24 September 2015

Link roundup for September 2015

FoxTrot starts off this month’s link roundup...

Hat tip to J.D. Wikert.

“What’s that font?” Trying to identify a font is one of those tasks that, until recently, was something that in many cases could only be done by someone with a near encyclopedic knowledge in type design. Indentifont is a good tool for the rest of us. It walks you through a series of questions, and makes suggestions all the way.

Using Identifont, I was able to nail down the typeface on this book cover as a slightly compressed ITC Fenice...

And my new institution’s new logo as PMN Caecilia with a customized rockin’ R. Bold, specifically.

Pro tip! Check the suggestions after every question. I found that sometimes, Identifont would make a correct suggestion that would go away after I answered more questions. I don’t know why, but there it is.

Be it resolved that:

It is unethical to present the same scientific poster at more than one meeting.

Drugmonkey started the debate; read the replies to the tweet for people’s responses.

There is an entire blog of free academic images. A promising resource, although it is a bit difficult to browse and search. For example, although this blog is all about images, it is entirely written in plain text.

Here are five reasons to go to conferences. Hat tip to Paige Jarreau.

How Scientific American makes its infographics. Quote from one of the illustrators:

The designer must realize that things are always more complicated than they seem. Particularly in any biological science. Moreover, any kind of catchy headlines like ‘we share 99 percent of DNA’, while not entirely wrong, are ultimately useless because they tell people nothing. Journalists must dig for surprising, engaging stories that reveal and manage complexity to the reader.

Hat tip to StoryBench and John Rennie.

17 September 2015

Critique: The social network

Something about this looks familiar. Today’s poster comes from Igor Mikloušić. Click to enlarge!

I love this idea. I’ve talked before about how it can be so helpful to base a poster off an existing design. Make a poster about Facebook look like Facebook. Brilliant. It immediately helps viewers recognize what they’re in for.

The poster runs into problems because it doesn’t follow the Facebook format closely enough! Facebook posts are usually short, and accompanied by a picture. Instead, we get some sizable blocks of text with no pictures, and they look gray and uninviting at a distance:

This is a limitation of copying another design. The design of a poster would benefit from changing the text size. But following the design of Facebook means you can’t, because then it won’t look like Facebook, which is, after all, the point.

This might be fixed by a substantial restructure of the middle of the poster to break the big posts into several small ones, perhaps with a few graphics. This would not be a simple change, but might be worthwhile.

10 September 2015

Critique: Quality mitochondria

Today’s poster comes from Arunas Radzvilavicius, and is shown with his kind permission. Click to enlarge!

The layout, the colour, the generous space, the use of graphic touches are all things to like on this poster. It’s very nice. But sometimes, a poster’s own worst critic is its designer. Arunas wrote:

The optimal amount of text on the poster is something I still can't seem to get right. I always seem to reduce the amount of text to the possible minimum, but that often leads to the poster becoming unintelligible to people not familiar with the details of my research.

How much to write on a poster is always a challenge, although most academics have the opposite problem of Arunas and leave in far, far too much.

The low amount of text is inviting to a reader from a distance, but perhaps confusing when you get up close. Here’s the start:

Isogamy: mitochondria inherited from only one (UPI) or both (BPI) mating types. Ancestral metazoan state. BPI if mutation rate was low.

This is so condensed, it’s close to shorthand. I struggle to revise this into full sentences, because some of the logical connections between words have been erased by the editing. I think this might be close to true:

In isogamy, mitochondria are inherited from one (uniparental isogamy, or UPI) or both (uniparental isogamy, or BPI) mating types. Isogamy is the ancestral metazoan state, with BPI favoured if the mutation rate was low.

Full sentences add more clarity than they take up space.

Seeing this poster shrunk down, it might benefit from the headings being a little more prominent. The poster is a little dark overall, and the reduced contrast dos not help the headings to “pop.” Likewise, using all capitals for the headings make them a little harder to read from a distance.

03 September 2015

Critique and makeover: PrimerMiner

Today’s poster comes from Vasco Elbrecht. Before I get to his poster, Vasco has a whole series of YouTube videos on making posters in InDesign, so you might want to check those out!

On to the poster that Vasco sent to me and let me share it with you. Click to enlarge!

My first reaction was that there’s a lot going on in this poster. It was a little overwhelming and intimidating.

The layout of the poster isn’t to blame for the feeling of busyness. The structure of the poster is actually reasonably clear and easy to follow.

A lot of the feeling of busyness has to do with the colours. Looking at it felt a like looking at a busy city’s business district:

There are five big blocks of colour on this poster: a red box, a green box, a yellow note, and orange note, and a light blue sidebar. And there is the data at the bottom, which also uses bright primary colours.

There may not be much that can be done about the data at the bottom, but the other five blocks might benefit from being more similar. Here is a quick and dirty example:

This redesign points out that the logos are also contributing to the business. Three of the five are dark blue, which isn’t in line with the rest of the poster. The dark blue blocks are also competing with the title for attention: the position says “the logos are important” (Cosmo principle), when the title should be most important.

Again, a quick revision that tries to bring the title out by repositioning and shrinking the logos (the title size is the same):

Now the emphasis is clearly on the title. Shrinking the logos helped emphasize the title by creating more white space to separate the title from everything else. The overall effect is a little calmer and more approachable.

Let’s revert back to the original colour scheme for a moment and have another look at that.

Over on the left hand side, the brightly coloured boxes again create a problem of emphasis. The highlighted colours and boxes, particularly from a distance, say, “I’m important, read me first!” The text supports this, too: “The problem” and “The solution” are in bold, and meant as key summaries.

If all the graphic and text cues say, “read me first,” why not put them first?

Some of the things I like about this poster? This poster has uneven sections, but there are visual signals that make it easy to follow. The lines between the columns is better done than on many posters, providing a clear guide that isn’t overwhelming. The use of subtle “A,” “B,” “C” icons help make the order clear and add a nice graphic touch. The sidebar clearly signals stuff which is nonessential to the main presentation of the poster. The spot for stickies is also a nice invitation for interaction.

City photo from here.