Designing a poster for use in an academic conference can be a great way to disseminate your work. However, often postgraduates realise they haven’t received any formal advice on how to design a successful poster. The following tips should help you out:
1. Read the call for papers
Often, conference organisers will let you know exactly what they’re looking for with the poster in regards to size and orientation. If they haven’t let you know, it’s usually safe to assume that posters should be A1, and in most cases, portrait, but it’s always best to ask and double check!
2. Choosing the right software
There’s various software programs out there that can be used to design a poster. Choosing the right one depends on what you’re most comfortable with using and what you have access to.
Programs such as Abode Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign can all be very useful, but if you don’t have a great knowledge of them, you may find it easier to stick to PowerPoint on Microsoft Office.
If you do use PowerPoint, remember to set the page to the right size: e.g. for A1, go to Design then Page Setup, enter the size 84.1 x 59.4 cm, and choose the orientation you want.
3. Plan your content
You’re probably more used to writing papers and giving presentations about your work, where you have a fair amount of freedom to go into detail and to cover several aspects. With posters however, you’re much more limited on word count. While conferences rarely attach a word limit to a poster, it’s unlikely you’ll have the space for more than 1000 words.
This means it’s vital that you plan exactly what you want to say before you get started. Put your ideas into a hierarchy of importance, and select just 2-4 main points for you poster to focus on.
Type up what you want to say, if it’s more than 1000 words, start thinking about how you can reduce this. Replace text with images, use short bullet points rather than sentences and paragraphs or cut out unessential points.
Also remember to consider who your audience will be. If you’re attending a conference organised around a specific theme, you can probably assume your audience will be specialists in the field and will understand any jargon and subject-specific terms you may use. If it’s a wider geography conference, your audience may have a general knowledge of your subject, while for even more general conferences (maybe in your university faculty), don’t assume any specialist knowledge and avoid all jargon.
4. Text and Images
Make sure you choose a clear, and familiar font. People read information better when they are already used to reading a certain type of font. Never use more than 3 types of font. You may choose different fonts for titles, main text and captions, but never use more than 3 as your poster will appear too unorganised.
Make sure the text is big enough, and is the right colour to be clearly read from 5 feet away. Titles should be at least 4cm tall. Most people find black text on white or pale backgrounds is the easiest to read. Use coloured text for important points, but beware that combinations such as yellow on white or blue on black are quite difficult to read.
People are naturally drawn to images, so selecting the right ones is essential! You can use photos, drawings, maps, charts, graphs, tables and many more.
Always make sure your images are high quality so that they will be in focus when printed out. And crop any non-important information.
Make sure every image has a caption or title, and make the image as self-explanatory as possible. This can include adjusting the contrast to make certain aspects stand out more, making lines and text bold, or labelling directly onto charts so that legend keys aren’t needed.
5. Designing your Layout
Always put you most important points first. After your title (which should be top centred) people naturally look to the top left – put your introduction here, and keep your poster flowing until your conclusion (at the bottom).
Make sure margins are straight and even, and things are aligned, and put items that go together next to one another.
Use a text hierarchy (different sizes for headings, main text, etc) and stick to it throughout.
Keep at least 40% of the total poster area clear of text and images so that yuour audience aren’t overwhelmed by information. Also, try to avoid putting boxes around everything so that it’s easier for your audience to scan the entire poster.
6. Making it Colourful
Does your poster already have a clear link to a colour (theme, culture, logo, photos and images)? If so, stick with that colour (or something that matches) for your overall colour scheme.
Try to keep to around 3 colours. Colours which are next to each other on a colour go well together. If you want something to stand out, use a contrasting colour (opposite on a colour wheel). Often, a contrasting colour is used to border text and/or images.
However, keep your background relatively neutral (think grays or pastels). Bright backgrounds can distract from your message and/or overwhelm the audience. Save bright colours for aspects you really want to stand out.
7. Don’t forget about references!
Just because you’re not writing a paper, it doesn’t mean you can forget references and a bibliography.
Cite references in-text (author surname, year) as you would normally, and make sure you include a reference list on the poster. Usually this reference list would be at the bottom of the poster, often in smaller text to the main information.
8. Check it!
Check for spelling and grammar errors, before you pay for printing!
Also, you’ll find it really useful to print out a smaller version (preferably in colour) and stick it on a wall. Obviously this will be much smaller than your poster, but it gives you the chance to get a feel for how it will be seen on the day of the conference.
Get a friend or colleague to have a look and give you feedback on the design, layout and colour scheme.
9. Print it off and bring it to the conference!
Now you’ve made a perfect poster, don’t forget the most important thing – give yourself enough time to get it printed and bring it to the conference!
Very few conferences will provide printing services, although if they do, make use of it, and send your poster in before the deadline.
Printing times vary depending on where you go, how much you’re willing to pay, and the time of year (if you’re trying to use library printing services as undergrads hand in dissertations, you may have quite a wait!).
10. Make sure to be next to your poster at the conference!
Most conferences will dedicate time in their programmes for posters, although posters may be on display throughout the conference.
Make sure you’re next to your poster at the dedicated time. This gives you a chance to talk to people and answer any questions. Having a pack of business cards with you can also be handy!
Also, there’s often a vote (and prize) for the best poster, so making sure you’re visible and prepared to answer any questions may earn you a few extra votes!
About the author:
Maddy is a PhD student in the Geography Department at Newcastle University. Her research is funded by the ESRC and uncovers the geographical imaginations of Filipino nursing students and graduates. This project explores how geographical imaginations can be understood as a determinant of migratory aspirations, and she is interviewing both aspiring migrants and aspiring stayers. Maddy also has a concern with the gender discourses surrounding Filipino nurses and Filipino nurse migrants. More broadly, she is interested in postcolonial and feminist geographies, social and cultural geography, and interdisciplinary migration research. Her interests include travel, music and rugby league.