30 January 2014

Link roundup for January 2014

If you want your poster to look modern, try using fonts that were designed in this century. MyFonts has a list of their most popular fonts from last year. Many of them are display fonts (like the gorgeous Desire), but several text fonts are there, too, like Metro Nova (above) and Corbert. And by the way, the regular and italic versions of Corbert are free!

Speaking of the “Best of 2013,” Business Insider picks its favourite logo makeovers of last year. The overarching trend? Simplify. (Their list of bad logos includes many I’ve seen before at I Can Haz Cheezburger.)

That said, you don’t have to worry too much about making your poster look distinct. John McWade reminds us that many famous logos are very similar, and that’s okay. John writes about the three logos above:

All three are foods or beverages that come in small cans, yet note this: No one mistakes one for the other. None of us brings home a can of chicken noodle when we went for a Coke.

The Conference Mentor is a blog devoted to helping conference organizers! To date, however, there are no posts on how to make a good poster session, something that some organizers apparently need, judging from some of the dubious decisions I’ve featured here.

I recently reviewed Go, and have a review of Graphic Design for Kids in the works. One that things that both book emphasize is documenting things that you see, building a collection of design inspiration. Joyce Lee reminds us of the importance of documenting: you have a smartphone. Use it (but without the flash)!

If you happen to be at a conference at this time of year, even one in a supposedly usually mild climate with no snow on the ground, you may want some advice on how to keep warm.

You may want to read this article about creative differences between two typeface creators for the surprisingly fun comments section. Hat tip to Doc Becca.

23 January 2014

Critweets: Neuroscience 2013

Here is another reason that all conferences should all have:

When your conference has a Twitter hashtag, it makes it easy for people to tweet pictures of themselves standing next to their poster. And when people do this, it provides a whole new way to give feedback. I did a bit of this for the Neuroscience meeting last fall, as I was following the #SfN13 hashtag.

For instance, here’s one from Dustin Green (click to enlarge):

I wouldn’t have stopped at this poster unless the subject matter was very relevant to my research interests. Too much text, set too small!

This one is from Teo Resstel:

Even when I enlarged this picture, I could not read the title. This is terrible at a big meeting like Neuroscience: the bigger the meeting, the bigger the title, because people are more likely to be walking by farther away. (Neuroscience, to its credit, has wide walkways between posters, something many conferences should emulate.) This turned out to be a printing problem.

This one is from Yes! Outreach.

The jumping figure and exclamation point are dark. So is the text. The presenter said, “It’s actually not too bad close up,” but in a poster session, you have to be able to convince people to stop first before they can see it close up. I wouldn’t have stopped at this one, either.

If you want a superfast reaction to your conference poster, you can always tweet me at @DoctorZen!

16 January 2014

Critique: Behaviour 2013 conference poster competition winner

This poster won the competition at the Behaviour 2013 meeting back in August. (Yes, cleaning out some draft posts...) Poster competitions are usually judged on a mix of science and graphics, and I am only paying attention to the latter here. Alas, I almost feel this poster is a “Greatest Hits” of things I warn against.

Click to enlarge:

I like the monochrome colour palette, which seems to reflect the colours of the jackdaw, whose picture provides a nice entry point for the reader. On the downside, this poster seems to get darker near the bottom, and I worry about this being too dark. Maybe that’s just the lighting it was photographed in.

The headings are very large, which helps guide the eye through the viewing order at a glance. However, I dislike that they are actually bigger and bolder than the title, which violates the expected hierarchy. Nothing should be bigger than the title. The title is also fighting with an author picture, yet another institutional logo, and it isn’t centered on the page. The author credits are far too close to the line dividing the title and the text.

The figure in the middle is useful in making it clear that this poster is meant to be read in rows, but I badly wish that the rows and columns were even. I would even be mollified if the space between the “Introduction” and “Methods” wasn’t noticeably wider than the margin between the “Results” and “Conclusion.” For goodness sake, please use grids!

And there are boxes around the text. At least there is only one level of boxes... But honestly, there is one place where I think a box might have helped. There is also a clear mismatch in colour between the next box and the rest of the background. That it looks like an attempt was made to match the two makes the mismatch all the more annoying. I might have tried to put a box around the nest on the theory that if you can’t hide an edge, make it a definite one.

