Poster Design

Tips and advice for academic conferences

Who is your audience?

Create your poster for your audience - you should not be taking the same poster to a niche conference on your subject and to public engagement events. What is the overall impression they should get? What are the key pieces of information you want them to take away with them? Have you pitched it at the right level, will they understand what they are looking at? Consider the following broad audience types you may be targeting.

Specialists

High levels of understanding and knowledge of the topic. Are likely to know the main acronyms within your field, specialist techniques utilised and most niche terminology. Likely to want to discuss methodology and results in detail and already has a wider understanding of the topic.

Wider field

Researchers in a related field. Likely to understand portions of your work, but unlikely to know more specialist acronyms, terminology and techniques. May have to give more background and go into more detail about why your research is important. May have extremely interesting insights from their own field which you can apply going forward. More likely to ask questions on the background and outcomes, questioning techniques they are not familiar with.

General

Likely to have little prior knowledge of the subject or your research area. Unlikely to know the specialist terminology, acronyms or techniques. You are likely to need to adapt the way you describe your research to avoid technical terminology and all acronyms- i.e. identifying genes instead of PCR. If you’re not sure about what counts as technical terminology, check out the de-jargonizer at http://scienceandpublic.com/ which helps highlights words to avoid.

What’s in a Title?

Other than the overall image your poster creates at 10m your title is the most important aspect. Often academic or paper titles are used. These accurately describe the research but often do not convey WHY your research is important. This is something to keep in mind- why should the reader care? Within the first 3 seconds your audience will make a decision about if they are going to stick around and ask more questions, or move on and check out someone else’s research. Make the main heading large and to the point. Avoid long boring titles (that can be on your handout!) and make sure it can be read from at least 3 meters away. Your research is unlikely to be purely academic for the sake of it makes sure that the reason they should care is obvious. If you can’t get it in the title ensure it’s clear in the first sentence or better still have its own section 'Why should we care?'

Use of images

Image and diagrams are a great way to convey information quickly. Avoid using images that do not add anything. You might be tempted to add an image of yourself completing data collection smiling at the camera. This is fine but make sure that it is in context and adds, rather than detracts from your poster and your message- perhaps next to the section on how you collected the data. Image quality and purpose are of vital importance. Make sure your image is of high enough quality (high enough resolution - professional printing quality is based on dots per inch (dpi) and 300dpi is standard) this is going to be blown up big, you don’t want a blurry mess of pixels. Badly taken photos or images that have an unclear purpose will detract rather than add to the poster. It also takes up valuable real estate. Cropping may be your friend - reducing clutter, distractions and wasted space from your image. Consider captions. These aren’t always necessary- some photos are obvious, and in which case just take up extra space. Sometimes these are really useful, especially if you want to refer to the image instead of writing another 50 words.

Use of graphs

You want to get your message across clearly and simply. Graphs can help. They can also be hideous if poorly done. Just as you would in a report/article/any other write up think about what you are trying to demonstrate and then choose the type of graph that will best display this information. There are whole websites dedicated to data visualisation for example https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/types-of-graphs-for-data-visualization. Think about the colour scheme of your graph in the wider context of your poster. Consider colour blindness- green and red are obvious colour choices for start/stop or good/bad, but really REALLY terrible if you have red-green colour blindness. Again there are websites dedicated to colour schemes and ensuring colour-blind-friendliness. Use these. Typically stick to 3 colours or less. Things to think about:

  • Gridlines- are they helpful or are they adding too much mess?
  • Is the chart self-explanatory? Will you need a caption?
  • Is the legend obvious? What are you showing?
  • What are the axis values and units? Can you read them?

Layout

You want your poster to be clear and to get your message across. Consider the flow of the poster and make sure it makes sense. People will nearly always read the top of the poster first- so this is where you want to draw them in and keep them around for the rest of your poster. Remember your poster is not a paper - your poster is an abstract. Please, please, please, PLEASE do not put up a full text document. No one will read it. This brings me to my next point - make sure your poster is not too cluttered. Try to pick your key points and keep them text-light. People like pictures. People like pretty, attractive posters. From a design point of view the easiest way to balance a poster is to break up text with pictures (i.e. it would be rare for a poster with all text one side and all images the other half to look good) placing images carefully throughout the poster will naturally break the text up into manageable, easy to read chunks, giving a better flow to the viewing experience. Have a look at the high ranking posters on our site - this might help you decide the text to image ratio you like which you can then apply to your own poster. If you really like someone’s poster on this site make sure to vote for them so they know they are doing a great job!

Text use

Number one rule: use only the text that you absolutely cannot do without. People are not at a poster session to read- they want easily consumable points in an enjoyable format. They are likely going to look at several. Text size must be big enough to read- body of the text should be 26-32 point. To stand out headers should be either bigger, bold, or a different colour. Do not use all caps- it’s difficult to read and feels like you are shouting at the reader LIKE THIS. Not pleasant. Stick to only a few fonts (ideally only 2- one for headers, one for main body text) that are easy to read (i.e. this would be an extremely bad font for most posters)

Top 10 ways to make a poster no one will read or remember

  1. Make your fonts small so only the dedicated perfectly sighted reader can get access to the amazing information you’re divulging.
  2. While you’re at it pack your poster full of text. Everyone one loves words especially academics all the journals they have to read – we can’t get enough.
  3. Garish colours help your poster stand out make sure you use them indiscriminately.
  4. Lucida handwriting font – sure!
  5. Long boring title that only means something to yourself and maybe your supervisor. Points for coming up with ways to title your work that won’t even make sense to them
  6. Absolutely don’t have handouts
  7. And remember stand there is complete silence.
  8. Don’t use any images or diagrams. IF you do then make sure they are off topic/low quality and difficult to decipher
  9. Summary charts have no place on a poster especially ones that quickly give an impression about what you have found out and
  10. Leave your name off. Everyone knows who you are and what institution your from and who your sponsors and the credits to your supervisors are also implied so again leave them off.

