Challenging Status Quo Of A Scientific Poster

“Most of the posters won’t catch the eye of a passerby. They are jammed with text and more text. They don’t have enough images, and the colors are boring. These posters are unattractive”

This words came from the jury of a scientific poster competition, at a meeting of my research consortia.

The only poster that got a positive review was mine because “it has less text and lots of colors”. Luckily they did not evaluate the quality of the contents.

Getting enough attention at a scientific poster presentation shouldn’t be difficult if you are presenting sound science. Right? After all, content is king. But presentation also matters and taking care how your science is displayed will attract extra eyes to your work.

Your Eye Looks For Sexy Scientific Posters

You have been to poster sessions and wandered around. What catches your eye? It’s either a keyword in the title or some of the artwork in the poster. Definitely it’s not going to be a big chunk of text.

You know what kind of posters you like to see and which ones you skip. Keep this in mind when preparing the next one. You can design an academic poster that is like a self-contained journal article (with intro, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion) or one that is less comprehensive but more attractive to the eye.

If you choose for the descriptive poster, you don’t need to stand by it, since it contains all the information a normal person would need. Just leave some handouts so they can figure out your work at home and go hit the free drinks.

In case you want to interact with people, you can also opt for a creative solution, trying to say more with images than with words. Describe your ideas and results in just enough detail to spark curiosity. People will come to you and ask for more.

Having Fun With Scientific Posters

Challenging Status Quo Of Scientific Posters

Since we are scientists, why not use a poster as an experiment in itself to test the reaction of people to an out-of-the-box design?

The chances are that the poster session gets a bit boring. And since you have to prepare a poster anyway, why not having some fun in the process?

This is why Gareth Morris tried to spice up one of those boring poster sessions. He went the extra mile of using a professional designer to prepare an astonishing eye-candy scientific poster.

As he reports in his post Getting over an underwhelming poster presentation experience, his poster did not get much attention. Was it because of targeting the wrong audience? Are scientist not ready yet for this approach? Or isn’t good design any useful at all?

Gareth’s example takes good design to the extreme. But some basic knowledge on good taste and effective design can only but help your scientific poster presentation.

Tips For Designing A Scientific Poster

In a highly recommended article, Kendall Powell describes how a scientific poster should be designed. The main idea is

“A poster should look catchy from 10 meters away”

His commandments are:

  • Choose landscape (horizontal) over portrait (vertical) orientations.
  • Follow the recommended dimensions and instructions. Make sure you allow for white space and large fonts and images.
  • Use photographs, cartoons or illustrations to explain concepts. Limit the word count to 1,000 words.
  • Take great care in writing the abstract: conference attendees will identify posters to visit from the abstract book.
  • Make the title the punchline of the research—and make it intriguing. Consider placing an engaging image close by.
  • Titles and headings should be in a sans-serif font, such as Helvetica. Other text should be in a serif font such as Times New Roman, with a minimum size of 22 points.
  • Consider short bullet points for methods and conclusions.
  • Use black text on a white background. Red text can be used to draw attention, but avoid blue and yellow, which are hard to read.
  • Place figures in an obvious order, and consider using numbering. Figures should have a large headline with the main finding.
  • Enlarge the best piece of data and place it squarely in the middle at eye level.
  • Have someone else proofread the text.
  • Check the poster on a large computer screen at 100%, then step back half a metre from the screen.
  • If possible, project the poster onto a wall before printing it to check formatting at actual size.
  • Take a fine-line marker pen and white tape with you to the conference to fix any mistakes that you might have missed.
  • Don’t pin viewers down with an exhaustive tour of the poster.
  • Other technological tips include the use of an iPad to show movies or barcodes directing people to other online materials.

 

In this post for thescientist.com the author recommends among other useful things the next trick

“If you removed all the info besides the graphics, the poster should still be pretty good”

 

 Other Resources For Scientific Poster Design

Better Posters is a blog exclusively dedicated to academic posters. Here you will find good and bad examples, and great tips.

Colin Purrington shares in an extensive post all his knowledge not only on design, but also on presentation tips for scientific posters.

 

What are your ideas on scientific poster design?

About Julio Peironcely

Julio Peironcely, PhD is the founder of Next Scientist and a PhD by Leiden University. He helps PhD students to stay motivated, be more productive and finish their PhDs. Follow him on Twitter (@peyron) or read more from him on JulioPeironcely.com.