Exploring design principles for effective research posters
Exploring design principles for effective research posters
Now that we’ve talked about some of the basic concepts surrounding research posters, let’s explore some design principles that will help you make an effective and engaging research poster.
Your audience and message: the most important things to consider when designing
When designing a research poster, there are two incredibly important things to think about before you start putting together your poster: your audience and your message.
Your audience is who's going to be reading your poster. Will your poster be presented at a poster competition hosted by an academic department, or at a poster session that's part of a conference in your discipline?
Your message is the information you want to share — in other words, your research. What interesting information do you want to share with with your audience? Are you talking about the migration habits of birds? Discussing the use of color to convey mood in artwork?
Being aware of both your audience and your message will help you determine the tone of your poster. Will it be more serious, or more relaxed? Formal or informal? Understanding your audience and message will inform your design decisions, including how to lay out your poster, what colors and fonts you choose, and even the writing style for your poster.
Design principles for effective posters
Understanding the principles of design will help you out when it comes to the process of laying out your poster’s contents. I’ve pulled together a collection of design principles from two design books, Roger C. Parker’s Looking Good in Print and Robin Williams’ The Non-Designer’s Design Book, that can help you out as you approach the process of laying our your poster. These principles fall into four categories: focus, organization, restraint, and detail.
The following video goes into more detail about each of the design categories, with examples for each set of principles. The design categories are also outlined in the accordion underneath the video.
Description of the video:
Hi, I'm Beth.
And in this video, I’m going to talk about some of the fundamental principles of design, and how they can help you make an effective research poster. First off, you might be wondering: what are the principles of design?
Well, there are eight of them, pulled from two books on design – Roger C Parker’s Looking Good in Print, and Robin Williams’ The Non Designer’s Design Book. These eight principles will help you design effectively – they’re the principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity, direction, proportion, restraint, and detail.
Why do we want to make use these principles in a research poster, though?
Well, if we work these principles into our poster design, they’ll help us make a well-organized and visually attractive research poster. The rest of this video will go into detail about the different principles that can help you design an effective research poster – these principles will be broken up into four groups: focus, organization, exercising restraint, and paying attention to detail.
The first group of principles we’ll look at fall under focus – this involves getting the reader’s attention and keeping it on your poster. You want people to read about your research, and that means making your poster catch your reader’s eye.
We can use the principles of contrast and proportion to get our readers’ attention and get them interested in our poster.
Contrast and proportion go hand-in-hand.
Contrast means making your poster elements stand out visually – with color, maybe a different font, or other styling.
Proportion means using size to help emphasize importance. The more important an item is, the bigger it should be in relation to the other elements on your page.
One place we can use contrast and proportion together is with the poster’s text – we can use different sizes for different text elements. For example, you’ll want to make your titles and headings stand out so they catch people’s eyes and give them an idea of what your poster is about.
Once you’ve got your reader’s attention with the title and headings, they’ll read through the rest of your poster’s text. If we have images that relay important information, you can make them larger than the others on the poster to help them stand out – that’s another use of contrast and proportion to help get a viewer’s attention.
We can even add color to text to help get a reader’s attention – color adds some contrast and will help it stand out from its surroundings, which will catch your reader’s eye.
Adding color to headings, for example, really helps them stand out. Next, let’s think about organization.
You want to be conscious of how information is laid out on your page, to make sure your information makes sense to your readers. Organization involves the principles of direction and proximity, to make sure we’re leading our readers through the page in a way that makes sense and making sure we’re grouping our related items together. As you’re laying out content for your poster, make sure you’re leading your readers through the poster in a way that makes sense.
Our eyes are drawn towards visually interesting items on a page, and we can use these items as stepping stones to lead your reader around the poster in a specific direction. These visual stepping stones can be arranged in different ways to draw the eye through a page – common shapes for laying out page elements involve the C shape, Z shape, and I shape. While you’re putting together your page and laying out these stepping stones, you want to be conscious of where you put things and make sure you’re keeping your related items in close proximity to each other.
For example, if you’re including graphs that illustrate results for a study, you’ll want to keep them near the text that describes those results. If you put them near another section, viewers might get confused about what they’re looking at and how it relates to the text. Let’s talk about exercising restraint next.
This is a really important principle to keep in mind when creating a poster. There are so many different colors, fonts, visual effects, and images that we could incorporate into a poster…but if a poster is too busy, it might overwhelm your readers and discourage them from reading about the research you’re trying to present. I’ve got some suggestions that’ll help you exercise restraint as you lay out your poster. First, you’ll want to limit your color choices to two, maybe three at the maximum. You can use these colors in a number of different places – headings, borders for images, maybe as a background color for a text box. You’ll also want to limit the amount of different fonts you use – stick to two different fonts, one for the headings and one for the body text. I’ll talk a little more about what types of fonts to use where in the next section of the video. Last, but definitely not least, attention to detail is important, as it shows you’ve put in the extra effort to make sure you’ve got a polished and professional-looking poster.
There are three areas to pay attention to detail in – text, images, and alignment of your page elements. When it comes to text details, this means being thoughtful about your font choices and making sure your poster’s text is error-free.
