Science Poster Updates & Timeline

Aw geeze, where do I start? I mean, a bunch of stuff happened: Tons of really smart and wonderful people (see below) have been talking forever about using design tools in science communication; a guy named Mike Morrison pointed out some poster session flaws and proposed a solution; a bunch of scientists found it helpful and like a cool community they used, shared, iterated, and critiqued it; totally predictably, some lazy, self-righteous shitposters trolled him; and I created/wrote way to much about another template that you might find useful. Idk, it’s all on Twitter


NPR covers Morrison’s Better Poster.

Eva Amsen interviews me for her response piece on posters in Forbes. She also interviews rad folks like Amy Cheu and Echo Rivera, and includes an incredible poster from Nicholas Wu. In the piece, she makes the argument that all this chatter points to a need for scientists to adopt basic art and design skills in their communication curricula. By extension, let’s also try history, anthropology, languages, dance, economics, psychology, and... wait, wait, wait what am I saying? Nevermind. For a second there it almost seemed like I was trying to make an arguement that STEM subjects aren’t inherently more valuable to our collective existence than any others. Sorry. That would be blasphemous. I definitely don’t mean to be doing that.

Dr. Echo Rivera publishes an article on her website where she outlines 3 things she likes

    1. It’s changing minds & waking people up about how bad conference posters are.
    2. It encourages academics and scientists to come up with a headline (a takeaway point).
    3. It’s changing minds & waking researchers up about using design for better research communication.

and five things she doesn’t like about the better poster

    1. It perpetuates the myth that templates are the solution to ineffective communication strategies.
    2. Most of the poster design choices don’t actually follow best practices for information/graphic design.
    3. It’s wasting a lot of valuable space that could be used for better and more creative poster designs.
    4. It’s too much like a magazine ad or billboard; posters should be CENTERED AROUND DATA.
    5. Because of #2 & #3, it adds unnecessary barriers for the audience.

I feel grateful that Dr. Rivera called out a number of women who have contributed tons of work to the poster design conversation: Monica Granados; Dr. Kiki Sanford; Kylie Hutchinson for Stephanie Evergreen’s blog about better poster design, with even more links and resources at the bottom. And even more that have contributed to the general data viz or visual scicomm community: Stefanie Posavec & Giorgia Lupi of Dear DataSara Vaca, Elissa Schloesser, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, Sheila Robinson, Ann K. Emery, Stephanie Evergreen, Ama Nyame-Mensah, Louise Le, and herself.

(Because it’s so far down in my article, I think here is another good opportunity to thank others as well: Shiz Aoki of BioRender, Betsy Palay and Tami Tolpa of Picture as PortalColin Purrington, and Zen Faulkes of the awsome Better Posters blog) 

After all my blathering I finally made a poster using my template and presented it. Here’s how it ended up. Some takeaways that I’ll be working into future iterations:

    1. The graphical abstract is too big. It’s like a quarter of the poster. That looked like a great idea on the screen, but printing it made me realize that it’s excessive. I’ll be adjusting things accordingly.
    2. The poster itself is very big. That’s it. Probably could be smaller and still fine. I didn’t look up a GD thing before I used Morrison’s sizing, which was dumb and lazy. I need to do some research about sizing. Also incurred an increasing printing cost because it was oversized... no thanks. 
    3. I wanted more room for data. Distilling is hard work. I struggled to pare down what I needed and I still kept more than I used. I also waited until the last minute to start it. All evidence pointing to a rather disagreeable truth: I’m a real human and I have no idea what I’m doing.
    4. I’m not sure variations on the template are useful. I am not in agreement with Dr. Rivera’s claim that templates can’t be helpful. Not everyone will be a designer. That fact is awesome and fine and I’m not going to plan for a future where they are. I’m also going to continue to teach graphic skills to scientists because I think the skills are important am suseptible to confirmation bias and the sunk cost fallacy and my emotional investment convinces me that going down this rabbithole is a valuable use of my time. And also because it’s fun. As Morisson’s poster has demonstrated, improved templates can definitely work to encourage message distillation and storytelling practice. Also, I am in agreement with Dr. Rivera when she acknowledges that templates aren’t the solution or end goal. So I’ll remove the various template options, which I think give a false sense of choice; your data should tell you how to layout your story and slight adjustments to core content blocks are distracting from that point. This will mean one template in a few colors. I’ll focus instead on how to organize subsections within the data block.
    5. I value the process as much as I value the product. Poster sessions are like at least 50% about the MAKER of the poster. Everyone keeps centering the audience and talking about “catching eyes,” which makes me want gauge mine out. Yes, this is communication. Yes, audience matters. And also this is about writing a story and presenting that process using a visual product, so in our evaluation of all this bs we cannot forget to include the needs of one of the most users: the author! 
    6. Yes, different contexts (types of conferences) will influence the needs of the poster maker and therefore the poster design. That point doesn’t suggest we don’t use a template, it suggests we pay attention to making our story: a task that can be aided by templates. 
    7. I quickly hacked together a portrait layout with some of these things in mind (same download link) but will revisit with the landscape version later.
    8. Perhaps I should invest time in setting up some version control. This page is getting unweildy.

Colin Flaherty publishes #betterposter in Higher Ed 

Colin Purrington speaks up(!) and offers his thoughts on twitter

The current pace of updates cannot—must not—continue. To ensure that it does, however, Zen Faulkes has produced a compendium of updates. The immense, incomprehensible thoroughness of said tome is rivaled by none. It even goes as far as to satisify the hunger for strange loopiness; he references this very page. ︎ Importantly, in distilling all that has happened along our surreal dissent into Posterland he demonstrates a great deal of scientific rigor in carefully separating observation from judgement. What I call “lazy shitpost trolling,” he calls “jokes!” Tomato, tomato, eh? (Does that bit even work when written?) Cool job, Zen. Cool job.