Tag Archives: meeting

Templates for better posters

There’s been a frenzy of discussion on Twitter this summer about conference poster design (see #betterposter, #betterposters, #butterposter) so perhaps it’s a good time to re-share my Powerpoint templates. You just download, then replace the existing text with your own. All assume that you have a catchy graphic  — that goes where the yellow box is. The text you replace contains basic tips but ignore the advice if you’re a pro. If you’re new to posters please see my page, “Designing conference posters” for details.

About that graphic: I strongly believe that it should be large and self-explanatory so that a viewer could follow your approach, results, and conclusions without you needing to explain a thing. If you have a graphic that is too complex (or poorly designed), a poster might not be the right venue for you.

Below is a standard horizontal template. Note that there is no requirement for the text boxes to have a line around them — it’s easy to set line width to zero. And if you want to delete the background color (gray, here), you can eliminate the “rectangles within rectangles” look. Totally up to you.


Here’s a template that moves the Literature cited, Acknowledgements, and Further information to the far right column … which causes the Materials & methods and Results areas to have more room. But the Conclusions box gets squished (such is geometry).


Here’s a template that might work for a humanities topic. I’ve chosen to have a question/result/conclusion flow (from left to right) inside the main arena, but you can always rearrange. There are also no rules about section names — just redo those, too.


The final template is a portrait-style one. For this orientation I think it’s critical to put the least important sections on the very bottom (that position is really hard to read without stooping).


If you’d like to read an article about the frenzy, here’s one from Inside Higher Education in which I’m quoted a few times.

The astute reader will notice that I haven’t promoted the use of QR codes. I used to have that suggestion on all my templates but I removed it years ago for two reasons. First, people who included a QR code said that it was never used and was a waste of space. They felt like a dork, and blamed me. Second, and more importantly, displaying a QR codes sets the normative behavior about photographing a poster, and that’s a problem because there are always presenters who do not want their posters photographed and shared online (that happens). If you want to give somebody more detailed information about your research, bring a handout to peddle. If you adore QR codes, just print business cards that have your name, poster title, email address, and QR code — then leave them all in an envelope pinned next to your poster (“Please take one!”).

That said, there is a place for QR codes in designing posters. For example, you could include the code below (for URL to this blog post) in a presentation on poster design. Just tell audience members to point phone camera at it.

Happy posterizing!

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 https://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.

The fine print on poster sessions

For giggles, I contacted approximately 100 societies with annual meetings coming up, and asked them whether they offered word count suggestions for attendees presenting posters.  The majority didn’t write back (no real surprise), but of those that did the most common response was, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Some went on to provide me with the word count limit for the abstracts submitted (to get your poster accepted).  Only one response had the information I was looking for: “5 pages of 16pt text” as maximum.  If you fill up 5 pages with the phrase “average word”, that gives you 1750 words. Personally, I think 500 – 1000 is a good range. If you’re curious what a wordy poster looks like, I’ve attached to this post an image of text-only version of one of my templates.

Word count of poster with too much text

In hindsight, though, it was probably a silly question.  What is more important and understandable to attendees preparing their posters is the minimum acceptable font size, because even in posters with low word count, readability can be awful if all the figure text (for example) is set in 12pt instead of the size of the rest of the body text. If only the poster prize committee would police these limits, though.  Whenever I stumble onto a site showing prize-winning posters, committees often seem to be awarding people who have made their font smaller than everyone else, invariably the size is smaller than meeting guidelines.  It’s really puzzling.  It could be that people with high-quality content have a lot to say, and so they have to shrink font size to get it all in.  However, I just think people are somehow wired or trained to attribute small print to “authoritative, creative” and large print to “amateurish, insecure.”  Or do judges take longer to read the small text, and thus demonstrate the “disfluency” advantage that gives strange fonts an advantage in memory retention? If there is a typographer/psychologist out there with insight into this phenomenon, please fill me in.

I know it’s never going to happen, but in an ideal world judges would carry one of those fun little plastic shape templates while they review posters.  Then they could position the 3/8″ circle (or whatever) over a standard letter (“s” perhaps) to evaluate the size.  If the “s” fits without touching the edges, it’s too small and the poster cannot be entered into the prize pool.  Something like this would be really useful, because kids these days have no idea what font size means, especially when the final output is large.