This is representative of the state of the art in conference posters, which is disappointing.

09 January 2014

Hung low

Lots of people take pictures of themselves presenting their poster. Like Zoe Amber, who tweeted this picture from the fiftieth anniversary Annual Discussion Meeting of the Quaternary Research Association:

Or Anna Bourne and Peter Abbott (tweeted by Swansea Tephra Group):

I’ve seen a lot of bad practices that conference organizers have inflicted on poster presenters, but this might be one of the worst. First, the bottom poster hangs from knee to nipple line. For someone to read the poster midsection closely, to look at the key data, means that they have to be looking down... almost exactly at the level of the presenter’s crotch.

People should never have to squat, crouch, or bend to read posters. Just a horrible, horrible decision.

Even putting the inadvertent gaze problem aside, having two posters on top of each other is a poor decision because the viewers of one poster will block the viewers of the other poster.

If the idea was to present the posters at alternate times... I have yet to be at a conference where people pay close attention to “Odd numbers at 2:30, even numbers at 3:30” sort of scheme. Poster sessions are too unstructured, too much of a free for all, and viewers will stop and look at whatever poster happens to get their attention.

Disappointing, Quaternary Research Association. What on earth led to this decision? Did nobody stop to say, “This might not be a good idea?”

Additional, 13 January 2014: I asked QRA50 attendees for their reactions to the poster session on Twitter. Drysdyk replied:

Lying together on the floor did add to the QRA fieldwork feel - and at least one of the winning posters was a lowy :-)

Hat tip to T. Davies-Barnard for bringing this to my attention!

02 January 2014

Go now! Kidd's book a wonderful intro

Doctor Who writer Terrance Dicks said that when he wanted to do research on a subject for a script, he would head to the library, and go straight to the kid’s section. Books for kids or young adults, he found, gave him all the major information he needed, but in a much more approachable and concise form than books for adults.

With that in mind, a lot of academics might want to have a look at Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd.

What you can’t see from the cover image at right is that this is a big book, with big text. It has a cardboard cover, like you associate with young kid’s books. And the interiors look gorgeous, a real kaleidoscope of different images and looks.

This book is playful. When you open up the cover, inside it reads:

Congratulations, you have decided to open this book, even though you have no idea what it’s about because the cover doesn't tell you much. In fact, the cover is weird weird and seemingly at cross-purposes with the message and possibly even a bit pretentious. And you know what? That was a design decision. Yes, indeed. Whether you realize it or not, most of the decisions you make, every day, are by design.

It’s friendly. Early on, Kidd asks the reader,  “Why should you  believe me?”, and gives a self-deprecating answer:

Overall, I think I’ve done over 1,000 book covers to date. That fact alone, of course, doesn't necessarily prove that any of them are good.

It’s informative, for a new reader who has never thought about design before. Make no mistake, this is an introductory book.

Chapter 1 lays out a lot of basic elements that go into graphic design, like size, colours, negative space, and image quality. There are a lot of concepts, each given 2-4 pages or so.

Type gets a chapter all to itself, in Chapter 2. As with Chapter 1, you get briefly introduced to the lingo (points, leading, etc.) through a lot of examples.

Chapters 3 and 4 are short, asking, “What are you trying to communicate?” (content) and “How are you trying to communicate it?” (concept).

Chapter 5 provides a series of short projects to get the creative juices flowing. They range from “start a collection” to “remake something you love” to “make a logo for a cause you believe in.”

Most of the stuff in this book I have covered in the last few years writing this blog. But even though all the material here is basic, and I already knew it, the book is so engaging that I was never bored revisiting material I already knew. I wanted to see how Kidd would explain it to me.

Go is allegedly aimed at young people, but it’s perfect for a novice of any age. It never feels condescending, and never feels like the good stuff is being held back for when you’re older. Go is a great place for anyone to start thinking about design, even a grown-up working towards a Ph.D., or a grown-up who got one years ago.

Bonus quote from this interview:

Your book talks a lot about fonts. Why do you have such strong feelings about them?
I want everyone to educate themselves more about typefaces – a lot of them won’t hold up to the test of time, and will look super dated in 10 years.

Like Comic Sans?
Yes, I think it’s terrible. It’s the 8-track tape of typefaces, but you see it everywhere!

External Links

Go: The book
Good is Dead: Chip Kidd’s home page