Tips on Good Academic Poster Design

Grad school poster_talk

I was invited to give a brief talk to a UCL Graduate School Training course on good academic poster design. I have only designed a couple of posters myself but found the process very rewarding. I prepared a few slides (although wasn’t asked to present them) so I have uploaded them here.
In the presentation I included 5  tips based from my own experiences. They are listed below with a few ‘bonus’ tips arising from the questions/ comments I received at the end of the session:
1. Know your audience and the likely environment the poster will be displayed in. My first poster was designed to be displayed all day in a spacious, non-crowded, environment. There is a lot (probably too much) of text as I hoped those interested would take the time to read it. The text and images were designed to ensure that people could get what the poster was about by just reading the first lines.  The intended audience were non-specialists. My second poster is designed for a conference setting. The display environment was likely to be crowded with less time for people to read the poster. With this in mind I have reduced the amount of text and simplified the design.
2. Know when to stop! Perhaps I should have headed my own advice in the first poster. Cramming the poster with everything you have ever done does not impress. You run the risk of making things look cluttered. It is surprisingly hard to distil your research into a few key sentences but well worth the effort. People have short concentration spans so it is better to get a few simple points across well than no complex points at all. You will find that getting this right takes most of the time.
3. Include something eye catching. Your poster will be alongside many similar-looking posters so break the mould and include something with a high-visual impact to stop people on their way past.
4. Before the poster is printed show it to some critical friends, especially non-specialists. It is amazing how things that appear obvious to you are ambiguous or misunderstood by others- it is your responsibility to present things better, rather than accuse them of missing the point!
5. Use a good graphics package. It is frustrating to walk round a poster session to see fuzzy or pixelated images that have been compressed multiple times as they have been imported into Powerpoint then exported to PDF. The other key advantage of this is that if you work in vector format you can rescale the poster as much as you like without a loss of quality. There are free software available: Inkscape (vector-based) or GIMP (image based).
6. Apply well-known aesthetic rules such as the rule of thirds. Use these to your advantage and people will naturally see order in your poster. Get it wrong and people will become confused or miss key aspects of the poster.
7. Include “take away” information. This can be in the form of business cards alongside the poster or a print out of resources. This is useful if you are not beside the poster for the duration of its display.
8. Choose a short and snappy title!
Hopefully these tips are useful. An additional point was made about accounting for colour blindness, I have already written a post on this.
I am not a poster design expert, nor do I think my posters are exemplary examples- I think they can both be improved in many ways. I am sure others will have their own tips/ comments so please feel free to post them. I end on a graphic by Megan Jaegerman from an interesting article by Edward Tufte on good news graphics as I think many of the points are valid for academic poster design.