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Back-to-Conference! Design Tips for Posters

Description: Delphine Davan, MSc, MBA (Senior Director, Communications, IMV Inc.) and Shiz Aoki (Co-founder & CEO, BioRender) highlight tips to improve poster design and ensure your science stands out at conferences!

This webinar was recorded at VISUALIZE 2021, a virtual BioRender event dedicated to advancing communication in science.

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It's my pleasure to be here today with you for Visualize 2021 by BioRender, and really, it's been a pleasure working with you guys for the last two years. I am with IMV now, I'm the Senior Director of Communications and Public Affairs at a biopharmaceutical company, and we develop a novel class of immunotherapies. I think that the concept of the passport, the T-cell passport, is very appropriate to what IMV does since we have this immunotherapy that generates targeted T-cells against cancer cells. So that's definitely very appropriate.

Before going into all the details, I think that we have 20 minutes or so to spend together. I would like to give you a few tips about how to build great posters. It's not just about the design, but how you think about the design, how you visualize your design as well. And we can then start with the next slide, please.

So, the first thing is really to get organized and, of course, to anticipate. For whatever communication thing you want to build - posters, presentations, manuscripts - I really encourage you to start by organizing your work, organizing your ideas, and plan as much as possible in advance what you're going to talk about. The first thing to think about is your target audience. You need to think about who your target audience is and fit into their shoes and understand what is in it for them. Really, what will they do with the different elements that you're going to discuss, and what they will do with the takeaways? What's the "so what" for them, and why would they be interested in your work? So, think about your target audience as customers, customers that you need to raise attention, and it really starts from there.

With your audience, you have already certainly your experience and the results of your experiments. So, you need to think about the takeaways. The takeaways are really the messages that you want your other audience to go back home with. And your takeaways, you should have three, four at the maximum takeaways for your presentation, and I will definitely insist on the maximum of four. More than four is really too many, and they can forget maybe a few of them. So, your takeaways represent your conclusions, and your takeaways, you need to give them a context because without contexts, you know, context is everything, and give the structure and the reason why your takeaways are so important for your audience. And the context is your introduction, and between your introduction and your conclusions, everything, I'm sorry to say that, is secondary. But you need to make sure that what's in between, which are your experiments and your results, will support your takeaways. And you know, this is all the goal of why you have done so many experiments, why you have spent so many hours and days and sometimes weeks working on experiments to get this final result, not just for the results, but for the meaning of this result for your audience. So, focus on your audience and then on your takeaways first, then make sure that you have a very clear idea of what you want to convey, and then you can start using these elements to build and craft your poster. You know, even artists, they are usually sketching their masterpiece before doing the whole entire project. So, make sure that you have all your elements in mind before drafting your poster.

Now you have your elements, and you know very much that kind of structure for your posters, but um, here it's a classic landscape, um, poster, but sometimes you have a portrait, you have very different, uh, types of posters, and it starts with the guideline for your conference to make sure that you have all the elements for your poster and that you know exactly what you're going to talk about, which data you're going to present to support your takeaways, and how to give a meaningful context to your takeaways. After this, you need to double-check a few things, and you may feel that there are constraints that add another layer of difficulties, but it helps conferences to have a consistent visual across the conference, and most of the time, they have guidelines. Therefore, be sure that you stick to the guidelines provided by the conference. Here is just an example from an upcoming conference, and make sure that you use all the guidelines required by this conference. You may also have a brand guide. At IMV, when I arrived, I wanted to make sure that we had a brand guide because we needed to make sure that our messages were consistent, and that we used the same colors, fonts, and images all the time. It may sound superficial, but it helps to convey a very consistent image to our audience. Whatever it is, for everything that is put out there for IMV, we use this brand guide. Of course, if the conference brand guide is different, we go with the conference brand guide, but otherwise, our brand guide helped us to have a very harmonized and consistent image of the company. For those who do not have a brand guide, I would definitely recommend sticking with very basic elements and using Arial as a font, and making sure that you are consistent in your font colors as well as the size that you use.

