24 November 2011

Square it up

Posters are big and cumbersome, and hanging them up yourself is tricky. You have to unroll it, stick a tack in one of the upper corners. Then you have go try to stick a tack in the other top corner, maybe two meters away, which is often longer than armspan for something above shoulder height.

Now step back and check that the top and bottom edges are horizontal.

Do not trust your instincts about the level line from when you stuck in that second tack. The upper corners of your posters are almost always above your eyeline, making it difficult to judge whether the poster is level or not.

If you think this goes without saying, I beg to differ. At Neuroscience recently, I was astonished at how many posters looked like they were taking on water on one side. These were not subtle little “one corner is higher” problems. I saw several that I guess were about five degrees off true.

The easiest way is to have a friend or colleague or helpful conference goer who is willing to step back and do the old, “Up a little bit... down a little... a little more... perfect!”

If there’s nobody else around, you can mount one edge of your poster flush with the posterboard. This has the downside that if can look a bit odd if your poster is much smaller than the posterboard, though.

Finally, since we are living in the future, there is, as they say, an app for that.

Photo by L. Marie on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

22 November 2011

QR code subtleties

The good men and women at Poster Session are on the ball. Here, they detail a whole bunch of issues with printing QR codes on posters that are... subtle.

It turns our that QR codes need to be of a certain size, depending on the length of the URL they are pointing to. Who knew?

An even more detailed analysis can be found here. As usual for posters, the solution is to make it big! (Also, testing the code at final printed size is probably a smart idea.)

18 November 2011

Overdoing it

Seen at Neuroscience: Someone using a laser pointer to point out stuff on his poster.

You're overdoing it, dude. Calm down and just point with your hands. Or maybe get yourself one of these.

17 November 2011

Smart dingbats

Dingbat has a double meaning: it can either mean ditzy or clueless, or it can mean icons and glyphs. Those geometric shapes are handy little devils in technical illustrations, and I’ve used them many times. Now, there’s a new set of dingbats in in town, and maybe they’ll help put the first meaning, because these are nothing if not smart.

For instance, if you look at Zapf Dingbats or Wingdings, you’ll see a circle with three radiating spokes, shown here in the upper left corner:

It’s reel-to-reel tape, something that was very much a specialty item when I was a kid. Admittedly, you don’t see many cassette tapes, but still, it’s a big step forward to a more contemporary and useful look.

For a full lowdown, read this article. You can download the new set at http://www.dingbatsfont.com/ for free. This is an amazing and generous deal for people working on any sort of information graphics.

10 November 2011

Link roundup, November 2011

Scicurious has poster advice gleaned from the big show, the Neuroscience meeting. I had my own advice here. I am just about to get on a plane to the Neuroscience conference, so expect loads of commentary from that in the days and weeks to come!

Speaking of conferences, here’s how to travel to a conference.

Software! It makes so much possible! And screws us over, too! What software do scientists use to put together the figures in their talks? There’s a poll that attempts to answer this question. No prizes for guessing the leader, with more users than the next two combined.

This article examines cognitive disfluency. This is something I keep meaning to write about here on the blog, as the idea of cognitive disfluency seems to argue for ugly.

From cognitive disfluence to cognitive dissonance... clever design can make even Hell seem appealing.

A nice example of simplicity in design.

You can tell Arial from Helvitica. But can you tell cheese from font? A hilarious little game.

05 November 2011

Neuroscience 2011: advice in advance

This week, I shall be at the annual Neuroscience meeting, which is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, scientific conferences, in the world.

A huge number of posters will be put together and printed this week. For those who do not want to have to dig through the last two and a half years of posts, here is a super quick guide to making your poster better.

The big tips

Shut up.

People want to read as little as possible. And at Neuroscience, who can blame them? There is more than any person can see, and big blocks of text scream, “This is going to take a long time!”

Show images whenever possible, especially pictures. Pictures of actual physical objects that people can recognize are always more inviting than graphs, which are generic and abstract.

Do your audience a favour: respect their time. Leave the fiddly bits for your dissertation or published paper.

Line up.

For the love of humanity, make a grid. Divide your poster up into evenly spaced pieces. Draw lines. Make every piece of text, every chart, every thing line up along those lines. Don’t just stick things here and there, or make them “almost” align. It looks sloppy.

Size up.

Make everything bigger. The text. The space between each line of text. The graphs. The labels on the graphs. Large size is a key factor in how long people will look at something. How do you know if it’s big enough? Does your poster pass the arm’s length test?

Free up.

Drawing boxes around everything is like putting your poster in prison. Solitary confinement is cruel. When your poster is well organized, all you need is white space to separate the sections.

Those are my main requests that can help make most posters better. Even I, with a lot of posters under my belt, forget these basics sometimes.

The next tips are things that can be ignored with a little practice and thought, but are good places to start.

You can’t go too far wrong with...

Black text on a white background

Black text on a white background works. You can do cool things with backgrounds if know what you are doing, but it’s easy to turn something looks horrible on a printed page. Most people should put away the gradient fills and the photo blow-ups, and stick with the tried and true colour scheme that you see in 99% of all books.

A three column layout

Photographers learned long ago that dividing things into three is pleasing. For big, wide posters, like Neuroscience, three columns may be too wide. If that’s the case, either create an odd number of columns (five or seven), or subdivide your grid into smaller sections.

Sans serif typeface for the main text

Some suggestions for typefaces that are fairly easily available include Helvetica, Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, Gill Sans, and Calibri. You may think these are boring because everyone uses them, but there is a reason people use them so much: they get the job done.

Personally, I like Gill Sans on posters. Its readability holds up at a distance.

Calibri – while a fine typeface – does convey a subtle message: “I can’t be bothered to change the default settings in Microsoft Office.”

And finally:

No frickin’ Comic Sans

Comic Sans says, “amateur.” You might be going for “humourous” or “approachable,” but you achieve that at the complete loss of the “professional” trait.

I’m not against fonts with a hand-drawn look. I am a big comic book fan. Many people could make their posters better by learning the lessons of comic books. But there are better comic book typefaces out there.

Do you have a poster at Neuroscience that you are proud of? Want to show it off? Get feedback? Or just chat? Email me! I will be at Neuroscience from Saturday, 12 November, to Monday, 14 November (and maybe part of Tuesday morning).

Unabashed plug! If this helped you, please consider supporting my scientific research.

03 November 2011

Columns where ya want ‘em

I’ve talked before about how much I like Microsoft Publisher for making conference posters. (Yes, even though the automatic alignment in the 2010 version is not great.)

When joining text across columns, though, sometimes you want what to force text to be at the top of the next column. For example, you may have a few extra inches at the bottom of one column, and you want to start a the next section at the start of the next column. You can do thing like just hitting enter and adding empty paragraphs until your heading is forced to the next column.

There is a better way.

Place your cursor on the paragraph you want to be at the top of your next column. Right click, and select “Change text,” and then “Paragraph.” Then. pick the “Line and paragraph breaks” tab (pictured). Check “Start in next text box.”

It’s the equivalent of a “page break” or “column break” in Microsoft Word. Unfortunately, the placing of the command, and the name, is not exactly standardized between the two programs.

Related posts

No more slidesters, part 2: Three Publisher tips
No more slidesters, part 6: Publisher 2010’s fall from grace