With font choices, as I mentioned previously, you’ll want to stick with two different fonts for your poster – one serif, and one sans-serif. Sans-serif should be used for your poster titles and headings, while serif should be used for body text.
Serif fonts will help make your body text easier to read, and using sans-serif fonts for headings will help add some contrast to your poster.
While we’re on the topic of text, make sure you proofread and spell-check your poster’s text to make sure there aren’t any errors. This is essential to making sure your poster have a professional and polished feel.
Images are the next detail you should focus on – make sure they look their best by ensuring they’re ready for print before you put them in your poster. Images used in a poster should have a resolution of 150 dpi or higher.
If your pictures don’t have a high enough resolution they’ll come out looking grainy or blurry when they're printed. Finally, you want to make sure all the elements on your page are neatly aligned.
Misaligned page elements look sloppy, and will make your poster look unprofessional. Use the grid function in your page layout program of choice to help you keep all of your poster elements neatly lined up.
Now that we’ve explored the page layout principles that will help you make an effective poster, you can get started making your research poster! So long as you remember the following, you’ll be able to make a fantastic looking poster: Get your reader to focus on your page; Make sure your content is organized well; Exercise restraint when building your poster; And don’t forget to pay attention to detail when working on your poster.
Thanks for watching – I hope this information helps you make some amazing research posters!
This category has us thinking about grabbing a reader’s attention, and making the important parts stand out so you can easily get your message across to your audience. As we look at a poster, our eyes will naturally be drawn to the largest or most visually exciting elements on the page. Getting a reader to focus on a poster’s contents involves the principles of contrast and proportion.
Contrast involves making your most important elements stand out from the surrounding content in some way. For example, we might want to change the color of text that explains an important point to make it more eye-catching.
Proportion involves using size to emphasize the importance of elements in your poster. The more important an item is, the larger it should be. One good example of proportion in use in a layout is the titles and headings used. A poster’s title is typically the largest text on the page, as the title is used to tell readers what the poster is about at a quick glance.
Let’s think about how to organize the information on our poster. Direction and proximity will help us out as we organize the different pieces of information on the poster.
Implementing the principle of direction in your poster design means making sure your ideas are laid out in a logical order, leading your reader through the content of your poster in a way that ensures the information makes sense. Research posters are typically read from top left to bottom right, so it’s important to keep that in mind as you consider how to lead your reader through the poster.
When thinking about the principle of proximity, that means grouping related items together on the page to ensure everything makes sense. For example, if you refer to a specific dataset in your poster text, and have a graph on your poster that shows that dataset in detail, make sure to put the graph near the section of text that talks about the data.
Exercising restraint when putting together your research poster is extremely important. You want to make sure your audience isn’t distracted by having too many eye-catching things on your poster!
Brevity means you’ll want to keep the poster’s text brief. Treat the poster text as more of a highly structured abstract rather than a full-on paper of its own. 600-800 words is an ideal word count for a poster – however, if you want to go into more depth about your research, consider including a link to an extended version of your poster’s text (or the full research paper your poster is based on) on your poster for interested readers.
Discernment focuses more on the appearance of the poster and its contents. This means being mindful of your font and color choices, as well as what visual elements you include in your poster:
When it comes to working with fonts, choose one or two fonts to work with. For example, you might choose one font to use for the poster’s title and headings, and a second to use for the body text of your poster.
With color, stick to a limited color palette of only two or three colors. You could use two specific colors for the theme for your poster, and a third to help call attention to important items.
When choosing visual elements to include in your poster, such as images, illustrations, or graphs, make sure they directly relate to the content of your poster.
Attention to detail is what makes the difference between an amateur looking poster and one that has a more professional look and feel. There are three areas we want to pay particular attention to: text, images, and alignment details.
First, let’s explore some text details to pay attention to when creating your poster:
Write poster titles in sentence case. This will help any special terminology that’s typically capitalized stand out from the surrounding text.
Use italics, bold, or color to emphasize text – don’t underline. Underlines are typically associated with hyperlinks, and if sharing a digital copy of your poster with someone, underlined text may make a reader think the text links to a website.
To make paragraphs stand out from each other, you can add space either before or after paragraphs – but not before AND after, that might end up creating too much space!
Last, but certainly not least, you’ll want to pay attention to the types of fonts you use in your poster. For ease of reading, make sure you use a serif font for your body text, and a sans-serif font for your headings. Serif font helps smaller text be easily readable, and sans serif font not only adds some contrast to your text, it’s also easily readable at larger font sizes.
Images are another area to pay special attention to. When including images in your poster, you’ll want to make sure that they’re high-quality images, with a high resolution, to ensure they look their best. Images you find online may look great on your screen, but if you find an image that doesn’t have a high resolution and add it to your poster, you may end up with blurry or grainy images on your printed poster – and you don’t want to find that out as you’re printing your poster! (We’ll discuss image details in the section Gathering high quality images.)
While viewers won’t necessarily notice good alignment, they will notice bad alignment. Page elements that aren’t aligned with each other will result in a sloppy looking poster. You can avoid this by making use of grids and guides in the program you choose to design your poster in — grids and guides are present in PowerPoint, Illustrator, and InDesign to help ensure poster elements are properly aligned.
Now that you're aware of design principles that will help you create an effective poster, it's time to get started with assembling your poster's content.