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Animate your Science – the importance of “designing” your conference poster

Poster Session at the WGC2015 (By: Yoong Wei)
Alexander Richter 11 Dec 2018

Poster sessions at conferences are often a dull affair. Fantastic content presented as a data dump with a lacking approach to design and visual appeal are counterproductive to what a poster should be, namely a networking and communication tool for the author(s). So great to see this great service by AnimateYour.Science.

Never having had to create a poster for a scientific conference not coming from a technical background, I have to admit always having not quite understood the scientific posters being set up at conference. Over the years though I have made it a habit to actually scan the posters for interesting content and often found some content that I found of interest.

One thing though has stroke me is how design is often an after thought by the authors. Often the whole space of the poster is used to a maximum, essentially a dump of information that would likely be of better use in an actual paper rather than a poster or then the paper that presents too little content for the space provided.

Not that many posters actually find the right balance and utilise design elements to make a cohesive story visually appealing and selling it to the audience. I understand that the topics, often rather scientific in a sense of presenting technical details in chart format, tables or similar, are rather dry and complex. But be it a product in a store, a paper magazine, a book, food and so much more, presentation is everything. Getting that first attention by the audience to glue them to the actual content is crucial. If you loose them just by looking at the overall look and feel of the poster, you lost them for what you are presenting.

Several conferences have been addressing this with specific format guidelines and templates, such as my good friend Patrick Hanson introduced at the poster session for the GRC Annual Meeting, others do an evaluation and promote better designs by best poster awards.

So I was rather pleased when I recently stumbled across a “poster design” promotion by the team of AnimateYour.Science. With a smart approach to gather my email address, asking for registration to receive their free presentation on “How to Design an Award-Winning Conference Poster”, they shared then the document.

Just the first page of their presentation comes to the point, that I could not agree with more:

“The problem is that 90% of the scientific posters that you’ve seen at conferences and in the corridors of your university are TERRIBLE. I mean VERY TERRIBLE!!! Therefore, any ideas you might have about what a scientific poster should look like are probably, well. . . terrible.”

They then describe the poster is not a “bottomless pit where you dump all of your data and technical lingo. Only carefully selected information and visuals should go into your poster. I know you have eight fancy 3D plots that you can’t wait to share with the world, but ask yourself, are they really necessary? Do you really need eight of them when just one would do the trick?”

Got to love the “coming to the point right at the beginning”.

The presentation describes posters as networking and communication tool, as a visual abstract of your research.

It then describes in detail different key steps:

  1. Scripting: target audience, bullet points, using sections …
  2. Concept: layout and size, panels
  3. Design: negative space, visuals, colours, fonts, contact information, photo of the author
  4. Getting poster ready for print

You can read more on this in their blog on “How to design an award-winning conference poster“, or via their website.

… oh and you can think about this in the context of the Call for Abstracts for the World Geothermal Congress 2020 in Iceland.

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