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.
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.
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.
One of my many pet peeves about conference posters is the placement of logos at the top, a practice encouraged by almost all templates on the internet, by mentors who think it’s really cool, and of course by the funding institutions, colleges/universities, and conference organizers who want to see their logos featured. Logos at the top are bad because (1) titles are squished and (2) the charts, illustrations, and photographs have trouble competing visually. Here’s an example:
If you absolutely must include a logo on a poster, corral them into a small area at the bottom of the poster, like this:
Please share this post with anyone who might be at heightened risk for logo abuse. If you want more tips on poster design, please see my Designing conference posters page.