28 November 2013

Link roundup for November 2013

I’ve featured posters from Michael Barton here and here. Here’s another great description of his process, and the result is this nice poster he did last year. (Hat tip to Sam Evans.)

ScientifFig claims to produce publication ready figures. We’ll see.

Holly Bik looks at dress style. While she frames it in the context of job interviews, it can also apply to times when you're giving a poster presentation.

Peter Tennant has evidence about what going to a conference can do for you. Correlation is not causation, but still...

The Neuroscience conference is the biggest congregation of posters in the world, so here are selected tweets:

Nicky Pentilla ponders travel:

Shoe test for #SfN13: Can I walk the poster floor in them without wincing by the end?

As does Kristen Delevich:

Must stop using my poster tube as a walking stick.

Ed Wilson, Jr., reminds us that you’re there to present, not talk.

It’s incredibly frustrating when presenting author socializes rather than being avail to discuss work during poster session.

Similarly, Taking a Cat Apart asks that you not drop names.

Dude, you really don’t need all the name dropping when you talk me through your poster. It’s cool by itself. Relax.

Phat Ma notes that you should also ask about what isn’t shown on a poster:

I usually get more value from talking to people about the data they aren't showing than from the graphs on the poster.

Drug Monkey has a handout tip:

If you don't have page sized copies of your #SFN13 poster to hand out you are screwing up.

Still, one might go too far. Felipe Gerhard saw an optimistic presenter:

Saw somebody having approximately 500 printed hand-outs of his poster.

Valerie Thompson has presentation advice:

Ask visitors how familiar they are with your work before launching into your spiel, and adjust accordingly.

Unfortunately, Doc Becca found presenters who hadn’t taken heed of Valerie’s advice. Remember, presenters, to get to the point!

Poster spiel in 2 min or my brain starts to drift. Figure it out, folks.

Adam Calhoun reminds you all to show up to your session!

Worm community you’re letting me down! I went to three C. elegans posters this afternoon, and one had no presenter while other two posters totally missing!

This might be music to the ears of Bob Graybeard, who indulges in imposteration:

Sometimes I'll pick an unattended #SfN13 poster at random and present the shit out of it, just to prove I can.

And not being by your poster that could be a bad movie if My T CHondria is around; if you're not by your poster:

If you aren't standing by your poster, I'll assume you want me to just leave my comments on it with Sharpie.

21 November 2013

Dynamic posters at Neuroscience 2013

As one of, if not the, biggest scientific meeting and poster presentation venue in the world, the Neuroscience meeting has every incentive to be at the forefront of developing new ways to give posters. Previously, I’d noted they had plans to allow authors to show posters on a screen. These have been dubbed “dynamic posters.”

Stavros Hadjisolomou shares his experience with dynamic posters at the most recent Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

The Society for Neuroscience asked presenters to upload their presentations in Powerpoint or PDF files only to a specific website. Each presenter had to create an account and once logged in there were certain steps to be followed:

“Poster Submission Steps”
  • Instructions: guidelines on creating and submitting posters, details on file formats, appropriate text size, section content, videos etc.
  • Poster templates: They offered 3 possible templates, I chose to work on a previous poster I had.
  • Upload poster: Poster file.
  • Upload dynamic poster assets: media to accompany poster.
  • Preview poster: a chance to preview the poster before the meeting

Although they provided extended details on font sizes for headings and content, there were no instructions on poster dimensions. This was a bit of a problem since my initial draft was organized on a 48 inch by 36 inch slide, which looked really bad in “presentation mode” once uploaded. When viewed in presentation mode, the poster was stretched sideways and compressed vertically to fit the screen. This rendered the poster unreadable to say the least. I found from the offered templates that the dimensions are 52 by 29 inches.

In “presentation mode,” you can view the poster and bring up a gallery made up of the uploaded media files so the presenter could choose one to play.

Once finished, I uploaded 10 videos to be used for the poster. One important thing here: the site allowed for a lot of different media file types which made my life easier. Also, each file could be up to 900 megabytes, a pretty reasonable size. Having said this, some files did not stream well with certain browsers. I had to test the ones that worked best (Firefox and Chrome).

My presentation was on Sunday and generally it was a great experience. The poster was about squid behavior (startle escape response – startle chromatophore changes).

Having videos to show to visitors made my life easier and, from what I have heard from people, more enjoyable to them. When it comes to animal behaviour, having videos to showcase your points allows for better communication. I did not spend as much time on creating editing videos as on the poster itself; I kept videos to a max number of 10 (with a couple of “bloopers” for people who had enough time to stay and watch.)

People visited the poster in bursts. The types of people ranged from colleagues, to researchers in different fields but interested in cephalopods and people who had no idea about the poster but were drawn in by the videos; when I did not have any visitors, I ran a playlist of all the videos and soon enough, people would come and ask for a presentation. I had quite a few people who were on their way to another poster, yet stopped and asked for a quick presentation.

Sadly, the provided laptop, WiFi dongle, and display were not adequate for presenting the poster appropriately:

  • The screen did not match the laptop’s resolution. Although the presentation looked great on the laptop, the poster was slightly compressed on the display which made it unreadable. When I inquired with a technician, I was told that all dynamic posters had the same problem and it was to be fixed later. Most of the visitors commented on this issue. Having a printed poster is definitely one less headache, especially since you find out at the last minute.
  • The videos could not be streamed online efficiently. Since my videos were more than 500 megabytes, they did not stream fast enough, even though I was given access to a private wireless account. I brought three flash drives with me (just in case!) with the poster and video files and decided to play videos locally while displaying the poster in presentation mode.

