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I am currently in the process of making a poster presentation and would like some advice (or reference to advice) about some of the aspects of the graphic. For examples posters I am talking about see the supplementary material for the ASA Data Expo articles in Volume 20 Issue 2 of the Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics (another example is here (Hendrix et al., 2008)). Also note, if it matters, I would be standing with the physically printed out poster, have a paper going into more detail about the project if a passer-by requested, and the venue would be an academic conference.

  1. How should the flow of the objects be presented in the graphic. People in English languages typically read from left to right, should the panels in my poster follow the same? For an example (consider sequential numbers the order I intend the panels to be read), is the order of Table 1 always preferable to Table 2?
Table 1:  1 2 3     Table 2: 1 3 5
          4 5 6              2 4 6
  1. How small/large should the individual graphics be? When people stop to actually look at the graphic, say they are still standing a yard away (is this a reasonable assumption?), what is the approximate smallest size the elements of the graphic can still be interpretable at? Should I not care (they will squint if they need to read the legend/axis)?

  2. How much is too much? Is there an obvious limit in the amount of information presented? The same goes for text accompanying the graphic. Can I tell if I have too much text accompanying a graphic? Any rules of thumb?

  3. Many of the posters I see have panels of various sizes and no real obvious alignment. I personally don't like this (it comes off as disorderly to me), but am I just being curmudgeonly? The way I've ordered the current poster is similar to if I just wrote an analysis section of a paper, but is such an ordering not appropriate for a poster presentation? For a counter-example of the orderly sections, one may have a central graphic, enlarged at the center of the poster, and then smaller panels surrounding the central graphic with other supplementary information.

I would also be interested if people had examples of posters they thought were particularly effective (for whatever reason) and an explanation of why you think they are effective (or just aesthetically pleasing). I would also be interested in the obverse situation (i.e. a particularly ineffective poster).

It seems much of the work by Nathan Yau over at the flowing data blog on making data visualizations is pertinent to this discussion, but the medium (a physical printed out poster) and the audience (academics) is not the norm for most of those discussions. Are there any other references that address some of these aspects? I'm currently more worried about interpretation than "catching people's eye" (I assume the numerous bright graphics would suffice as attention getting).

Also I would be interested in answers to any of these questions (e.g. you don't have to take the time to answer all of them). I'm all ears.

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    $\begingroup$ For good ideas, study some comic books ;-). Seriously. $\endgroup$ – whuber Oct 27 '11 at 20:40
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I think one of the things people forget in presenting academic posters is that it is supposed to be a summary of your work, and generally speaking its role is not peer review, so although you might really want to win the poster prize, most poster viewers are more concerned with communication (as you are). Posters at academic conferences tend to be overinclusive and visually confused. Even well designed ones. I like plain backgrounds, understated fonts like myriad or gill, two to three of the same colors throughout the poster, and colour should communicate, not adorn. Colour should be concentrated in areas that then become a focus. And don't be bound by the grid, people like a little disruption. The best thing to do when designing is don't. Hope that's all abstract and useless enough for you. Best of luck.

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A few thoughts:

  • If you're standing by your poster, figures should be big enough that you can point to them without your fingers obscuring the picture.
  • Your poster is a presentation not a paper. Like a PowerPoint presentation, it should cover the highlights, provide fodder for discussion, and a context in which to place your research. What it should not be is a several foot wide copy of your manuscript.
  • I too am a fan of simple design. A neutral background (or white), simple fonts and clean, crisp figures.
  • "Too much text" - when your audience starts reading several paragraphs, or this starts read like a paper and not a simple narrative description, you've gone too far.
  • Keep it to a small number of main figures/tables. I generally try to limit myself to no more than four. These should be memorable depiction's of your research and jumping off points for discussion. Make them count.

Consider having printed 8.5x11 copies of your poster, and absolutely bring business cards.

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