Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Compelling Poster Design

On February 22nd, the Bren School Communications Center hosted a workshop on the content and visual design of posters. The workshop specifically addressed the needs of 2nd year Bren students, who are currently in the process of preparing posters summarizing their Group Projects. Dr. Monica Bulger led a brief discussion of the textual aspects of a poster and Visual Design Consultant Aaron Sobel provided guidelines for visual design as well as an overview of design tools.

The text on a poster must strike a balance between providing technical information and sustaining interest. The primary consideration should always be your audience (family, friends, other students, professors, clients). When in doubt, direct your message toward your professors and clients. Also important is in what context the poster will be displayed. At the presentation in April, members of your group will be able to discuss details of the project with the audience, but it should have enough content to speak for itself on the walls of Bren Hall.

When you look at a poster, what do expect to take away from it? Participants at the workshop expressed that within a few seconds you should be able to identify the problem, what the group did, the results, and why the research is important. Consider what message you want to convey to your audience.

Activity 1: Participants worked with their group members to write out their research question or a brief statement about the project’s findings. Once this message is distilled, it can be used as a guiding focus in design of the poster.

Monica’s tips:
  • Plan for short attention spans. For example, use headers that are more descriptive than just “methods, results, discussion”. Consider incorporating your findings into the title of the poster.
  • A lot of text is overwhelming. Preserve the meaning, but cut out the details. Ideally, your main message should be one brief sentence. You can start with a long version, and then determine what is essential later.
  • Consider using your presentation slides as a guideline rather than the report. Your slides are already a more condensed and visual version of your information.
  • Use space wisely. Make sure that all of your images are useful in communicating your data.
  • Look at other posters and decide what you like and dislike
Using Design Tools:
There are many different tools to choose from including Photoshop, InDesign, Powerpoint, and Pages (Mac only). Photoshop and InDesign have advanced features, but are more difficult to learn to use quickly. Powerpoint is the least flexible program, however, it is very widely used, is compatible with both Mac and PC platforms, and more people will be able to assist you in its use.

Regardless of which program you choose to use, it is very important to set the “canvas size” before doing anything else. Doing this will ensure that the poster is already the proper size when you take it to the printer. You may recall that enlarging images can result in pixilation issues. This may be a problem if the canvas size is not set correctly. In PowerPoint, this option is under page setup.In Pages, it can be found in page setup, under the File menu. Under “paper sizes”, you can define a new page size. In Photoshop, the canvas size is set when you create a new document.

Getting your Poster Printed:
When you go to the printer, you will want to take at least two file versions of your poster. Call ahead to determine what the printer needs from you and what file formats they accept. Take your original file with you in case you need make any edits on the spot. Additionally, you should bring at least one image version, such as JPEG, TIFF, or PDF. TIFF is the best option to maintain image quality.

Font choices contribute voice to the information on your poster. Sizes vary between fonts so be sure to print and review several different sizes of the fonts you are thinking of using. Free fonts can be downloaded online and installed on your computer. Keep in mind that the printer may not have your font, if you need to make changes. The TIFF or JPEG image versions will preserve your font style.

A lot of the thematic feeling in a poster is found in the color scheme. Color wheels can help you select pleasing color combinations. You may also want to consider color meanings in making your choices for certain subject matter. Generally, conflicting colors and shadowing should be avoided. Print an 8.5x11 version of your poster to preview the color scheme before making a final decision.

Photographs and figures draw in your audience and are much more easily absorbed than textual information. If you have them, use photos of your group in action. Be creative in how you convey your information in figures and graphs. For example, to compare magnitudes, you can create objects (i.e. in Photoshop) that are the same shape but different sizes, rather than using percent figures. It is helpful to highlight the most important information, such as by using a different color for the most important column on a bar graph.

Logos and other images may look cleaner if they are cropped. Aaron gave a demonstration of how to clip a background in Photoshop so that text would wrap the curves of the image rather than the square background. Use the magic wand tool to do this, with the tolerance set high. If you hold down the shift key, you can add areas from the background. Once the backround is selected, choose select inverse> copy> save new>paste to get same image with no background. Save it as a PNG to import it into your poster.

More helpful online tools:
  • You can upload your poster in Feng-gui to determine the hotsposts in your poster, where most eyes will focus. Aaron uploaded an example poster and no hotspots occurred on the text.
  • Free flowchart tools, such as Omnigraffle, are available to make nicer images. Export them as PNG files to put into your poster.
Aaron’s Tips:
  • Keep the poster as simple as possible and make use of white space.
  • Try drawing your poster before doing it on the computer. Changes will be easier early on.
  • Make sure to use spell check .
  • Ask people outside of your group to give you feedback.
  • Print out a color proof on 8.5x11 before you take it anywhere else.
  • Make sure to have at least $80 left in your account to print two copies of your poster.
Activity 2: Students took a fieldtrip to evaluate design and content elements of posters on Bren Hall 3L, spending no more than 1 minute looking at each poster. Workshop participants generally liked posters with strong imagery, thematic colors, and limited text.

We hope that these concepts and tips will be useful in preparing your Group Project posters. Keep in mind that special sessions for poster design are also available in the Communications Center. We look forward to working with you soon!
--Danica Schaffer-Smith

1 comment:

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