My advice for creating an academic poster

I was SO excited to win top poster of #EcoEvoEnto2019!! I want to share my experience and provide some tips and tricks that I learned making this poster.

First off, here is the poster that won. I was surprised and delighted because I entered this poster in a previous competition and didn’t even place. This goes to show you that creating a poster for the right audience is very important (the previous one was for industry).

I want to thank my sister, Amelia, who helped me come up with a great design that an academic and non-academic audience would understand. She is very into design and works as a tattoo artist (here).

Now let’s talk about what a poster should be. A poster should be a way to communicate what you have been working on all this time, a “snapshot” of all your hard work and results. It should also be a way to network with your audience (hence the addition of a business card info-graphic with my twitter and Instagram at the top of my poster). You are going to meet so many people and have so many more pass through, so grab their attention and hold it there with your charm and whit! Conferences are a great way to find a job or another lab to work in after your journey with your current one is up. Above all else, have fun, don’t stress, everyone is just so happy to mingle and find out about an interesting topic not in their field.

Think of this as a checklist of what a poster should include:

  • Visual appealing! Think of some ways to bring your project to life in images. For me that was about habitat (plants) and the arthropods I studied.
  • The title needs to draw attention. My thesis title is actually “Habitat-based drivers of arthropod abundance and richness in an intensively farmed agricultural landscape”. It doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it? So I changed it to something shorter and more recognizable to my audience.
  • Effective use of colour. Try not to throw in a bunch of colours into your poster but pick three or four to use throughout the poster to create unity. Googling what colours work well together can be helpful too!
  • Easy to read. A given, but sometimes with a lot of information things become uneasy and jumbled. I have around 6 analyses in my these project that all have awesome, cool results but for this poster I decided on focusing on 3 that I think really put out the message I wanted. Don’t feel bad about leaving behind some results or methodology that you do not think fits the story you want to tell.
  • Have fun, be creative, and enjoy telling your story!!

There are four basic steps to follow when creating an effective visual poster.

Step 1 – What’s your story?
The first step is to outline what you want the audience to take away from your poster. For my story, I want people to believe prairie grasslands help foster beneficial insects. But, a good practice is to highlight 3-4 key results with your story. Some might even cut it down to one big major results. These messages drive your story, and you want them each to have an impact.

Step 2 – Brainstorming
Once you know what results you are keeping, draft a simple pencil sketch of a poster on a piece of paper. My poster had 3 key results and since I wanted to keep it symmetrical I made use of post-it notes and lined sheets of paper to correspond to each result. Sketching your design out will help you visualize the flow of information and see where your eye is drawn/what doesn’t work.

Step 3 – Design
Some information may be better shown through images. I think this is a good place in the methods section of a poster because of usually that’s the most boring part! Decide which results or sections are better represented by icons or images. People like pictures more than statistics. A way to keep a poster clean looking and pleasing to the eye is a good, organized colour scheme. I have some great websites at the end of this post that can help choose colour palettes for you. Keep in mind colour blindness when choosing colours and creating graphs in R or any statistical programs for that matter.

Step 4 – Create
Now that you have your story, your design is chosen, data elements, a rough outline completed, use software to begin creating the first draft. My go-to programs of choice are Photoshop and Powerpoint.

I have a list of FREE resources that I use when making posters (this isn’t my first rodeo), which can be found at these websites:

Colour resources:
Create colour combinations
Create colour combinations
design palette

Free images/icons

Image to vector converter

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