Academic poster design. It doesn’t have to be a minefield

I recently went to a conference with my first academic poster. Firstly, no one mentions how awkward posters are to cart around on public transport, let alone walk with. Before you do anything, get one of those cool poster tube carriers that have a strap* disclaimer: if you laminate an A0 poster it will not fit inside the carriers! Secondly, if you are wondering how an earth the poster is going to be attached to the wall, don’t panic. Little bits of sticky back Velcro are usually provided so you can attach it to the display boards.

Ok. So we’ve got some logistics out of the way, onto the design. Many academics seem to think that a poster is the poorer cousin to a talk at a conference. Everyone wants to do a talk; it is seen as more prestigious. However, I think if you make an eye catching poster that draws colleagues in, you have more of a chance to discuss your research with them, potentially creating useful contacts for the future and receiving advice on how to take your research forward. In a nutshell, that dreaded word; networking.

 

Top tips

  1. Choose the right software for you

The first thing I did before I put cursor to page was to google academic poster design software. After trawling through pages, the most common theme was do not use PowerPoint. There is nothing wrong with using PowerPoint but I think there is software out there that is more suited to poster design. If your university has access to Adobe Illustrator I would recommend trying that (mine does not unfortunately). Or you could try Inkscape, which is basically like a free version of Illustrator. This is what I used, it is easy to get the hang of and you can align text and images accurately. Other options which I have not explored are CorelDRAW, LaTeX, QuarkXPress, Scribus.

 

  1. Think outside the box

 The whole point of a poster is to be eye catching and draw colleagues in. Once they are intrigued, they will ask questions and your poster will be memorable. The poster below for example, by Gareth Morris, is eye catching, simple, and leaves you wanting to know more. You can find out more about this poster here: http://www.nextscientist.com/challenging-status-quo-scientific-poster/

Fran1The poster entitled Humber in a Box presented at BSG 2015 really brings to life Dr Chris Skinner’s and Dr Tom Coulthard’s research combining gaming technology and existing geographical models to predict flooding and sediment fluxes in the Humber Estuary https://twitter.com/SeriousGeoGames. Here they used Google Cardboard and headphones alongside the poster, which allowed colleagues to place their phone inside the Google Cardboard, plug the headphones in, and view the model in 3D via YouTube. Even though this is not related to my research interests I instantly want to watch their model.

Fran2The article on nextscientist.com inspired me to try something different, and although I ended up with more text than I initially wanted, I got the right reaction at the conference. I had a great hillshaded Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of my study site that I wanted to be the star of my poster. This was printed in 3D and I had red blue glasses with my poster for colleagues to view it. Everyone was excited to put the glasses on, and I think it was this element that won the best poster competition at the Quaternary Research Association (QRA) Postgraduate Symposium 2015. To view a raster image in 3D follow the instructions in ArcScene and export the image. http://webhelp.esri.com/arcgisdesktop/9.2/index.cfm?TopicName=Viewing_in_stereo_in_ArcScene

 

Fran3

 

   3. Clear structure

Having a clear structure allows you to guide the reader through the poster, making it easier to digest the content. Numbering your figures and text boxes is an easy way to do this.

 

  1. Less is more

There is nothing worse than a poster with too much text, and in a room with 20 plus poster in, it is likely to be overlooked. Figures should have priority over text, as these will draw people in to read your poster and ask questions. My poster word count including figure captions and poster title (but not references) was 700. Try and limit it 1000 words max. Titles and headings are best in a sans-serif font e.g. Arial, whilst other text can be in a serif font e.g. Times New Roman, at a minimum 22 point size. References can be smaller; I used a minimum of 16 point size for my A0 poster.

 

  1. Print drafts and get comments

If you are making an A0 poster, print a copy at A4 or A3 size to see what it looks like. You should be able to read the text. Get some comments from your supervisor and other PhD students. I had 3 or 4 drafts before I printed it in the A0 version. If your University offers fabric printing, use it. It may cost more but you can fold your poster, thus removing the awkward transportation and liquid proofing issues.

 

  1. Go with your instinct

By all means take on board the comments by your supervisors, but if you don’t agree with them on certain aspects then don’t be afraid to do it your way. It is your poster. If you think it doesn’t present your research in the way that you want, then you are not going feel confident in presenting it. If you want to do something bold that doesn’t have much text and goes against traditional posters your supervisors may advise against this. However, if you come back from a conference and your poster was the most talked about or you won a prize, then it was worth sticking to your guns.

      7. At the conference

Stand by your poster and let colleagues read through it, you don’t need to give them an in-depth tour. They will ask questions if they are interested.

 

Fran1

 

 

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