All TutorialsArrowArrow

Designing a Winning Poster & Live Poster Makeover

Want to know what makes a great research poster? Join Shiz Aoki (Co-founder and CEO, BioRender) to learn actionable tips and techniques for designing beautiful, professional research posters. Plus, see these tips in action in a live poster makeover!

Here are some useful timestamps so you can quickly jump to the sections you're interested in: Consistent margins/padding (7:00), Arrange sections in a grid (7:40), Emphasize headers and sections (10:55), Text hierarchy (11:47), Poster specific figure formatting (27:38).

Join the BioRender Community


So, welcome everybody to our BioRender Posters Design Miniseries. This is sort of a continuation of what we started with our grants miniseries, I believe a couple months ago now, and we're going to be continuing these sort of thematic webinars to eventually cover. Hopefully, most of you have design needs in your scientific journey.

So today's is again focused on posters. Now, some of the tips we'll cover will actually be ubiquitous for any kind of design in general. So if you're making a figure for a publication, if you're designing, I don't know, an Instagram or Twitter post, all of these design tips are pretty ubiquitous. So hopefully, they'll be useful for you even if you're not creating a poster.

And yes, that the session is being recorded. I believe, hopefully, I don't see whether it is or not. But hopefully, it is being recorded. So we will be sending out the link to this recording to your email that you signed up for this webinar with. So if you have to leave early or if you're going to be coming in later, I guess you won't hear this, but we will send out the recording to that email and your chat won't be recorded. So it's just whatever you're seeing on my screen and our voices.

And a fun little giveaway. We're going to be doing is a draw for our much beloved BioRender swag, some nerdy science stickers, pens. I think we've got some T-shirts and coasters. So stay tuned till the very end. If you can't stay till the end, don't worry, we will send the link. Basically what it is. It will be sort of a survey with a very short survey to fill out feedback about this webinar and about BioRender in general and then we'll do a draw and we'll get a bunch of these. Stick around till the end, if you can for the web survey link.

This is me. I'm going to be talking about how to design a winning poster and do a little bit of a live poster makeover. And by name is Shiz, one of the cofounders of BioRender and CEO, and in my past life I was or am I guess a medical illustrator. So trying to bring to you all the learnings I've had over the last I guess 12 years or so, in design.

BioRender itself sounds like a lot of you are already BioRender fans, hopefully or our customers or users of the free product, but it is an online program for creating high-quality science images, and designed for, really anybody under the sphere of science research, clinician researchers, students science communicators. Basically anyone that has perhaps little to no art background and little to no time, which I think a lot of us are in that boat.

Bit of background about myself again, I already spoke to that, but just to say that a lot of our experiences come from making really complex figures like this. I mean, when I was in D.C. helping with figures and centre folds like this, it was an army of designers and cartographers, editors, creative directors, art directors, writers researchers. You name it. And you know, when I look at the science figure world or science research world, it's crazy that you are all expected to have the skill sets of a medical illustrator and that a tool never existed. That's why we built BioRender, but I like to show these figures because, you know, a lot of the first principles thinking from designers with experience seem like common sense to us. But it might not be common sense to everybody. So things, like proper layout - space maintaining margins and padding throughout your figure. Those are all really important things that we want to explicitly call out when you're making science figures because what we learn in the design world should apply in the science figure world.

Now, for posters, if you just do a Google search of science posters, this is like the crazy plethora of the types of posters that you'll see. Some are very well designed, but you can see that they take on many shapes and forms and sort of a wild west right now, as far as you know, what goes, what works, maybe what doesn't work, and we'll sort of dig into the ones that do work and maybe some design flaws to avoid.

Here's the state, or I guess, what is the state of the world of science posters. If you've been to a big conference like this, I believe this was the Society for Neuroscience. We went too, I guess a couple of years ago now and there are, you know, tens of thousands of posters, I want to say, and so as much as we may grapple with posters, it's probably not going to go away anytime soon. As far as the need to create really great posters.

We are moving to sort of the virtual world where you could probably export lower resolution posters and not have to go to print them, but this is still much of a reality. So hopefully, what we teach you today will be helpful a bit more of a close up, some really nice ones. We saw sometimes they're printed on fabric. Sometimes they're printed on paper. Just getting our feet wet again, back into the whole conference room. I'm sure some of you are again gearing up for posters and for conferences again. So just a little reminder of what it felt like poster designed just to give you a little bit of a tldr. We'll talk about the overall design of the poster layout. And then there are actually some small tips related to how to format the actual figures within the poster. Not much different but Fran and Katy are going to cover tips on how to use BioRender core to create better figures in general and that will improve your poster design ultimately.