I would like to highlight a few mistakes that I've seen many times in the designs: using too much text, copying and pasting from the abstract or other material that was used previously, using small fonts to put more information, using capital letters, which sounds like you're screaming, not giving titles, using silly fonts, and not being careful with the different colors. Just make sure that your colors are really reasonable, and you can use a few different colors as accent colors. It is preferable to stay with very regular fonts like Arial for scientific posters.

To make an ideal template for your poster, you should use as many pictures as possible, and the conclusion should have only four distinguishable takeaways. It's easy to read because you can see the flow, and it is easy for the brain to navigate the poster visually. Therefore, giving space and blank space around the boxes helps your brain to navigate the poster and not be overwhelmed with all the information. Another tip is that we use QR codes, which are quite common right now, and it's good to have because everyone can access your paper and have your contact details.

A few tips for your poster are to make the title concise, think about your audience and the language, talk as much as possible with plain language, use visuals to tell the story, be consistent, and avoid text as much as possible.

Possible, so keep your sentence as short as possible. Use bullet points. It's really the less is more. Yeah, but it's really to you. You don't have to put all the information in your poster. The goal is not only to convey your key messages to your target audience but also to engage with your audience and generate a discussion, a meaningful discussion with the people that want to learn more about your experiment and what you're doing in your lab.

Next slide please. I cannot just stay here talking about in-person presentations. I'm very happy to see that many conferences now are getting back to a kind of normal sense, and now you know we have all experienced those virtual conferences and I do not think that we would go back to only in-person meetings. I think that hybrid conferences will become the norm, and so we will have to work both on poster presentations for the in-person meetings but also on the virtual e-posters that will be shared online and which is very, very good for your communication. Honestly, it is the best way to disseminate the information because the posters that's not really something that we like to share on social media, for example, because it's too heavy. There is too much information on the poster, but the e-poster is really perfect and most of the time, there are videos recorded, and this is just the perfect way. Videos are really the most used tool and channel to convey messages. And the good thing is also that most of the conference they allow only a five-minute speech for the presentation, so you have to work on the script, and I noticed that with our scientists that this process of writing a script helped them to really focus more on their key messages and how to make sure that they are conveyed in a concise and very clear and intelligible way. And keep in mind that the five-minute page is around 750 words, which is really fast. It's not easy, but it is really interesting. And honestly, even in-person meeting at the conference, the solution that the description of your process should not last more than five minutes, you should think about discussing with your audience, really engaging with them, and make sure that they remember you not just your poster and your result but also the human interaction that you could have with them. So really think about engaging with your audience and have this meaningful scientific discussion.


Hopefully, you can all hear me okay. Yes, thank you. Thank you very much for having me. It was fantastic, and actually, you've laid the groundwork very beautifully for my part of the talk, and I'm going to be building upon that with just a few additional design tips again for better science posters. I couldn’t have said it better than you did, Delphine. So thank you so much for all of the really good tips there, and your years of experience obviously weigh in on that too.

And I kind of wanted to reiterate just how different a lot of conferences are. I was talking with the folks in the chat there, how different every conference’s poster restrictions are. We're hoping that one day it'll be a little bit more

streamlined. But for now, we'll have to really play by their rules, their dimensions, you know, the content, all of that. So we're always working within certain parameters, but just to get a lay of the land, you know, posters come in all shapes and sizes and colors. This was a snapshot from SFN. I don't know if anyone's ever been there, Society for Neuroscience, tens of thousands of posters, lots of trees killed. But you know, we're, I think again in the chats, people were saying that they kind of missed the in-person experience, and I think it's really going to be a hybrid digital versus in-person world when it comes to posters, although a lot of people are again adopting the digital poster realm. I took a few snapshots of some really beautiful posters during that conference. I think some of them are really nicely laid out. If some of you remember, you know, some printed on fabric, some a little bit larger, some more simple than others, but I just wanted to kind of get our feet wet in the different types of posters that I'm sure you've all made before.

