What makes a good poster?

Blanka Sengerová (02 March 2012)

This week's Nature Careers section had an article that appeared quite useful to me so I thought I'd share it with you guys. It addresses the things you should consider when designing posters for scientific conferences, and can be read in full here:


I have probably made some not-so-good posters in the past (though I am getting better, I hope!) so this article had some useful ideas for me.

The article differentiates between a great and an awful poster thus: "a killer poster will have clean lines, white space, intriguing images and a clear visual flow that supports a well-told research story. The worst posters have panel after panel of tiny print, which can turn a poster session into a lonely four hours for the presenter".

So illustrations, avoiding too much clutter on the poster and as little text as possible are key - remember, you will be able to present your poster to an interested audience so, unlike a manuscript, not all the information needs to be actually spelled out on it.

The author of the guideline article recommends that the poster should be eye-catching and quotes Colin Purrington (formerly a researcher and now a photographer who keeps a blog on poster design) as saying that "a poster should look catchy from 10 metres away".

What are the key points for making a poster eye-catching that I have found particularly relevant and perhaps hadn't thought of before? (All of the advice points are taken from the article, but the commentary is mine).

- Make sure you allow for white space and large fonts and images. - it can often be tempting to include lots and lots of data and text, but this makes the poster very difficult to digest.

- Illustrate concepts. Limit the word count to 1,000 words. - I've never word-counted my posters, but should try and do this in future.

- Taking care in writing the abstract is important - this will get people to your poster at the conference.

- Consider short bullet points for methods and conclusions. - yes, I've usually done that as it seems better than having blocks of text.

- Use black text on a white background. Red text can be used to draw attention, but avoid blue and yellow, which are hard to read. - interesting, I've never realised that this was the case.

- Enlarge the best piece of data and place it squarely in the middle at eye level. - this is one I've never tried before as I tend to have a series of results that build up a story, but the approach may well be worth thinking about in future. We've always joked that NMR or X-ray crystallography projects make good posters if you can get a nice picture of a structure to place in the middle of the poster (but you're stuffed if you don't manage to solve a structure)!

- Have someone else proofread the text. - of course, that seems obvious to me! But maybe some people are doing posters at last minute so there is no time left for this...?

- Check the poster on a large computer screen at 100%, then step back half a metre from the screen. If possible, project the poster onto a wall before printing it to check formatting at actual size. - again, I've never tried these techniques before, but they seem like a sensible idea.