So, without further Ado, let's dive right into what I believe are good five themes or topics or tips to focus on today. They largely reflect around how to use consistent margin and padding. In your poster how to arrange sections of your poster, you know, intro objectives, results, conclusions, all of that in sort of a grid like fashion and we equate it to looking at a map of Chicago versus a map of Paris. You'll see in a minute, emphasizing headers and sections just to keep it, you know, really easy to follow the story flow. Your poster text hierarchy is important. And then again, poster specific figure formatting. This will all make sense to you. Hopefully, by the end of this talk, just a little bit of a reminder of why poster columns are important and layout and spacing, and margins.

I know it seems like a waste of space sometimes to have these sort of thick, you know, margins and padding across columns and rows. It is really important though, for our eyes to be able to track and follow along a story. The directionality is generally left to right up to down. That's just the direction that be read in most languages. So that's how you want to maintain your poster information flow. But again, the white space isn't just for Aesthetics. It's actually functional in that it helps your eye track around a poster design.

This is what I meant by the sort of Chicago versus Paris analogy. The poster should really be easy to follow. Again, left to right up to down unlike presentations. Your poster is probably going to be floating around on the internet somewhere, or maybe, or you're not going to be standing next to your poster for the entire conference because we're going to be, you know, coming in and out of the poster hall. And so they're going to need to be able to navigate Your Design without you pointing. You know, here's where you start. Here's where you go next. And so, the grid system is really helpful. Think of getting lost in a city like Chicago versus getting lost in a city like Paris, where you can't really navigate East-West North-South very easily. So think of your poster in that way, allow your viewers to be able to navigate really easily around your design and that's by maintaining a grid like system.

A couple of tips of what not to do now. I don't see this pretty frequently. But when we do, they can kind of make or break your poster. So right now we're sort of avoiding rounded corners. It kind of gives it a little bit of a dated look. Drop shadows is sort of a design quirk that you don't have to use for posters. It does detract. Gradients are hard to do tastefully. So I would avoid using gradients at all. For backgrounds, Word Art is probably pretty obsolete nowadays. Fancy bullet points, I'd also avoid. So just try to keep your poster graphics very, very simple.

Here's an example of why gradients don't work for backgrounds. It kind of looks like the posters curled up. It gives it a bit of a dated look, so I can avoid gradients as much as possible. Really gradients only have a place in things like temperature, concentration, or strength of energy, like sort of like the color bars. They really shouldn't be used for design or backgrounds or things like that.

And then as far as leaving space and margins and padding, you can use the functionality within a lot of the design tools called grid lines, and that's what you see here. These purple lines are sort of these invisible lines. You can add to a lot of files. In BioRender, you can do this with PowerPoint and Adobe products. Just saying that there are tools ready for you to use to help maintain margins, padding, spacing and all of that. And I'll show you how to do that in BioRender. And then here's a quick flythrough of like when you use grid lines properly, you can actually maintain proper spacing and padding. This is sort of before and after where you see the spacing is all different sizes, different thicknesses, but when you do it right, the padding should be generally, the same unit, the same measurement, all the way throughout. Maybe it's an inch. Maybe it's a centimeter. Pick one unit and follow that spacing all around your poster, between columns, between headers and the title block, basically throughout the entire poster.

One section of your poster would be really important as well. For example, the results section might be the most important. So I would emphasize that, maybe making it a little bit darker. The header, maybe even adding a splash of color to the background like this. That way, it kind of again emphasizes the main area of your poster. Most people are going to walk by your poster in a conference and spend, I don't know, 10 seconds before they sort of move on to the next, unless they've marked off your name and the booklet and said like I want to go to poster 785 and talk to this person. More likely than not, they're just going to be passing by. So you really have to give them the meat of your story really quickly and that might be your results. And so that should be highlighted front and center.

Text alignment plays a big role in your poster design and you probably want to know what that means in PowerPoint or in Illustrator, that's something called justify text. I'm sure you all know that versus left align or right align, but this is really important because it avoids the need to use boxes around sections because the text itself creates a really nice sort of square format like this. For example, you can actually see that there are columns of text and there's no boxes visible. It's actually the text that creates this invisible box. So just keep that in mind. You don't need to add boxes everywhere and put boxes in boxes. Sometimes the text alignment by itself can create really nice sort of hallways or spacing, and this is in sort of the general design world. But, you know, most magazines you open up, you won't see boxes around columns because again, the text makes a really nice delineation there of the columns.

