Digital posters (also known as ePosters) offer an innovative way to present early and unpublished research findings at conferences. Much like traditional paper or fabric posters, they allow researchers to display their findings in a visual and easily digestible manner. However, an ePoster is not simply a paper poster that has not yet been printed, and digital poster software offers presenters a plethora of additional features to make their posters stand out. Together with Dr. Zen Faulkes from BetterPosters we’ve come up with a collection of design tips and ideas to make sure that your ePoster wows your audience.
Pay attention to design standards and organizers’ specifications
Looked at broadly, conference posters serve a specific and important function: they aim to tell a viewer about what research was conducted and what results were found.
For this reason, there are several rules of thumb that apply to poster design, whether digital or traditional, with a focus on readability. This means ensuring that information is readily accessible at a glance as conference attendees walk by, while at the same time offering them enough detail should they take interest in your poster and come closer.
From the outset, make sure that you follow the conference organizers’ specifications regarding poster dimensions, orientation (landscape/portrait), font size, use of color, etc. If your poster does not meet the required guidelines, it may be ineligible for poster awards and may even be rejected, which could require a hasty and costly redesign and reprint. When using images, make sure to stick to a high enough resolution so that the content does not become distorted on differently-sized screens.
With that baseline covered, consider improving readability by introducing the following elements into your poster design:
- A large, bold title that can be seen from a distance
- A logical structure that guides the eye from section to section
- An emphasis on relevant and informative charts or graphs over excessive text
- A thorough edit of remaining text to be as concise as possible
- Ample blank/negative space to prevent cluttering
One major difference in formatting between digital and traditional posters has to do with colors. When printing, it can be hard to know exactly how your poster will turn out, if text will be visible on certain backgrounds, or if colors will run together. This is not a problem with digital posters, which can be displayed exactly as they appear on your computer screen at home or in the office. Digital posters also allow for a variety of extra colors. For example, white can be used more successfully as a text color because the computer screen actually illuminates the words, whereas printed white text may be harder to read than anticipated. The above sample poster provides a good example of this phenomenon.
Additionally, there is no need to stick to the beaten path with posters. Clever and innovative design ideas can make a poster pop while still presenting relevant information. For example, Mike Morrison’s recent video on poster design suggests that a single-sentence summary in large font should make up the majority of your poster, with smaller, more detailed information inserted around the sides, to allow attendees to quickly understand the main conclusions of a broader variety of research. See below for an example of the Morrisson-style poster, with some modifications.
Take advantage of zoom
While many of the design tips that are useful for traditional posters also hold for digital posters, there are several features that an ePoster provider can offer that deserve to be looked at in depth. One of these is the ability to zoom in and out of the poster’s content. This means that while presenting, you can draw greater attention to parts of the poster you find important, and readers can more carefully examine figures and images on their own time as well. Be aware, however, that the use of zoom is best used for detailed charts and pictures that would otherwise be hard to see; adding copious amounts of small text with the intent of zooming in on certain sections during the poster session will leave the poster cluttered and difficult to look at when you are not there to present it.
Embed audio and video
One of the features that is most revolutionary when it comes to digital posters is the ability to embed audio and video files directly into the body of your poster. This functionality opens up a variety of options, depending on the technological specifications laid out by the conference organizers and ePoster providers; things like file size, length, or number of videos, automatic playback, and audio support may all vary depending on the conference. With that in mind, consider the following uses of video content in the presentation of:
- A specific example of animal behavior
- A complex 3D model
- A novel surgical procedure
- A growing cell cluster
- Footage from microscopic cameras
Additionally, video content has other practical uses, even when the poster’s content is well-suited to a 2D medium. For instance, you could create and store a video file containing:
- A short video of you explaining your research that can be played when you are not by your poster
- An automatically-looping set of digital slides adding supplemental information, charts, etc.
- A photo slideshow with various captures of a procedure or design process
Of course, if you do opt for video content that includes audio, be sure to include subtitles where appropriate. This is not only helpful for accessibility of your research, but also ensures that the video’s contents can always be viewed, even if the venue does not support audio.
An additional benefit of digital posters is the ability to access external, internet-based content using hyperlinks. This allows you to provide more information about you and your research to curious attendees while avoiding filling up your poster with data and text that may not be strictly necessary for a general understanding of your project. Hyperlinks on both images and text could lead to some of the following locations:
- Supplementary text, photo, or video
- Related research and citations
- Your research organization
- Your personal home page
- Definitions of uncommon terminology
Again, it is important to pay attention to technical specifications; some ePoster providers may not permit hyperlinks to function. In these cases, considering creating your own QR code (like the Morrisson-style poster above) to allow interested viewers to access the relevant material on their personal devices. The poster to the right demonstrates opportunities for hyperlinking in the email address or the logo.
As digital posters become increasingly more widely used in academic conferences, it becomes ever more important to set out good design practices to ensure that ePosters are used to their fullest potential. While some parts of poster design remain largely unaffected, like the need for a large, easy to read title, new capabilities like audio and video support have created vast new possibilities for the ways in which posters are developed, making it easier than ever to have an informative and productive conference.