Top tips for designing a research poster

While giving a talk is an important part of sharing your findings, good research poster design is often overlooked.

Presenting your work well on paper can attract a large audience - inviting feedback from peers and more senior academics, sparking fresh ideas and laying the foundations for new collaborations.

Here, we ask graphic designers, illustrators, winning presenters and judges about their top tips for turning your research into a prize-winning poster.


Less is more

Will Hives at Alt Design, a graphic design agency, shares his tips for managing large amounts of information when making a poster.

  1. Space - Where possible, create white space. Avoid filling every last inch of the poster with content - this actually hinders rather than helps legibility.  
  2. Alignment - Always align body text to the left. In a poster context, unless the content is sparse e.g. a bold single title, central alignment is really tricky for the human brain to read and digest, especially for long lines of text. A solid visual line on the left encourages the reader to read!
  3. Text line length – When making a poster, always ensure lines of text are kept short. If needs be, arrange large blocks of text in two or three separate columns.

4/ Overall - Avoid overloading the reader with too much information. Less is always more!


Maximum meaning, minimum means

Scriberia is a graphic facilitation agency, producing illustrations, animations, sketchnotes and lots more, conveying lots of information in a simple and engaging way. Here, Dan Porter shares his thoughts on how to make a winning poster.

The great British graphic designer, Abram Games, who is particularly known for his wartime posters and designs for the Festival of Britain, worked by the motto “maximum meaning, minimum means.” In other words, a good poster finds a balance between conveying as much about its subject as possible, as economically as possible.

Your poster should convey a strong central message. At Scriberia we talk about our work having a five metre view and a one metre view. We want the viewer to be able to grasp the key theme from a distance, and then be rewarded with further detail once they get closer. So you need to pick that central idea and make sure it stands out.

Varying the scale of elements on your poster helps keep it visually interesting. If it's made up of little nuggets of information which are all given equal weight it's hard to know where to start, but if you make your most important points larger, you're telling your story not just through your content, but through your layout too.

Don't be afraid to use arrows to help lead the eye around the poster. You are taking your viewer on a journey, and every journey is smoother if it's well signposted.

Using more than one typeface is a great idea. Take inspiration from magazine layouts, which might have a font for headlines, another for subheadings, and another for body text - it helps communicate the hierarchy of information. But set some rules for yourself. Don't switch font styles and sizes randomly - it's confusing.

A limited colour palette gives those colours you do use more impact, meaning and functionality. A riot of colour is much harder for the eye to navigate.

Pictures are proven to aid retention of information. An image helps anchor a concept in our long term memory, so always try and associate your words with a picture, even if that picture is a simple icon.


Winning advice

We asked the poster prize winner and runners up at the Spring Meeting for Clinician Scientists in Training 2017 how to follow in their footsteps and make a great scientific research poster.

  • Relevance - Stick with the relevant data, focus on your key findings, and lay out a few clear concluding messages. - Jasmina
  • Graphics - On my winning poster, I created a graphic depiction of the clinical problem, so people would know straight away what it was about. I’ve never done this before, and this was the first time I won a poster prize, so it definitely feels like it was a factor! – Shivani
  • Set the scene - Explain why the study is an important contribution to the literature, and what it adds to the field. – Rahul
  • Be conversational – Don’t forget there’s often a single person in front of you, rather than a sea of faces. It’s more engaging if you approach poster presentations like a conversation. - Shivani
  • It’s ok to present work that’s still in progress - How else will you get feedback on it? Often people feel they should only present a finished piece of work, but that doesn’t have to be true. - Miriam
  • Be prepared for questions – Particularly related to design, methodology and future work. - Rahul
  • Handouts - To avoid excessive detail on the poster, it’s ok to use handouts. - Anjum


Behind the scenes

We asked some of our competition judges what they look for in a poster.

  • Clarity of message – especially the “so what?” question. What are the findings and why do they matter?
  • Aesthetic appeal - most obviously, is the font size too small to read, and are the pictures engaging and appropriate?
  • Innovativeness - is it novel, original, distinctive?
  • Title - The title should be snappy and short.
  • Novelty - The poster should not be cut and pasted from a paper or a draft, it should be generated specially for the occasion.

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