This morning’s Links Dump included a post from Mad Mike and an entire blog on improving academic posters. For those not in the sciences, one of the traditional means of communicating research results is at a poster session where tens to hundreds of researcher each prepare a poster (usually 3′x5′ or thereabouts) about their project, hang them up, then stand by them to answer questions.
Mike and the Better Posters bloggers have some very good tips on graphic design for the benefit of the scientists “gamely trying to not look depressed at the complete lack of attention their posters are receiving,” but it’s worth remembering that these posters often have a sort of second life, back in the home departments of the researchers who make them. For example, we do a poster session every fall in which students who did summer research make up posters and hang them in the halls of the department. The posters remain there year-round, as a guide to the activities of the department.
Because of this sort of thing, there’s a fine line that needs to be walked in poster design. You want something that will look cool enough to bring people over to you when you’re standing there at the poster session, but at the same time, it needs to be able to stand on its own, if you need to step away to talk to someone else about their poster, and after you get back from the conference and hang it up in the hall outside the lab.
So, when you’re thinking about how to put your poster together, you need to keep both of those things in mind. A lot of the techniques you would use to make a poster visually arresting tend to work against making it stand on its own. You can do a good job with both– this example poster is pretty good, but I would be very cautious about things like the poster as whiteboard idea– if you make the poster too much of a performance medium, it becomes less useful as a stand-alone item.