Color picking branding colors is also a really interesting way to make your poster very branded or specific maybe to your logo, your institution, your company. This is using Adobe Illustrator. BioRender does have a Color Picker as well so you can actually unify your entire poster. So say your school or company logo color is like a maroon or a purple or red. You can actually color pick and make sure that all of your headers and your, you know, importantly, your title bar. There is, is that color and I'll show you how to do that really easily again in BioRender as well.

Alright, so now that I've sort of ripped this apart a little bit and applied some of the design tips that we've talked about, I'm going to live makeover this poster into what I think would be maybe a more successful version of it. Just going to pause for a second to see if there are any outstanding major questions or anything related to my audio or video looks like we're good so far.

All right, I'm going to, let's see. I'm going to keep PowerPoint up. Our good old friend PowerPoint. And as I go through the demo, I'm going to sort of flip back and forth between the before and after so you can see how I'm creating it live. I'm going to flip into BioRender now. Hopefully you've all seen BioRender in one form or another. This is my gallery view. So it's a little messy but it does show the variety of the types of figures you can make in BioRender today. So you can make a slide deck. You can make a cellular figure. You can make a protocol diagram. We also have BioRender templates just to give you a really quick overview. So say you have an old poster created in PowerPoint version 5, 6, 7, or 12 or whatever it is. You might want to, you know, give it a bit of a spruce up after this talk. After you learn about a couple of design tips. I am also I have the privilege to announce that today, I believe we have launched what we call poster builder for everybody that signs up for BioRender. If you haven't tried it out yet, I'm really excited to show you what we've been working hard behind the scenes on.

Basically, to get access to BioRender Poster Builder, go to create a new poster file and instead of illustration, click on Poster Builder. Now, this is really magical. When I click on Poster Builder, it is going to bring up an array of templates of different poster types. And this is going to be super magical. All different types of formats. So, you can do a square landscape portrait. You can actually change the color. So, again, if you have company branded colors or institutional branded colors, you can pick one that more suits that. We are going to be adding more and more colors as well. And this is all editable. Once you have opened up the canvas view, I am going to go ahead and stick with the Classic Blue for now. Let's see here.

Maybe I'll just go with this good old poster. Landscape type. Alright, so now I'm in BioRender. It might look a little bit different because again, now we are in the BioRender, Poster Builder view, really exciting. And the menu here is a little different because we have sort of limited the options intentionally so that you can focus on designing the whole poster as opposed to maybe the individual figure for now. And what I'm going to do is show you how quickly you can actually create your poster in BioRender even using the content you have already in your PowerPoint slide. So, I'm going to go in here copy and paste like so super easy and we've actually, pre-formatted, what we think are good font size and parameters for each section.

So, for the title here, we've got some really nice fonts and size choices, you could even change the spacing a little bit. Like, so we've got a nice little authors and affiliation section here because you probably want to add your name, maybe your collaborators, maybe the school or institution, you are part of. So, I'm just copying and pasting directly here. Literally taking me seconds to add. Let's see. Probably want to add your logo. Your company or school logo. So University of Guelph logo here. I've actually pre-uploaded it into my environment or gallery. So, I'm going to click that. I'm going to upload and add my logo. It looks kind of strange because it's got a black background. And my design here is blue and I don't need this second picture here. Some of you might have funding from NIH or another body that distributes funds. You can add that logo there. I'm going to remove that for now.

I'm going to change this into your heading color to actually match this black. So, if I come here to the style and fill, I'm going to choose the Color Picker option and I can literally color match so that it looks uniform. So already, it's starting to look like a complete poster. And as I mentioned, areas that are highest contrast are going to be the most eye-catching. So, now what I've done is the reverse where instead of the footer being the most eye-catching. It's now the header.

So really, really cool, really easy to start editing again. If I want to add this entire body of text. I'm going to command+C copy and paste right into this abstract section. You see that? All I had to do was drag and drop a content Block in. Maybe I'll shrink down the text just a little bit and then again, our good old justified text function so you can see here already is coming together really quickly adding an image is also super, super easy. I'm going to add in a content block called image. So, drag and drop. You can see it here. The BioRender Poster Builder is asking me where do you want to put it? You want to put it between these two objects, maybe between these two columns which would be kind of silly, but you could do that. I'm going to add it here into my abstract section. And there we go. It automatically places an image block and a caption block associated with that image.

