Research Poster Design

Basic design principles for powerpoint slides, infographics, and research posters.

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Why Sizing and Alignment are Most Important

The easiest way to create clean to design is stick to these simple rules:

  1. Recognize the role of each element
  2. Create contrast between the roles
  3. Keep it consistent throughout the document

What are roles? Roles would be "header" or "details". Or "foreground" and "background". "Text" or "graphic". Most documents should only have two to three roles to organize all the information by.

Looking at the Aikido flyer example again, which flyer has the easier to identify roles?

         

The cleaner design on the right does. Why? Because there is obvious contrast between those roles and each role group is consistent. The easiest way roles are defined, contrasted and consistent are through the sizing and alignment of the text.

The text is where nearly all the information within your document is going to be, making it imperative that the sizing and alignment help present that core of information correctly. The font choice or colors are not nearly as important as the sizing and alignment when helping visually communicate information.

Keep sizing consistent within roles. Keep headers the same size, keep details the same size. If one header is bolded and the rest are not, visually this means the bolded header would be a title header to the rest of the entire document. If it is, then don't just bold it, create better contrast by making the sizing much larger. If it isn't, then bold all of the headers or none of them.

Header

Header

Header

details details details

details details details

details details details

Header

Header

Header

details details details

details details details

details details details

Looking over these examples, which headers are obvious and which are not? What created better contrast, bolding or sizing? The larger headings are much more obvious than the smaller, bolded ones.

Now imagine all of these boxes are part of the same document. Where does your eye go first and where does it go second? Top left and then the largest header, correct? That's where alignment comes into play.

English-speaking brains want to read in an F pattern across pages, especially something like a Powerpoint or research poster. Like reading a book, your eyes want to start at the top left and read across, then move down a line and glance across again, then quickly scroll your eyes to the bottom to see if anything interesting is highlighted there. Always put your least important information (or none at all) at the bottom, the last place someone looks.

Look back at the Aikido posters. Notice the messy poster on the left. What is making it so messy? The biggest issue is the alignment. The entire poster's text is center aligned. When doing that, the left and right edges of the details don't line up, leaving all the text edges looking ragged. Use left alignment predominantly to keep reading easy and design clean.

 

Alignment and White Space

Two easy visual tips: use proximity to group together similar ideas and employ white space to create breathing room.

If your Powerpoint slide is covering two topics at once, consider separating them into more slides. If your poster is covering three main areas of study, be sure to group each area by putting enough blank space between each topic. It seems obvious to say, but after working on a large project, trying to get all that information into a small poster or presentation can quickly lead to a design mess.

Notice the headers within the two Aikido flyers. The larger headers used on the flyer to the right makes reading easier and the chunks of information easily defined. The lines separating information on the left flyer creates clutter and too many little things to focus on. Simply employing more space between the paragraphs gives obvious separation while also giving your eyes a rest.

Less is more with clean design. If it's too wordy, slim it down. If there are lots of bullet points, don't use points and just space out each sentence. Open space really helps things stay clean so use elements like lines, arrows or photos sparingly and with purpose.

An easy rule of thumb is 20% text, 40% graphics and 40% white space.   

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