24 May 2018

Link roundup for May, 2018

Poster season has started, so we have people tweeting the coolest ones. Here is one by Alison Wardlow:


She starts with a blank page, then draws the poster while explaining her theory. Bold move. And people told me it couldn’t be done when I suggested this years ago! Hat tip to Nancy Chen and Emily Austen. and B. Haas.

• • • • • •

The biggest debate in typography rears its ugly head again. One space or two after a period? I’ll save you a click.
  • The effects are small – at best.
  • The study was done with a monospaced font, which you rarely see any more. It may not apply to most typefaces you will see.

• • • • • •

Confession: I’ve been interested in conference badges since I read this article about them in American Scientist. I keep scans of my badges from meetings I’ve been to.


So I was interested in this website, which does for conference badges what this blog tries to do for posters (though it doesn’t seem to be updated). It sprung out of this post on how to make a better conference badge. Hat tip to Michael Hoffman.

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Vintage IBM posters from the 1970s.

The posters were a creative outlet for imaginative minds working in a corporate job. Even projects that were clearly made for internal use only – like a Family Day at the local fair grounds – became artistic experimentation.

So much Helvetica. Hat tip to Doctor Becca.

17 May 2018

Fighting the fade

I get emails! Yesterday, I got email asking, “How can I stop posters from fading over time?” I’ve touched on this in the blog briefly, but did a little more digging.

I remembered from working with people who supervised our departmental plotter printers was that there were different inks available for the printer. Some were billed as more fade resistant than others.

But I quickly found the situation is more complicated than that, based on this page about consumer inkjet printers. The printer manufacturer and the paper and the ink are all important variables in determining fade resistance.

To start, there are various paper types. Microporous paper is more fade resistant that cast coated paper. Matte paper holds colour longer than glossy paper, according to this page.Which, again, is a trade off. Personally, I think glossy finishes looks sharper and better than matte finishes in the short term.

Ink types also come in a few different varieties. This page divided inks into dye- and pigment-based inks (pigment being more fade-resistant, because the colour comes from solid particles). This one further subdivided inks into water- and solvent- based (solvent being more fade-resistant). The trade off is that dye-based inks are brighter and look better in the short term. And there are even more types of inks.

To make matters worse, there is controversy about how to compare the longevity of printed materials. “Archival” is an advertising term that has no particular meaning consumers can rely on.

One independent testing agency, Wilhelm Imaging Research, as been working on these issues since at least 1998. A quick visit to their website is... not a quick visit to their website. There is a lot of material on their website, and it’s not organized in such a way you can quickly dip your toe in and grab some answers. It’s clearly a deep and ongoing issue.

Even knowing all of this, however, may not be information that the average conference goer can leverage for their own use. If you print in your department, the choice of printer, paper, and ink may not be up to you. Someone else probably handles purchasing and isn’t necessarily concerned about whether someone’s poster meets archival standards or not. If you are working with a commercial printer, the options they present to their customers might be limited.

The amount of fading can be reduced if you cover the poster. You might use some sort of lamination. You could frame your poster, but that will probably cost a lot more than the poster is worth.

There is only one partial solution for fading that I know: put up your poster someplace with dim light. That's why museums and art galleries are often dimly lit. If there’s no light, there’s no fading.

I know that’s not very helpful. Curse you, physics.

Related posts

Fade out

External links

Inkjet print longevity
Wilhelm Imaging Research

10 May 2018

Critique: Not following protocol

Today’s poster is courtesy of Catherine Chen. Click to enlarge!


The “Background” section is good, because it explains a lot in very little space. I was confused by the “Key Points” until I read the “Background.” I would take those “Key Points” and replace the “Conclusions” with them.

Eight “Future Directions” seemed like a lot. When I read them in detail, two points stood out as candidates for editing: the ones written in past tense. “A screening questionnaire has been added” is not a direction for the future. It’s done.It’s done and dusted.

This combination of typeface and subject runs into a kerning problem. Look at the word “CIWA” in the title.


There’s a bigger gap between the “W” and “A” than the other letters. This is something typesetters know about and watch for. “A” and “V” is another combination where this is a problem. It’s not as bad in the main text, because the point size is smaller, so the gap is less noticeable. But ideally, they should be closer together.“Tight but not touching” is a common typesetter’s instruction.


