That’s a wrap! Friday 16th of December 2012 – last day of the fall meeting of American Geophysical Union. This is the largest geosciences (incl. hydrology) event of the year, globally! Not just in the states. The European equivalent – EGU – is normally held in Vienna sometime in April and it is a bit smaller, but still in the 5 digit participation. Last year there were 24 000 attendees at AGU.
This was my first AGU and first time in San Francisco, so of course it was a little bit overwhelming. More so, because Niels and I live(d) in a town with 30 000 people in total, so you can imagine how noisy and crowded San Francisco felt in the first day or two.
The best part of participating on such a massive scientific events is that you get to see your colleagues and old time friends from departments-far-away. You also get the news, who’s working on what, where… New ideas and collaborations are sparkled. Communication is one of the keywords for AGU. It is a week long event, where the official scientific program is from 8am to 6pm. It includes thousands of posters, oral presentations, exhibition booths, sub-group or society meetings. The scope of the conference is so wide that it is impossible to follow everything. It spans from Astronomy to Hydrology. Including all other geophysical (geo-) sciences.
San Francisco's beauty
My reason for going to AGU this year was to present a poster on changes in low-flows and vegetation disturbances (my post-doc at WyCEHG). And, while most of the code I wrote earlier this year, the results I am showing on my poster are brand new and quite preliminary. Eventually, after I go through all of the results and analyse and re-analyse them carefully, I’ll write that up and we’ll submit it. I’m using the we, as this is work I have been conducting while collaborating with (being supervised by :)) Scott Miller from University of Wyoming. The funding for my position and project is provided by the WyCEHG and the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.
Note: the axis on the graphs at the left is 0, -1, -2, -3 instead of -3, -2, -1. Noticed it after printing.
On the poster prep
I have been thinking a lot about scientific posters. My opinion is: just because the science comes first, it doesn’t mean that it should be boring. This time I didn’t have the usual one month for poster prep, so I basically printed what would have been my first/second draft normally. There are issues with the structure, but it still served the purpose, which is “Stop, so I can talk to you”. It is aiming at capturing the attention of browsing people. The color palette I chose (see left) is Pantone’s spring colors. Actually, Greenery (the light green color) became The Color of 2017. Here is link to Pantone.
So, I have few rules about posters (especially for conferences with >1000 people):
- do not use PowerPoint template, or PowerPoint. You’re not using it for journal figures, why would you use it for posters? Instead try out Illustrator (or Photoshop) or InkScape. Inkscape is free and works pretty much the same way as Illustrator.
- do not include the text of your conference abstract in “Abstract” or anywhere on your poster, because it is just a wall of text. If you feel uncomfortable about this – break the text in background, data/methods, results, conclusions, future work, or as it fits better, and redistribute it within the whole poster.
- unless you are designing text walls on purpose (word cloud(?), maybe), do not allow full paragraphs on your poster. Go for bullet points, key words, short sentences. NO ONE READS! I really would like to shout this out, so I’ll just repeat it -> NO ONE READS! If someone wants to read – they can read the peer-review paper when it comes out. The purpose of a poster is to spark a conversation.
- do not use Comic Sans! do not use Comic Sans! It is the most ugly font, that is not (NOT) playful, just shows bad taste. If you want to try something new, because your’re bored with Ariel and Times New Roman – best, google the topic. I saw few posters with Comic Sans at AGU, walked away as fast as possible.
- think of the main message or the main result. If it is a figure (map, graph, or conceptual figure), make it the largest object, or at least the focus of the poster. Everything is secondary. It is hard to do that, if there is lots of data (graphs, maps).
- conclusions, take home messages, future work – on the eye-level height of the poster. It is easier if you place these in a way that does not require people to hunch or even get on their knees to read them. My favorite place is – upper right, below the title. I think this comes from advertising. Supermarkets use product placement to sell more of certain goods. It’s tested, it works, so maybe use it for the piece of info you want to stick.
- when it comes to colors – no blue text on red background and the opposite. It is just irritating and rarely it is readable.
- text size – I usually have different sizes depending on what is the purpose – title and headings as large as comfortable with, important info should be visible from about 2 m, details can be smaller. I usually have some very small texts (~16 or 18p) for the people who actually like to look at details and get closer
When I look at a poster, I want to see that the person cares. That he/she cares about the science enough to spend time to make it look attractive and understandable. I know that science is not about design (unless you’re cartographer, then – no excuse), but it helps to convey the message. It is not a waste of time to google type fonts, color schemes, good/bad practices in design, look through posters, not just scientific ones. For inspiration, you could look at old and/or tested combinations of colors and design decisions, for example you can check some color combinations from company logos or from old posters for plays or other advertising materials.
When it comes to type fonts and templates: I would use corporate design templates only if they fit my purposes. Aarhus University (where I did my PhD) had some poster templates, but those were for advertising events, not really for scientific posters. However, I used their official typeface all the time. Also, for oral presentations I always used the official PowerPoint templates. University of Wyoming doesn’t have own typeface (as far as I know), and the only poster template I’ve seen is for WyCEHG and it was a PowerPoint one (including “Abstract” section), so I ignored it on purpose. See the bullet points above.
For more about AGU 2016 - you can check my twitter. I tried to live-tweet most of the talks I listen to. Most of the time, I was browsing through posters, though.