Example of bad scientific poster

When I give lectures on poster design, I sometimes show examples of horrific posters I’ve found on the internet — they are pretty much all bad, in fact. Someday, though, the author of a poster I’m critiquing is going to be in the audience, probably in the front row, and probably carrying a concealed weapon. So I thought it was time to construct my own terrible poster example. The result is, “Pigs in space: effect of zero gravity and ad libitum feeding on weight gain in Cavia porcellus.” I’m especially ashamed of the bad logos, which I designed so as not to anger actual entities like NSF, SpaceX, and the Corn Refiners Association. A partial list of why the poster is awful is below the image.

Example of bad scientific poster (copyright colin purrington)

Why this is a terrible poster:

  1. Too much text.
  2. Background image is distracting, wastes ink.
  3. Text box backgrounds are dark, which makes text hard to read (and wastes ink).
  4. Text box backgrounds are all different colors, for no reason (thus annoying).
  5. Text boxes are different widths (and annoying).
  6. Text boxes not separated from each other by pleasing “white” space.
  7. Text box edges not aligned, which is annoying.
  8. Text justified, which causes bad inter-word spacing. Also makes reading harder (brain uses jaggedness of left-justified text).
  9. Logos are pretentious (true of any logo).
  10. Logos crowd the title.
  11. Title perspective is annoying (unless you like Star Wars).
  12. Title is in all caps, which is harder to read and obscures Latin name).
  13. Title is italicized, which obscures Latin name.
  14. Author font and color is annoying (comic sans should be reserved for comic books).
  15. Author font color is too loud relative to other text.
  16. Results are presented in sentences instead of visually with charts.
  17. Section headers have more than one type of formatting (big font, bolded, italicized, underlined, and colored — ack!).  Choose one. [Note: I forgot to number the sections…that would have been even worse.]
  18. Terrible graphic of Guinea pig on scale. Need one of the actual set up (pigs eating while weightless, for example). [UPDATE: Or should have bribed Jeff at joegp.com, who apparently has a comic series about Guinea pigs in space suits. Awesome]
  19. Inclusion of an Abstract gobbles up space needlessly. Abstract section should be banned from posters.
  20. Plus the science is terrible! (Bad science is correlated with bad graphic design, by the way.)

I encourage teachers to print the poster and show to students a month before their posters are due. Students don’t read instructions anymore unless you threaten them with a test or coat the material with something snarky, and the above might be able to break through their filters. The printable PDF is on my “Designing conference posters” page if you want to try.

And yes, that fictitious street number is a gravity joke. Sorry.

Believe it or not, the poster got published in the journal Nature.

About Colin Purrington

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10 Responses to Example of bad scientific poster

  1. Mike says:

    Haha, What’s wrong with this poster Colin??
    What a great “In Your Face example” of what not to do!

    Love the blog!
    Mike

  2. Colin Purrington says:

    Mike, it was actually strange as I was making it…I started to like it. I’m really not sure if I’ll ever be the same. Poisoned by comic sans. A terrible way to go. Thanks for visiting.

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  4. Paul McGeough says:

    I am Just about to embark on a poster for my Business degree. I’m 45, in full time occupation and thought posters were what we used to hang on our bedroom wall!?!
    Do you have examples of a good poster?

  5. Brittany Walden says:

    I actually really liked the Star Wars scroll at the top. It immediately drew my attention.

  6. Efe says:

    This. Blog. Is. Brilliant! Thank you for explaining the do’s and don’t do’s of ‘posterism’ in a way that doesn’t make me want to take my own life through boredom. Extremely useful resource and entertaining enough to read even if I wasn’t doing a poster! Thanks for the help!

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