Always look at common words in your text when selecting a typeface.

Catherine did her poster in PowerPoint. In PowerPoint, this can be fixed by selecting two letters, going into “Home” tab on the ribbon, then the “Font,” pop-up menu, the “Character Spacing” tab, picking “Condensed” from the drop down menu, and fiddling a bit.

If possible, it would be great if you could get those middle charts all aligned horizontally. In particular, the rightmost “Nursing survey” pie chart, the circle sits noticeably lower than the other three pies. It’s distracting. Same with the two bar graphs underneath. They’re so similar in shape and colour that it draws your attention to one being higher than the other.



I wasn’t able to do much with the middle graphs, which would require going back to the original plots, but I tried tidying up the outer columns and title, and all the kerning issues with “CIWA.”


03 May 2018

Critique: Generic python

Today’s poster is from Leonardo Uieda. This was presented at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting last year. Click to enlarge!

A modern Python interface for generic mapping tools

Leonardo explains:

It’s about a software project I’m working on and not really about research results. That’s why it has no results figures (though the background of the poster was generated by the first code block on the right, so it serves as a kind of result).

The message I was trying to get across is: “We’re building this thing. This is what we currently have. Come help us!”

It’s always tough to have a poster that is just text. I might have tried to bring some element of the map off the background and somewhere into the foreground. The subtlety of the background enhances the legibility of the text, but at a glance, I can’t see anything that says, “maps.”

Leonardo continues:

I expect that my main talking points during the presentation will be around the code. Each line was put there so that it would represent an idea in our design and why we think it’s a good choice. The online demo and websites have a lot more information for people to read.

Colour coding the text in the code block is another nice touch that adds to the visual interest of the poster. I have no idea if the colour highlight consistent elements of the code, but that would be the principle to look for.

Finally, Leonardo says:

After printing, I realized that I should have made the margins wider, particularly between the two halves of the poster.

I agree with Leonardo that a bit more white space between the halves would be a good idea. But luckily, the text on the two sides only approach each other at about two points, so this is not a horrible problem.

There are two QR codes. Leonardo is good enough to give brief descriptions of what they are, which is excellent. I might want a little more detail about what the demo consists of, though. Can I run it on my phone? Is it interactive? Is it a video?

This poster shows a lot of good decisions. I just wonder if there are enough people browsing during the conference who would recognize and care about “Python” or “Generic Mapping Tools” to come and chat.

External links

Poster: A modern Python interface for the Generic Mapping Tools

26 April 2018

Link roundup for April, 2018

Charlotte Payne, I love you! Well, not in that way. I love you for tweeting about posters in haiku. I think my favourite is this one, on de-extinction:

resurrect the lost?
can we really right our wrongs
with a tweaked dodo?

• • •

Here’s how Meredith Rawls made an award-winning poster. Here are a couple of points in her description that I like:

Re-read the abstract you submitted to the conference weeks ago. Is it overly ambitious? Totally off-base? No matter. Your poster is an opportunity to communicate what you’ve done as of TODAY.

Do you know what I did with all the words I wanted to put on my poster but didn’t? I used them in conversations, and they appear or will appear in papers.

And here’s said poster:


Very nice!

• • •

A lot of people on Twitter were impressed by this poster:


This is a great example of how a poster can be, at one time, very simple and focused conceptually (there’s really only one figure, and no text elaborating introductions and methods and so on), and yet still show be very rich, showing a lot of data.

• • •

Nominee for “Best title of a poster, ever”, from Bryan Ward:


• • •

More unsolicited recommendations. Kirsty McLeod reckons Alecia Carter makes “the best posters I’ve ever seen!” Here’s one, and it would certainly stand out at a conference:


Check out more of Alecia’s work here.

• • •

Interesting presentation (in blog post) on whether design is too insular. Hat tip to Melissa Vaught.

• • •

Adam Calhoun lets us look into his creative process for designing a poster:


They all start like this.

• • •

Dyslexie is a font intended to aid dyslexics. Their page shows lots of clever ideas to distinguish letters.


Hat tip to Margeaux and Asia Murphy.

