

Heck, even other scientists recognize the failings of Comic Sans.

Moving right along.

This poster is a veritable laundry list of common mistakes.

There’s almost no underlying grid. For example, there are two columns in the results, but three in the conclusions, to give one more small example. That there are boxes to act as bounds for two uneven columns gives at least faint hope of structure, but the poster feels undisciplined.

Even putting aside the previously mentioned font, the typography has too much going on. Colour changes, alignment changes, emphasis by underlining, summary statements in green boxes (both with square and rounded corners), and there’s no need for a space before a colon...

One of the more interesting mistakes, though, is in the Results section. Most of the results have a bold, underlined heading that tries to emphasize what the graphs underneath are about. There’s another bold, underlined line of text under each graph to emphasize what the graph is about. There’s bold, underlined text in the legend to emphasize important points. Then, finally, there are summary statements in green boxes, which are close enough to the next section below that it’s not clear which text goes with which graph.

When everything is emphasized, nothing is.

Having made fun of Comic Sans, it’s only fair to let the typeface itself have the last word to defend itself.

08 July 2010

From movie posters to conference posters

Conference posters are visual. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about arrangement and shape, but let’s turn to another element: the colour.

There are a couple of tricks you can use to maximize the effect of colour. This one is well known to those who work with colour, but many academics might not have thought about it unless they're into Trading Spaces.

The Slide:ology blog pointed out how many movie posters are built around blue and orange. Then, the Into the Abyss blog pointed out that it’s not just the posters getting this treatment.

And I can’t help but notice the colours for the website powering this blog as I type this...

The idea here is that blue and orange are complementary colours, so that a small patch of one will “pop” against the other. Purple and yellow are complementary colours, and so are red and green.

This fits nicely with one of my suggested “rules of two,” which is to limit yourself to two colours. By making sure those two colours are complementary, you’re going to maximize their impact.

Blue and orange may be becoming a cliché in movie posters, but probably few makers of conference posters have twigged to this strategy yet. Make use of it before everyone else catches on.

Purple and yellow can work, too, if you are careful with the yellow. Because yellow is a light colour, it is sometimes hard to distinguish against white, which often makes up a large portion of a conference poster.

Red and green are probably the most tricky to use, and not just because people associate those colours with Christmas (as the Slide:ology post points out). Using red and green run the risk of confusing the not-so-small number of people (mostly men) who are red / green colour blind. It’s particularly tempting to use red and green to colour code a graph that needs more than two colours, because they are primary colours. Be very careful with them.

The two colours are that are the most opposite, the most complementary, the most striking, are still black and white. When in doubt, stick with those. They’re hard to screw up.

01 July 2010

Do I have to draw you a map?

There’s all kinds of reasons you might want to have a map on a poster. Demographic data, species ranges, voting results, and much, much more.

Sometimes, a map might be available in the literature that you can scan.

Of course, anytime you’re using someone else’s work, you may have problems. For instance, I’m only interested in species labeled 4 on the map (from Efford, 1971), which is the range for Lepidopa benedicti, a local crab. I could go in with a graphics editor and try cleaning it up, but that can be time consuming.

Google Maps is a useful tool for making quick and dirty maps if you have location data of some sort. For instance, here I was able to take data for the crab species from another paper that had location information (Boyko 2002).

Google Maps is an amazing tool for organizing location data, but to get a Google map onto a poster, the only method I know is to do a screen grab. Screen grabs always leave a lot to be desired. It’s a pixel-based image, and you’re limited by the size of your screen, which might not be high enough resolution for a large poster. And the Google Map has a lot of extra stuff on it that you might not want.

I’ve been playing around with the cloud software Indiemapper for some time. You can import data from Google Maps into it, and plot it in a large number of ways:

I’m just using this for simple location points, but you can also use this to make maps that show all manner of stats associated with different locations.

Indiemapper allows you to export your maps in a vector-based format (SVG), or as high a pixel count as JPG or PNG file as you want. You want a 10 inch map at 300 dpi? You can tell Indiemapper to make your exported PNG file 3000 pixels wide.

They offer a 30 day free trial and a discount pricing scheme for academics.

Related posts


Boyko CB. 2002. A worldwide revision of the recent and fossil sand crabs of the Albuneidae Stimpson and Blepharipodidae, new family (Crustacea, Decapoda, Anomura, Hippoidea). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 272: 1-396. doi: 10.1206/0003-0090(2002)272<0001:AWROTR>2.0.CO;2

Efford IE. 1971. The species of sand crabs in the genus Lepidopa (Decapoda: Albuneidae). Zoologischer Anzeiger 186: 59-102.