Tag Archives: meeting


I was asked on Twitter if I could clarify my views on text justification for conference posters, but decided I couldn’t come up with a good 140 character response. So here you go:

fabric-postersI recommend left-justified research posters for several reasons. First, I read in some typography/readability article (can’t find reference but will keep looking) that your brain subconsciously uses the ragged right edge to better gauge vertical reading position, allowing reader to more quickly travel through a paragraph. This matters less if you have good space between lines of text, but matters a lot if you’ve squished lines together to fit more on your poster (unfortunately, a very common scenario). Second, left-justified text has more predictable spaces within and between words, and that consistency makes sentences easier (faster) to read. Fully justified text can be especially awful when column widths are too small, and for smaller text boxes like figure and table legends. As an example of how awful those space problems can be, here’s an artificial dem on stration. These spacing issues are much bigger problems for people with dyslexia (20% of people, perhaps) and other reading disorders. That said, typesetting software such as InDesign have really good controls for minimizing the spacing problems of fully justified text. And some fonts (often the ones you have to actually purchase) are good at spacing themselves. Third, left-justified paragraphs suffer much less from the rivers and pigeonholes of white space that are sometimes created by full justification. These distracting visual elements are probably more of a problem for people or disciplines that are fond of big words, which coincidentally are those that love to have poster sessions. You can minimize rivers and pigeonholes by turning on automatic hyphenation, of course. In related news, Powerpoint doesn’t do auto-hyphenation, which makes it terrible for posters because you typically want to cram as much on a page as possible. Finally, errors in spaces between sentences (you just need one) are much easier to catch if you are using left justification.

But there are at least two reasons why you might reasonably ignore what I’ve written above. First, full justification looks so cool! If you want people to think you’re cool and professional, and you probably do, you might just go ahead and hit that button … because most viewers (and mentors, and poster judges) will also be similarly impressed. Unless they’re dyslexic, in which case they might hate you. A compounding problem is that justification looks cooler and cooler as you reduce font size … contributing to the word problem that plagues almost all conference posters. Second, there seems to be some research (again, I’m looking for citations I know I have somewhere) suggesting that full justification might increase a reader’s comprehension of the text. My guess is comprehension increases because one reads it more slowly. Changing the font every sentence might also increase comprehension in the same way, though I don’t recommend doing that. (Hyphenated paragraphs take longer to read, too.)

By the way, don’t center-justify text in figure legends and table captions. Many prestigious journals use centered text in this way, but I think they’d change to left justification if they could do so without admitting to prior foolishness.

As an aside, I recently purchased a Kobo eReader because I can specify left-justification. I couldn’t do that with my Kindle. I can also now read while floating in a pool (my Kobo is waterproof).

If for some reason the above didn’t bore you, please see more of the same at Designing conference posters. Drop me a note if you have actual data for any of the above speculation.

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Boxes of bling for scientific posters

I saw these poster add-ons at a local office supply store and just had to take a photograph. If you want to see my suggestions on better ways of blinging up a conference poster, please see “Adding pieces of flair” on my poster tips page. If you don’t get my silly “pieces of flair” reference, please watch this clip from the movie, Office Space. Actually, just rent the movie: it’s all good.

Colin Purrington Photography: Scientific posters &emdash; Sparkles and lights for posters


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Fabric conference posters

I was invited to talk about poster design in Berkeley (DOE NNSA SSGF) and DC (DOE CSGF) this past summer, and used the opportunity to test out fabric as a medium for large-format conference posters. Below are some photographs if you’re curious how logos, illustrations, and photographs look when viewed close up on fabric. By the way, I ordered the posters from PhD Posters (they mailed to my house in a tube, inside a box). And if you’re interested, my poster design tips are here (rather long-winded because I’ve maintained page since 1997).


The rolled up poster above is also fabric. I didn’t have the nerve to fold it into luggage-sized square, but I’ve heard that it can be done … though crease lines an issue. Might be able to iron them out, I’ve also read.


The photograph above isn’t as crisp as a glossy poster, but was totally fine for my purposes. If it really mattered, I’d just print a copy on my photo printer at 1200 dpi (or whatever) and then use double sided tape to attach. Even paper posters have fairly low photo quality, so attaching a high-resolution version is always an option when you need it.


Yes, you can see the fabric if you get close enough. People standing 6 feet away wouldn’t notice and probably wouldn’t care if you told them.





This logo is actually from the poster that is rolled up. It’s at http://colinpurrington.com/2012/example-of-bad-scientific-poster/ if you want to see the whole poster (you can download and print for your class, if you’d like; yeah, students would just love that).

fabric-poster-edge-detailThis photograph shows how the edges can get a little frayed. Holes from pushpins are also visible. Much less annoying than the rips and gaping holes that paper gets.

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Petition to Dorin Schumacher at CPBR

Thanks for visiting my website. I’d be grateful if you could fill in the form below so that an email is sent to Dr Dorin Schumacher, the CEO of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research.  CPBR copy/pasted some of my copyrighted text … and then served me with legal papers demanding I take my site down, charging me with copyright infringement). The letter is already composed so all you have to do is hit the Send button. But feel free to modify the text if you have the time and feel so moved. If you want to visit any of the links I’ve mentioned, they’re at the bottom of this page. I’d be hugely grateful if you could get the word out to others via Facebook and Twitter…would love to flood their inbox with several thousand petitions. Would. make. my. day.

[emailpetition id=”1″]

Links mentioned in the petition

Dr Dorin Schumacher, CEO of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, based in the resort town of St Simons Island, Georgia. Photograph from the Cambridge Who’s Who website.
Dr Dorin Schumacher, CEO of The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, based in the resort town of St Simons Island, Georgia. Photograph from the Cambridge Who’s Who website.

Evidence of copyright infringement

“Designing conference posters”

CPBR’s member institutions

Beer Donation button

Colin Purrington’s Amazon wish list



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Poster judging form

I’ve had several people ask me recently for a copy of my poster judging form, so just in case you were afraid to ask, here it is. The idea is to use tick-boxes (1 to 10 — “atrocious” to “wonderful”) to quickly record your thoughts on poster design, poster content, and oral presentation.  Click on the image to download a PDF if you’d like to use it.  If you ever need it in the future, the most recent version (the one below is a draft) will be near the bottom of my Designing Conference Posters page, in the “Plea to all-powerful meeting organizers” section.

Poster juding form


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