Academic Posters

"The king is dead, long live the king!"

Posters built for academic conferences and courses have long been broken. They often present such a dense cross-section of academic information that readers quickly lose interest (or are never engaged in the first place!). I suspect this is a product of most conference processes (creating an abstract packed with justifying detail, and then attempting to dilute it into poster form) and the presentation medium (standing by a poster while trying to digest its details). All too often, this creates a wall of too-small text that encapsulates every scientific detail of an investigation, or a "process" poster that requires the presenter to lead the audience through said process. I have experienced these posters from both sides, having created them (and assuming that there was no alternative! See right) and continuously attempting to interact with them.

But there is a better way! I stumbled onto a YouTube video by Mike Morrison that made me reevaluate my approach to academic poster design. Mike offers some great resources to get folks started, and I applied this approach to a conference poster in 2019 (see left). I found through the creation process that I couldn't quite go to such an extreme as Mike suggested, but the step towards a more parsimonious design definitely helped engage participants at the conference. In fact, I drew quite a bit of attention for the design itself (not too many biomechanics researchers are actually interested in motorcycle boot design, sadly!) and am hopeful that these sorts of approaches will be used more commonly in the future. I rely on specific key components in my approach to design these posters, which I describe below. Keep in mind that my poster designs are an continuously-evolving process, so if you have suggestions, please email me!

As Mike describes in his (maybe too) lengthy video linked above, there are a handful of key components to this new poster approach that I have tweaked for my academic contexts. In biomechanics conferences, we often create a conference abstract with a limited sample that is expanded by the time of the presentation. As such, the results of the investigation may be altered and many researchers rely on an ambiguous title (such as "The effects of blank on blank"). Obviously the title of the abstract should be presented on the poster to link the two, but it is paramount to include a large (perhaps tweetable) single-statement conclusion of the investigation. Place this conclusion in a prominent position that will garner attention (at the top or in the middle of the poster). To me, this conclusion takes up too much space, but in some ways that is the point. In fact, I suggest making everything take up more space than what you're used to. Bigger fonts, more white space, larger footers, et cetera! Provide plenty of eye relief and rely on fewer colors throughout.