• • •

The May 2018 issue of American Scientist has a nice little feature on the design of business cards by Henry Petroski. Excerpt:

It was because of incorporation into mechanical filing systems such as the Rolodex that business cards became standardized in size. A square or outsize card might have stuck out from the bunch, but it also might have made the system jam and become useless. Being different for the sake of being different can defeat the object of any design.

It runs on pages 144-147.

• • •

There is a font inspired by Charles Darwin’s handwriting.



Hat tip to Andy Farke.

15 April 2018

Giving credit to designers

It’s nice when people spread the news of good work:

Emily Jones, grad student at University of Dayton, presented a poster on her field work plan for exotic species interactions in a Texas coastal prairie.


This got sent my way on the twittersphere (hat tip to Meghan Duffy) because it is a very nice looking poster.
Her stunning poster was co-designed with an undergrad graphic artist as part of a class. How cool!
But several people (including Andrea Kirkwood and Hannah Brazeau) mentioned that if the design is noteworthy enough to mention, maybe throw in the names of the students doing that design, too?

The designers’ names are on the poster, up at the top under the title, which is great to see.

I know from some people working with illustrators that the people making those graphics often significantly help bring clarity on the conceptual side, too. Good designers are often colleagues, and should be given that level of credit, not just down in the “Acknowledgements” fine print.

Graphic design work is hard work.

Update, 16 April 2018: Chelse Prather talks more about this collaboration. She writes:

People seemed excited about the posters that we've made collaborating with a class of University of Daytone undergrad graphic designers (design faculty leading the course: Misty Thomas-Trout & Kathy Kargl) the past couple of years. ... The idea from this just arose from befriending a like-minded, awesome graphic designer (Misty Thomas-Trout). We have had a great time working with these design students that want to portray our science in a way that is more approachable to the general public an other scientists!

Yay #sciart collaborations!



As much as I love the posters presented in the thread, I hesitate to call it “science art.” Just like calling something “science” turns off a certain group of people who think they can’t do it, the tag “art” can do the same thing for scientists. They hear “art,” think of “fine art,” and go into the “I can’t draw” death spiral that leads them to not even try.

05 April 2018

Critique: Calcretes

Today’s poster is from kindly contributor Jessica von der Meden. Click to enlarge!


One of the most distinctive features of this poster is that there’s a title, or perhaps a subtitle, running down the right hand side. I’ve often toyed with the idea of placing a title on the side of a poster rather than the top, but have always chickened out. I imagined that on a wider than tall landscape style poster, not a portrait style poster, which gets turned sideways to fit. I like the sideways title for its style, but it’s impractical to read.

The main body of the poster has six boxes, with white lines around each one. The white lines are, luckily, thin, so they are not as obtrusive as I’ve sometimes seen. But the boxes would benefit from having more space, and more consistent space, around them. The horizontal margins between left and right boxes are wider than the horizontal margins between up and down boxes, for instance.

For a second, I thought I would try cutting those six boxes down to two vertical boxes. That, I thought, would emphasize the column structure, and remove some of the unnecessary elements, clearing it up.

Then I looked again, and recognized that there are numbers in the text boxes. This poster is meant to be read in rows, not columns.

There are two problems. First, boxes 1, 3, and 5 have a consistent width. So do 2, 4, and 6. That creates the visual impression that they are grouped together. If you want me to read across, adjacent boxes (i.e., 1 and 2, 3 and 4) need have a consistent height to signal they are in rows.

The poster tries to compensate for the visual gestalt with the numbers by each heading, but that’s also a problem. Guides have to be prominent, and these numbers are not “popping” like they need to. They are more important than the heading, but nothing about them indicates their place in that heirarchy. They are the same weight and same colour, which makes them vanish into “Something at the top of the box.”

Making the numbers bold would help. Making them bigger would help. Putting them in a circle with a contrast colour would help even more. Maybe more like this:


When listing the author credits, why have superscripts behind each author name if all authors are from the same institution?

The photo background behind the title works, because the dark trees fit almost perfectly between the title and the authors. But the image is repeated down in the references, with less good results. Those dark trees cross right through the text, and that’s more distracting.

Finally, I’ve never been a fan of arrowhead bullets. They always look too fussy to me.