The analogy I like to use sometimes is comparing getting lost in a city like Chicago to getting lost in a city like Paris, which is wonderful if you're on vacation. But posters, you know, you're not always going to be standing beside it, and I'm, you know, kind of reiterating what Delphine said already, but really, the story should be told by anybody walking by and without you needing to narrate them through the story. It should really be standalone, kind of like a painting, it's not a presentation where you're always going to be there standing next to the poster, there are presentation sessions, but you really want to think of it in the way that a map is easy to read. So that's grid lines, left to right directionality, up to down directionality, keeping that in mind. So serve them up a really easy to follow map, there's a couple of sort of outdated styles that I guess I'll just call out that I usually see in designs with very rounded corners. I don't know why, but it tends to give it a little bit of a dated look, drop shadows, we try to keep that out of a lot of designs in the design world's professionals, gradients are really hard to do and difficult to do tastefully. As you can see not only for aesthetic but legibility, it's hard to create graphics that lay on top of gradients really well because it goes from dark to light. So how do you pick a font color that will actually mesh well on top of a gradient? What color do you use? Is it gray? It'll kind of get lost in the middle value. If it's too light, it'll get lost in the lighter values. So be careful of that, word art, I don't think we see much of that anymore, and then fancy bullet points.

Here's an example I just pulled from Google of why gradient backgrounds also kind of give it this optical illusion of a curled edge. And if you all have experienced this having to uncurl a poster out of a poster tube, you're just going to make that visual worse. So again, just the point is to avoid gradient backgrounds wherever possible, this includes figures, poster designs, presentations. You can tell here the rounded corners I would have sharpened that up, and as Delphine said, use the borders of the text and the images as the sort of hallways or the visual dividers. You don't always need to put everything in a box in a box in a box, and actually, one thing that we use as designers actually grid lines. If you walk into any design studio, you're going to see everyone's monitors covered in these really sort of obnoxiously colored grid lines. And they're obnoxiously colored for a reason so that you know for sure it's probably not part of the design. So they're kind of like you know lines on a highway where you have to drive within certain spaces as designers. We place these guides down so that we know where to put content and where not to put content, and it's not to be perfect. You literally just put down these lines, you know BioRender has them, PowerPoint has them, Photoshop has them, most software has them, and they're the main reason again is to just make sure that you're putting content where they're supposed to and also to pick a consistent border around the entirety of the poster in between the rows and the columns even within the column where the text ends and begins. You'd be surprised if you hold those borders true all the way around your design. It creates this sort of harmonious design throughout your entire illustration or poster, an idea really is to be able to read the story again from top to down, left to right. Those visual spaces create the hallways and the breathing room for your eye to be able to travel around between the content. It's really important to have that white space.

Here's a little example of maybe a before and an after of those sort of visual hallways you can call them. And again, Delphine showed a really beautiful example with the IMV poster that followed these rules really well. And again, you know, the grid lines don't have to be perfect. I would just pick a dimension, maybe it's half an inch, a centimeter or two, and then sort of try to follow that along the entirety of the poster again outside of the edges. You know, within the columns, between maybe the title and your first figure, just pick one unit and follow that all the way around.

Here's some sample data I grabbed that I sometimes like to use this sort of box trick. So even within a figure, if you find that hmm it's not quite aligned, and I don't know how to align it sometimes what I do is I draw boxes around the content. And then what I do is sort of shift it so that again we get those perfect little spaces in between the box, because sometimes if it's not in a box, you can't really tell the spacing very well, and then simply remove the boxes and you know, add in those numbers back. So sometimes that helps if you take irregular shaped objects, stick it in a box, you know, shift those boxes around, remove those so it's kind of like grid lines interactive grid lines, and that'll help you better align your figures.