Aside from this glitch, the dynamic poster presentation was great and would do it again in a heartbeat, assuming the display works properly next time. A lot of people showed interest to present their posters in this way for next year. Lastly, while this is a first step towards “dynamic” posters, I wish this would allow for more interactive presentations (something similar to, but not necessarily the same as Prezi).

Bakermind’s description seems a little different than Stavros’s:

This year they opted for conventional posters + iPads. Hope to receive more traffic.

Are dynamic posters ready for the main hall? Drugmonkey asked:

Anyone impressed by a “dynamic poster” yet?

Reactions on Twitter were... ambivalent, at best. Both Dr. PMS and SciTriGrrl reacted with an emphatic, “No.” Benjamin Saunders didn’t like them:

These dynamic posters just seem really dorky to me, not seeing the added value.

Taking a Cat Apart had a similar sentiment:

Still not entirely sure what’s dynamic about a dynamic poster.

 SciTriGrrl adding:

It’s a poster with zooming. WHERE ARE THE VIDEOS?

Apparently, not many presenters took advantage of the videos like Stavros did. However, Bashir noted that some posters did use videos, though maybe not well:

As far as I can tell dynamic posters are just a poster with a YouTube video added.

Observing the crowd, Bakermind noted that this format doesn’t seem to appeal:

Dynamic posters at #sfn13 often isolated... look lonely and I think some people scared away.

Dynamic posters are still a work in progress. There is no doubt in my mind that the technology exists to make a great dynamic poster. The question is whether even a big organization like the Society for Neuroscience, and authors, are willing to make the investment.

Related posts

As was foretold by prophecy

14 November 2013

Common problems

I teach a technical writing class in which I ask students to create posters. I give the students some instruction and and good ideas for poster layout. Generally, their work is as good or better than conference posters I see.

The top three problems are:

  1. Clutter: It’s hard to generalize the sources of clutter. It ranges from unnecessary borders to gradient fills to too many elements on the page.
  2. Proximity: People underestimate how much white space they need around objects. In particular, they don’t put big enough margins around pictures.
  3. Text greyness: Even though my students generally do a good job of making the text large enough to be readable, they often end up with too much of it.

If there is a common element to these three problems, it’s the urge to put too much stuff on the page. Editing and cutting is a tough skill that takes a lot of practice to master.

07 November 2013

Critique and makeover: Captain Canuck

This time, the makeover isn’t by me...

Regular readers know I am always looking for inspiration from comics, so I loved this description of the design process of the new Captain Canuck costume (above) from Kalman Andrasofszky. (Captain Canuck’s co-creator Ron Leishman shows up in the comments of the post!)

Here’s the original Captain from back in the 1970s:

I like it because it explores the tension between keeping established conventions and making something distinctive and original. This is particularly a problem when there have already been very similar characters:

(I)t’s almost impossible to talk about Captain Canuck without also considering that other flag-draped Canadian icon, Guardian AKA Vindicator.

As you can see, given the costume uses the Canadian flag, there’s pretty significant constraints on what you can do. Similarities are almost inevitable. And yet Kalman creates a fresh look, ironically, by taking inspiration from other works:

Canuck’s helmet... is actually based on Captain Britain’s helm. The design of the chin/jaw guard is a straight-up homage, as is the profile. And not just in the gear, I tried to capture a bit of the rigid, upright posture Alan Davis gives all his heroes. ...

The small maple leafs on his shoulders were inspired by Ultimate Captain America. Bryan Hitch took Cap’s iconic star emblem and repeated it on his shoulders, almost like rank insignia. I think this gives a touch of military styling to Cap and with all the large shapes dominating the suit, I felt a couple of smaller elements added visual variety.

The insignia-style maple leaves bring to mind another lesson for poster design: having to simplify. The shoulder leaves didn’t make it to the final animation. You can see that in this frame grab from episode 1:

I strongly suspect that the shoulder details were too small, fiddly, and hard to draw for hand-drawn animation. The Captain is doing a lot of running and turns, and it would no doubt be difficult to keep the leaves in the correct perspective throughout. You can’t be too wedded to any one element of the design: you have to be willing to let it go if it isn’t working under “real world” conditions.

The tension between wanting to do something new and different, but following accepted conventions, is one I feel all the time in making conference posters. A three column layout again? A sans serif typeface again? There is a sameness about posters than can make you think you’re being boring.

Captain Canuck’s redesign is a nice example of accepting limitations, borrowing from the best existing examples, and yet still coming up with something that feels fresh and not staid.

For many more superhero design posts, check out Project Rooftop. Warning: This site appears to be highly addictive to design geeks.

External links

Captain Canuck website
Captain Canuck YouTube channel
Captain Canuck Facebook page
P:R Approved: Kalman Andrasofszky’s Captain Canuck!
Oh Captain, my Captain
The Captain has landed!

05 November 2013

Better Breaking Bio

Earlier this year, I chatted with Morgan from Breaking Bio during Science Online 2013. That interview never made it to air, because it was a little too short.

I contacted Morgan and pleaded with them to let me have another shot at it. They were good enough to indulge me, so I sat down with the Breaking Bio boys again to do a little chitting and chatting about poster design.

The Captain Canuck post I mention in the beginning will be up this week!

External links

Episode 48: Let anarchy reign with Zen Faulkes!

Breaking Bio YouTube channel

Captain Canuck
Captain Canuck YouTube channel
Memoir of an academic poster (mentioned about 19 minutes in)