Thursday, June 1, 2017

Why scientific posters suck and what to do about it. Part 1

If young scientists struggle with good visuals on their presentations, imagine the horror show call poster sessions. The reason why scientific poster suck is simple: (most) scientists don't have the graphic design skills that it takes to make a poster. Let's face it. When it comes to conceptualize, design, and produce a scientific poster, there is a culture of mediocrity, bad taste and incompetence.

Be aware that producing good presentation visuals is a different business than producing good posters. True, both have some things in common,  but they are not the same.  Chances to learn and type of media are just two of those differences.  Compare how often researchers produce posters to how often they prepare slides. There are more chances to fail and learn on the latter. And if science is about learning you can see the difficulty. And here is the first and best way to stop making scientific posters: Work together with a graphic designer. Here are some guidelines on how to choice an appropriate graphic designer:

  • Check out their portfolio of work. Does it include infographics? Infographics are to scientific posters what billboards are to slides. So it is a good sign, if a portfolio contains infographics. If it doesn't, that is alright but remember to ask him or her about their experience on infographics.

    Does the portfolio include printed work? Probability as important as their experience with infographics, is their experience on producing printed material. When producing a poster the type and quality of paper matters, the color palette matters, and the printing service matters. In my view, no or few experience on printed media is worse than no or few experience on infographics.

    Do you like the style? It is worthless if you hire a graphic designer, but you hate the poster.
  • Talk to them. Even if the portfolio includes infographics, printed media, and you like the style, ask them again! The portfolio might not reflect all the skills and experience a graphic designer might have. After all a portfolio is put together to get hired by a specific client-niche, and you are not part of that niche.

    Do they have experience on scientific or technical content?
    That is definitely a double plus, and trumps experience on infographics.

    How close do they work with clients? Because your content is king, you might want to be checking in every once in a while for the process.  Would they feel comfortable with this?

    What does the price include and how many weeks will be take until delivery? These are standard questions, but keep in mind that a poster session date cannot be moved. Ideally, the price should include the printed poster and not just simply a pdf and a recommendation where to print. Yes, this might lower the price, but the peril that the finally result is not what you thought is big.

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