Again the sort of tldr too long didn't read format, maybe you'd like to highlight a section of your poster; maybe one area is really important to the story, as Delphine mentioned. Sometimes it's the results. I would say a lot of the time it's the results. You could put maybe a colored background, you know, keep it subtle but a colored background behind that section to really emphasize that area. But the general reading direction, again, should be left to right, up to down. Agree that text is the enemy, as Delphine mentioned, so you know really keep your title to a minimum number of characters and maximum font size. These people look way too excited to be making a science poster, but I grabbed this picture because it's actually a really quick way to gut check. I used to do this when I made a lot of posters that were ultimately printed. And you know that feeling of when you send your poster to the printer and then you go to pick it up and you're horrified because the font's tiny or the fonts are really blurry or everything is like too big, you could have made things a little smaller. A cheap and easy way to test to see if everything kind of will look good in situ or the day of is to try projecting the poster on like a monitor or a big screen as big as you can access wherever you are. I know we're not in person a lot of us, but if you are and you have access to a projector screen, and then take like a measuring thing, a measuring tape to the size that it'll probably be printed at, and then you know, stand beside it, see if it kind of reads well. It won't be perfect, but it kind of gives you a gut check of how big it'll be. That's if you finish it in time and you're not scrambling to the 25th hour to go to the printers, but you know if you've got the time, why not? This is a trick that we use in the art world, the Fine Art World. Sometimes we get really into the nitty-gritty, and you're zoomed in at 400 percent. A lot of you might be using PowerPoint at 400 Zoom. Make sure you zoom out because ultimately when people walk by your poster, they're gonna judge it from a distance. They're not going to be walking by with their nose to the paper. So, you should really look at the poster design as a whole. That means zooming out often and not putting your nose to the paper or to PowerPoint, but to really step back and see, you know, how does it look as a whole? Is there a figure in my intro that's clashing with my figure in my conclusion or results? Are the colors conflicting? Am I seeing that the dendritic cells are purple in one figure but then they're pink in the conclusion figure? You'll have to make those adjustments because you don't have the luxury like in a presentation where it’s slide to slide to slide. The poster kind of shows all the dirty laundry in one go. You have to make sure that from the beginning to end everything is harmonious, the designs are clear, colors consistent, spacing is consistent, font sizes are consistent. I even like to go in and adjust the font size for the figure because sometimes your figures can have like, you know, really big labels in one figure, really tiny in another because you've pulled it in from like a publication or something, so a little bit of tweaking is needed again if you can afford the time.

I'm just going to step over really quickly to BioRender to give a couple of more I guess figure specific tips. There's a couple of ways to align objects in BioRender. Again, I saw in the chat that a few people actually used BioRender to make their posters, that's incredible. But if you're going to use grid lines, like we had just talked about, we have the ability to add that in. So, again, you can see here, you can add in lines like so. If you didn't know we had that, you just simply go to the ruler and click down, and then you know, you can kind of align objects according to those grid lines. We also have what's called a graph paper or grid system that you can also use if you kind of just want to use that as a guide. We also have the enable alignment function. This is for all those people that love to align things better in their figure. I know I'm one of those people, so you see all these little lines that pop up. This is a nice way to auto-align as you're going. Or the actual align feature, so if I take these four antibodies and say they're all kind of scattered everywhere, and I want to align them all, I can come up here to align - evenly distribute, and then align maybe by its middle.

When making posters, you know the directionality of reading is really important. Sometimes I see it going in all different directions and you kind of lose your audience right then and there. Thank you.

Okay, and the last thing I'll point out is just a small note about fonts. Don't be afraid to really be bold about the hierarchy of your text. So, in this case, you know, these are sort of blending in with the label sizes. Sometimes I'll even bold it. And again, people are going to be reading it from a distance, so you can actually afford to go a little bit larger than usual. Sometimes I'll even adjust the font size for the figure because your figures can have really big labels in one figure, really tiny in another because you've pulled it in from a publication or something. So, a little bit of tweaking is needed again if you can afford the time. And I think I'll wrap up there but I did want to give a little bit of a freebie of some free templates that we made using Google Slides. Admittedly, it's not the best software, you know, until BioRender creates something better, or PowerPoint, I guess, improves. I have set up a few templates here for you all to use. I guess what I can do is stick it in the chat. Hopefully, you all can access it. This one is a vertical template, this one's a horizontal one. It's by no means the perfect template to use, and I hope you know all thousands of you aren't gonna crash Google Slides as we work on this. But it's a, you know, maybe a good rule of thumb just to look at how clean the boxes can be. And, lastly, when you're making figures, put them in the design as you're doing it. You know, don't do it at the last minute. You can see here, you know, I threw in the figure on the left just to see how we would register at a large scale. That sort of stepping back feeling. Make sure you do that with your posters, regardless of the dimensions.

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