Graduate student and astronomy writer

Best Practices for Effective Poster Design

You’re probably (hopefully!) at this blog post because you followed the QR code or link found on the meta-poster entitled “Best Practices for Effective Poster Design.” Well done on being hip to the new technological trends and welcome to the website and blog of Kimberly Cartier (me!). If you’re here because you are a regular reader…kudos to you!

This post includes a PDF of the meta-poster, some more good poster practices and suggestions, sources used in the meta-poster, and additional places to find good material for how to make posters.  The original QR code you used should always take you to the most recent version of this post. Feel free to download a copy of the poster for yourself and distribute to your colleagues and students.

Thanks, and stay tuned!

Note: this post will soon be updated with more comments and suggestions gathered at the AAS227 meeting. Stay tuned!

Note: after the poster session at the 2015 ERES, I have added a section to the bottom of this page containing some of the feedback I got at the conference. There were some really good suggestions and comments! So, taking those into account, I wrote down some things that I would modify about the poster, or comments I got about specific things. If I talked to you about this at ERES and your comment is not on here, leave me a message and I will include it! Thanks to everyone who commented at ERES, I had a great time discussing this with all of you.    -Kim

Note: I also hope to soon have a video of my poster pop to put on here. I had a lot of fun doing the poster pop, and I recommend that people learn how to do them. You can read more about poster pops on my post about them.

Download a PDF of the poster here: Best Practices for Effective Poster Design

Additional good poster practices not found on the meta-poster:

  1. Put a picture of the lead author on the poster. This will help people find you at the conference to talk about  your poster if you’re not standing at your poster when they visit. Make sure that the picture is professional (so, probably not your social media profile picture) and that you’re the only one in it.
    • Note: this was the most controversial part of my poster, based on my experiences at ERES. This was the question I was asked the most. If you are uncomfortable having your face on your poster, then don’t do it. If you are uncomfortable about your poster, it will be noticeable in your oral pitch. However, if this is something you are comfortable doing, having a picture on there can only help with the networking process.
  2. Make sure that there is a contact email address on the poster somewhere. That way, people can contact you after the presentation with questions, comments, or suggestions.
  3. A nitpicky detail that will make your poster look really clean is to make sure that everything within one section is aligned along the tops and along the sides. For example, in the top section of the meta-poster, there are two clearly defined “columns” in the section. The left column has the top text box and the table. The text box and table are aligned on the left to form a straight line. The top text box in the right “column” is aligned along the same horizontal line as the text in the left “column.” Small things like this make your poster look very clean.
  4. Everyone knows to cite text or results that are found in publications. Many people forget to also put citations on figures that are found in publications. Whether or not you are the author of that paper, if the figure is published in a refereed journal it is technically copyrighted, and needs to be cited.
  5. Regarding citations: having citations of the format [Author, et al. (year)] all over your poster is distracting and takes up a lot of space. Use superscripted numbered citations like “cited text[1]” with a numbered reference list at the end to save space.
  6. Some people find that having a reference list on the poster itself to be a waste of space and not completely necessary. I say that it depends greatly on the type of poster you are presenting and where you are presenting. If it’s a research poster that presents a lot of content from published sources, it’s good to have a list of where it all comes from, especially if you’re presenting at a scientific conference where you might run in to someone who wrote the content you are citing. In that case, I recommend the citation format described in #5 to conserve space. If there is mostly original content on the poster, you can more easily justify having your sources elsewhere, like on a website, or even on a separate piece of paper that you tack on next to your poster. Be sure that if you do this that the location of your references is easily found (like having a big honking QR code on your poster). Whatever you choose, always, always cite all of your sources. A plagiarized poster is most definitely not a good poster!
  7. The Layar App is one of the newest ways to augment your poster with additional content. It is, as the name suggests, a way to virtually layer your poster with additional information that can be read by the Layar app on your smartphone or tablet (they call it “Augmented Reality”). This is a great way to show things like the simulation movies that your simulation snapshots come from, alternate plots, links and references, or even just additional content that is in that section. I have not yet used it myself, but have seen it used at AAS a few times and it is really cool.
  8. Before you take your poster to a printer (or even before you start designing your poster) be sure to double check the poster guidelines for your conference. Then, make sure you set the page size for your poster designing program to the right size — and it may be different for each poster!
  9. Tip about printing: printing your poster can be expensive, so shop around. At PSU, the cheapest printer to be found is the Engineering Copy Center. If you don’t have access to that, keep in mind your options for printing are flexible. There is always the classic flat print poster on regular poster paper, but those can be flimsy and may not hold up well to travel or to multiple uses. Glossy photo paper looks really nice, but it much more expensive. Fabric printing is gaining popularity: the quality is nice, the price is reasonable, and the fabric travels really well (you can fold it in your suitcase instead of using a poster tube!). A good compromise if you don’t want to do fabric is to print on regular poster paper and then have it laminated for glossiness and durability. Laminating a poster is often cheaper than printing on glossy photo paper.

The ideas and content contained in the “Good Poster Poster” were compiled from many sources. A lot of the ideas were contributed by the first and second sources in this list. The other sources listed here are also good places to look for examples of good and bad poster designs.

  1. AstroWright’s “Make Award Winning Posters”: Much of the text was contributed by Ming Zhao (with contributions from Jason Wright), and contains examples of award winning posters by Ming and by Sharon Wang as well.
  2. Kathryn Tonsey’s “How to create a poster that graphically communicates your message”: This page by the Chair of Biology and the University of Miami is a good source for how to communicate to different types of audiences and how to layout your poster effectively. Bonus: there are both good and bad examples for each of the themes she talks about.
  3. AstroBetter’s on Presentation Skills: A compilation of a number of other sources for good presentation skills for both oral presentations and poster design and presentation.
  4. Credit for the headshot on the poster goes to 2015 Meadow Lane Photography.
  5. Bonus: can create beautiful and functional plots using the most up-to-date exoplanet catalogs. If you want to make plots that use current exoplanet information (like the ones on the poster!) but don’t want to have to download and compile all of the data yourself, this is the place to go.


Based on my conversations at the ERES poster session, here are some thoughts on what I, and others, thinks would make this poster even better:

  1. Use an even higher resolution graphic for the large PSU logo at the top. The current one still shows up a little blurry when printed full-scale, which is not a good poster practice!
  2. If I were to make a research poster with this design (and indeed, I have), I would use much fewer words than what is on this representation of the poster. The meta-poster, as it is, is meant to be an education and outreach poster, containing educational concepts. Some of those concepts are very difficult to put in an effective graphic, and so were left as words. A confusing or ineffectual graphic is just a waste of space, I say, so I left them as words. For a science poster, you should aim for many fewer words and use more graphics instead.
  3. The organization within the third blue box can be a bit confusing, especially on the right-hand side. There are two separate ideas (using high-quality graphics and choosing appropriate colors and symbols) that don’t really relate to each other well. I would add a light horizontal division line, or more whitespace, between the two to better delineate them.
  4. In the table in the top box, the dots in the bullet points are pretty close to the vertical table lines. If I had more space, I would separate the two more.
  5. If this were a science poster instead of an education poster, I would not use a graphic in the style of a pie chart to demonstrate that point. In a science poster, I would use a histogram instead. However, many non-academic people are more familiar with a pie chart, so I chose that format for this education-based poster.

If I talked to you at ERES about the poster and you have more comments, please feel free to leave me a message! I will happily add your comments to this post for others to comment on.



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