So if I move my image around, this little figure caption follows it, which is amazing because it doesn't really make sense to exist independently, right? So I'm going to copy and paste my figure caption. I'm not going to do the entire poster. I've actually made it pre-built in my other tab. So we'll fast forward in a second, but I just wanted to show you how fun and easy it is to build up this poster. I know fun and poster making are not usually used in the same sentence. But again, I'm going to upload a figure that I've pre-uploaded into my BioRender files. There we go, super easy. Let's see the results. I think what I want to do is maybe make an entire results block and then maybe I'll move this sort of thing hoping you can see my mouse. The conclusions and references sections sort of side by side at the bottom. So, okay, let's do this live. Always risky to do something like this live during a demo, but I think it's definitely worth it. I've got another picture here. Let me do that really quickly. Add an image. Look at my uploads. This is the one. There we go, super easy. So this column's almost pretty much filled out. Just for posterity. Let's just finish it up.

All right. So this is pretty much done. What did I say? I wanted to move the conclusions and acknowledgements underneath the results. And this is how easy it is. I'm dragging. This section underneath my results and there we go. Same with acknowledgements are going to move it down here and see, like magic. I'm just moving around sections which again, was never possible before at least using, you know, Adobe Illustrator and PowerPoint. Not possible, as far as the results. You can sort of assume that it will be again really easy. Just plug and play everything you already have. Just plop it into your BioRender Poster Builder.

This intro section, I think because we're going with this sort of black-and-white theme, this logo being black and white. I'm going to probably go through and update all of the section headers to be a black color, but see how easy it is to do that. I'm just clicking the little bar and updating the color. It's that easy and then kind of continuing along adding your text. You have pictures, all of that and then completing your entire figure, also, panning and zooming. I know it was a nightmare in PowerPoint.

You can actually zoom and pan in BioRender really easily. I'm actually using alt or option and my mouse wheel to be able to zoom in and out of my poster really seamlessly. This is actually true for BioRender figures as well. If you're making a figure you can actually zoom in and out really easily or hit spacebar spacebar and then you can pan around the canvas really easily like this. I know zooming in and out of a poster is a necessary evil. You have to be able to zoom in and out because it's such a large file. Or you can also just click reset zoom and use this slider on the left hand or right hand side to zoom in and out. So those are sort of the basic functions of your Poster Builder. You can also include a BioRender figure. So you probably made a graphical abstract or sort of a pathway diagram or, you know, sort of a cartoon figure. You could add that into your poster that you've made in BioRender.

So if this image for example, was not this sort of tree diagram, you can actually upload or replace it with a previous figure that you've made. There we go. I just basically added it by choosing from my gallery of options. Now, you can see here that the edges are a white and I don't like that. I think sometimes with certain posters you're going to have to do a little bit of rejigging of your actual BioRender figure. So I'm going to open up this figure in BioRender. So I'm kind of jumping around a little bit between Poster Builder and BioRender core, I guess you can call it. But basically that's to show you that you can actually still do both things in BioRender and what I'm just doing now. Sorry, I'm sort of talking as I'm doing things. I'm just sort of resizing the figure a little bit in order to sort of fit that wider poster format. I'm not going to belabor this, but, you know, again, you can kind of go through and sort of rejig your figure. It's going to save automatically.

And what I have to do is now go back to my poster and it's not going to auto update because I actually probably don't want that just in case you're editing and then it ends up reflecting somewhere in your poster. I'm going to actually replace it with the updated version, you'll see here right away. It's going to pop in and magically you can see here that it's got that sort of wider format. So for the sake of time, I know time flies here and we're having fun. I'm going to fast forward to my final version of this poster. Again, it took me a couple minutes just could have transferred over all of the stuff from my PowerPoint file into this new BioRender Poster Builder.

So here it is updated. All my figures included. A few captions. You can see here that I am following all the design principles we talked about at the beginning. So leaving some spacing and margins and padding all over my poster. My body text is distinct from the figure caption text. So it's a little bit bigger. The font, the figure, options are a bit smaller. I've highlighted, the results section here. There's a little gray, light, sort of shade behind the entire results section. It kind of speaks to me to say that section is probably important. There are sort of these little blue lines everywhere. If you want to sort of preview what the post is going to look like, you can click this little preview button and it's going to generate a preview of the poster of what it's going to look like.