Tips & Advice for Conferences

Tips and advice for academic conferences

Read the instructions

Before you start, make sure you read any instructions provided by the conference. They may ask for only portrait or landscape posters, specific sizes, or stipulate the types of fastenings that can/can’t be used. The organisers may also have guidelines for logos and word counts.

Getting your poster there

Step one is making sure your poster arrives at your conference safely. Depending on how you are travelling you might want to consider your poster medium: fabric posters are fantastic for flying and can be folded up next to your socks, or rolled and placed in your hand luggage. If taking a paper poster, think about how not to crush it- rolled around a stiff cardboard tube might be one way to transport without damaging it, or better yet inside a poster tube. Consider the possibility of rain (especially for UK conferences) you may want to further wrap in plastic or check that the poster tube is waterproof. Some posters are printed on vinyl- this is an interesting option as it is wipeable, theoretically not bothered by rain, but transporting this flat or loosely rolled may be tricky. If flying check your carriers rules/ information on carrying a poster- this might count as your hand luggage.

Preparing your poster for display

You may be given information on how your poster will be secured by the conference. If you have been given this information in advance this is helpful, less helpful is being told on the day you can only use bluetac. Prepare for multiple situations. Take bluetac (or whitetac), celotape/ double sided tape and Velcro strips. Drawing pins are particularly good at holding up heavier posters and fabric posers, however many conferences ban their use, and you cannot take these in your hand luggage if flying.

Handouts

Handouts act as a reminder of your work, fill in your spot by providing extra information when you are not physically next to your poster, and are a quick take-home-and-read-later if the person is flying between talks. Handouts may be just an A4 print out of your poster, your papers the poster is based on, or the full methodology. They are a perfect way to include further information, allowing you to keep your word count down on your actual poster. Another way to include further information, or to send people towards your LinkedIn/ ResearchGate profile would be to include QR codes, their potential uses on posters has even been discussed in an article https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3798019/. Think of handouts as a way to reduce information on your poster, as an advertisement of your poster, and most importantly as an advertisement of yourself and your research. Remember, however, your poster should be understandable to the reader without needing an explanation, a handout is just a additional high five to your research.

What to do standing next to your poster at a conference?

Try to be as open and engaging as possible. When people are walking round and reading the title instead of standing there watching them read your poster, perhaps ask them if they want a short synopsis. Have a 30 second elevator pitch. Emphasise what, how and why you did it? Why is it important? If they are not in your field you might want to add the wider context. A good poster should act as an advertisement of your work, an effective way to start a conversation about a topic and a fantastic way to increase awareness of an issue/ your research- ultimately you want to do the same.

How to network?

Work out who they might be by asking questions about why they are there, this way you can then tailor your message to their interest level. Are they a student? An experienced researcher? A funder? Or just an enthusiast who is attending out of interest? Different people will have varying levels of interest in your work and it is important to work out what they might want to know to give yourself the best chance of making a useful contact for the future. Don’t dismiss anyone because they don’t seem able to help your career or because they are in a different field. Anyone can have very insightful feedback or ideas and you never know when a useful collaboration could be on the cards. Equally, you may have guessed wrong and they may be your head of department/ future funder/ eminent researcher within their field. Be friendly, answer their questions thoughtfully and make sure to introduce yourself.

What to do with business cards?

It’s not essential to have business cards. If you do want to hand out business cards it is vital you try to give the person a reason to connect. Do the classy thing and ask for theirs first. Handing yours out enthusiastically to anyone who will take it is an amateur move, it won’t yield anything other than a need to order more cards without any meaningful contacts. These days LinkedIn and Researchgate are better, more dynamic, networking facilities than handing out physical business cards, which is why we give you the option of adding your profiles to your posters.

About Us

Why are we doing this?

We have three main goals!

  1. Permanent record of your hard work.
    1. Maintain and show off both good AND bad ideas. Just because your idea/ research didn’t work doesn’t mean it’s not important for others to know.
    2. Posters take a lot of effort to design and produce. What a waste if they never see the light of day again!
  2. Advice and examples. Let’s get better together.
    1. By sharing we can support each other and receive valuable feedback
    2. We can improve and set current standards of design in our field.
    3. Encourage innovation by providing ideas for future poster presenters to draw from.
  3. Bigger audience. Get your research out into the world and give your posters the chance to shine. The snapshot shown by your posters shows how your ideas and research have developed over time- a fantastic advertisement for your research and you!
    1. Get your work out there. Participate in feedback and receive encouragement and new ideas.
    2. Be part of a community
    3. Remember, ideas that didn’t work are just as important as ideas that did!

Who are we?

Academic information dissemination enthusiasts. We strongly believe academia should be accessible to all, and posters are a great platform for showcasing your work in an exciting and engaging manner. We believe in preserving all aspects of research and sharing this information, with a storage and showcase platform particularly vital in today’s expanding digital world.

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