Ultimately when I go to print it, I'll just give it a second to generate. It's a large file. So apologies, it's going to take just a second. There we go. So it looks really nice. I think the columns are nicely spaced and the padding looks good. One thing I wanted to show is if I wanted to sort of shrink and expand the columns. Look how magical everything re-lines and reformats. This is sort of part of the magic of I believe BioRender Poster Builder is just how seamless all of these things reformat. So you can see here. I don't have to go in and resize every little text every little image box. It will automatically do that for me.

Now, you've probably been in the situation where you've presented your poster at maybe your school's poster event or a conference and then you go to present another one and they're telling you know, it to be a square format now, or it has to be portrait format, which is like longer or maybe wider. And so you have to go in and you have to kind of resize your canvas and resize everything to fit that. And with BioRender Poster Builder, it will automatically resize with the click of one button and you probably don't believe me so I'm going to show you live. I can create this poster to be automatically portrait format with just one click. So I'm going to go here. The dimensions are 48 by 36. I want it to be 36 by 48. Let's see what happens when I do that now. Normally it would probably get all mangled. There you go. Automatically resizes. I cannot take credit for this. Is our amazing engineering and product teams that did this. I just again have the pleasure of demoing it for all of you. And just with some very slight rejigging here and there, it's basically ready to go. I mean, I could probably just print this and have this ready to go and it's better than, you know, 80% of the work that would be done if I had to do it manually anyway, but automatically resizing portrait to landscape. I think that's pretty crazy.

Even go in and resize or remove things if I want. If I want to do something crazy, like I have this space here now, maybe I want to move the conclusion and acknowledgements underneath the entire poster. Can I do that? Probably, let's see here. There we go. Super easy. I think this is magic. Like I said, it never used to be fun to make posters but now you can see, you can probably have a really good time kind of coming in here and changing up all the little sections as you want. Fine-tune edit as you need and it'll sort of handhold you through the process. There you go. So again going from landscape to portrait super, super easy, maintains all the margins and padding as you need.

Let's see here. I know we are coming up on time for my section. Maybe I'll pause for a second and see if there are outstanding questions. I think our team is doing an amazing job of answering questions as we go through. If I didn't like what I just did, I can undo a bunch of times and we've got a really cool version history on Poster Builder and really any other BioRender file. So you can go back in time, a snapshot in time and undo the work you did. If you regret the design decisions you made. So super easy to do. You can see it here. I'm just going back and undo even the formatting. So you can do that with any of your posters or files. And you can see that if I go back to my gallery. It's going to tell me which files are posters versus regular BioRender figures. And which ones are these sort of multi Canvas OR slide files, which is really neat and you can see the preview here as well.

And if you stick around for the next hour, I promise you're going to have some really good tips on how to better organize your files, how to work collaboratively with other colleagues. Can you imagine working live on a poster with your colleagues, your lab mates, your teammates, to really speed up the design process and have your contributors directly contribute to the poster file. So I'm not going to go into that detail. I'll save that for the next speakers to go through, but some really cool ways to start to collaborate on even these behemoths file types like Poster Builder.

All right, so I wanted to do maybe a really quick sort of back and forth between the before version, which is this, you know, PowerPoint file harder to edit and harder to kind of manipulate. And I think overall may be more difficult to handle the file type versus, you know, our new BioRender Poster Builder. I'm going back and version history. I'm going to go back to the horizontal format that I said that I liked better. If I open up version history I can actually see the timestamp for all of these versions that I made just prior to this final version, that was saved. And like I said, if I don't like the direction that I took this, I can actually go back in time. Click the version history or maybe the timestamp, maybe it was, you know, 134 something that I last edited it and I can make a copy of this version and it's going to open up that version. And again, I won't lose any work that I did which is great. You don't have to save version 1 2 3 4 12. I'm sure we're all guilty of that with PowerPoint slides. So again, really nice way to keep track of your changes in PowerPoint. Oh not PowerPoint. Sorry BioRender, and here's that version.

All right, and this press exporting we're actually still working on the export functionality. I know a lot of us like to use really high resolution files like 300 DPI. I think that's what most printers request right now. We've allowed for both 72 and 150 DPI. 150 is actually not that bad. It actually would be fine for a lot of printers and absolutely the maximum that you'd even want for a virtual poster. But you know, in the coming weeks, we are going to be updating the export functionality. So again, once you're in there, starting to work on your poster, perhaps, by the time we finish this, you know, feature, you'll be ready to go to export, super high res. If that is what you need, you can export as JPEG PDF, PNG file type, and then you're ready to go.

Due to continuous improvements in BioRender, the application may appear slightly different in some of our videos.
Video idea succesfully submitted