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Every year, at hotels all over the world,scientists from every field in science flock to these giant academic conferences.
They're like WOODSTOCK for geeks in that field.
Scientists go to these conferences to learn about the new research going on in their field, and to share the work they're doing with everybody else.
And to drink and hang out with friends from other universities who they don'tget to see very often.
So it's like a big, social knowledge update for the wholefield.
And at most all of these conferences there's something called aposter session.
And poster sessions are where researchers share findings thatdidn't fit into bigger sessions or bigger presentations scientists takesome new research finding some new truth about the world and they try to explainit on this giant poster these poster sessions are one of the main ways thatscientists share knowledge with each other and they have the potential to bethis really great experience for both the person presenting the poster and theperson walking around looking at all the posters but in reality scientists havemixed feelings about poster sessions a lot of us go into poster sessionsfeeling like kind of optimistic and then we come out feeling like disappointedand underwhelmed and here's why first here's what it feels like to present aposter if you're going to be the person presenting the poster you're firstthinking like oh this will be great I'll put all this work that I'm reallypassionate about on this big beautiful poster and people will walk by it and belike oh cool research I'm like oh you think so let's talk about it and thenwe'll have this really engaging conversation we're like I learned thingsand they learned things and other people will walk by and like oh great researchand they'll get to learn what I'm doing and I feel like I'm getting to sharewhat I'm doing with the world and with other scientists and sometimes like veryvery rarely you will get like half of that experience but that's the best casemost of the time you're standing by your poster all eager while people just walkby you and don't even look at your poster is if you don't exist well youtry to like stare them down out of desperation like please someone respondto my work and then the whole hour the poster session goes by and no one iseven not even not just engaged with your poster but no one has looked at yourposter and then you just take your poster down and you look at it and youremember that it cost $100 to print and then you throw it away and then youthink maybe my research wasn't that interesting anyway and that was acomplete waste of time now here's how it feels to attend a poster session theexperience of attending a poster session and walking around trying to learn fromall the posters can be even worse than it is for the presenter but it's notworse than it is for the presenter nothing's worse than presenting a postersession but it's still pretty bad again you start off with very high hopesyou picture yourself walking through and like breathing in all the latestresearch in your field learning stuff you never thought to think about beforeand really just like getting more enlightened as a scientist and gettingall new ideas for the stuff you're doing but it never ever works out that way inreality most the time you walk in and there's always presenter standing thereby all their posters and they're like locking eyes with you and watching youas you pass because they're all so bored and desperate for you to engage withthem and like validate their research and their posters are just like walls ofincomprehensible text that you can't interpret very quickly so what you do isyou kind of like avoid the too intense eye contact of the presenters whiletrying to quickly and surreptitiously scan the titles of the posters trying toget an idea of one or two you might want to check out and the title of the posterjust sort of gives you a general idea of what the study did like the researchquestion they asked not even the answer it's kind of abstract and a little tootechnical but if you can get the general idea then maybe you engage with theposter and try to get closer and try to figure out what they did and try tolearn something so you found a poster that you're kind of interested in andyou walk up closer to get a general idea and scan it and read it and try to learnthe core insight from it but while you're doing that the desperatepresenter who's standing like two feet away from you and staring at you noticesyou looking at their poster and they're like any questions any questions let meknow if you have questions and then you feel like you want to be polite so youtalk to the presenter and maybe you have a pretty good conversation then youlearn about what's on the poster and you eventually learn that key punchline ofthe study after you've asked a bunch of follow-up questions but you end upstaying at the poster longer than you need to even past the point of learningwhat you wanted from it because you're in a conversation you don't want to berude to just cut the prisoner off but meanwhile like this is taking a lot oftime you usually have less than an hour to browse all the posters and that's ifyou showed up on time which you didn't so the minutes are going by while you'rehaving this conversation and doing all these social niceties and trying tofigure out a polite way tags at the conversation and usually after just oneof these conversations you realize that time is limited and you've got to likeskim harder and avoid eye contact harder so you breathe through the rest of theposters maybe stop it one more but you're really really desperatelyskimming now so you're forced to adopt a strategy where you spend a lot of timeat one or maybe even two posters maybe even past the point where you've gottenthe insight you wanted and then you've used up most of your time so you have toskip around and breeze through the rest of the posters and barely even read thetitles and then you leave the poster session feeling a little disappointeduneasy but so trying to convince yourself that it was productivelike oh I'm super glad I spent 35 minutes talking about that one posterthat I wasn't even super interested in I was a good use of my time it was I'msure there was nothing on any of the other posters that was remotely relevantto me so at the point is you may have had one good conversation or two maybebut you didn't really learn as much as you had hoped to learn from the wholesession and you wonder what insights you might have missed on all those otherposters you didn't have time to get to so this all kind of sucks for you whenyou walk around trying to learn from the posters and it also sucks when you'rethe presenter trying to make an impact with your poster that nobody's lookingat but there's something much more sinister going wrong here and that'sthat when you're walking around trying to learn from this poster session andyou're only able to interact with one or two posters you're missing all theinsight from the posters you had to breathe by and skim and these missedinsights are all like part of your field you're supposed to know all of thisstuff a lot of them probably apply to the scientific problems you're wrestlingwith in some director tangent away and you're missing them you're only gettinglike one or two points before time runs out and you got to leave so not only areposter sessions kind of a lackluster experience for everybody involved butthey're also really inefficient at transferring knowledge to people walkingthrough the poster sessions and that means it's slowing down the learningit's slowing down scientific progress which is actually holding the human raceback in a non insignificant way that sounds like hyperbole but I actuallymean it may be the research in your field isn't very important and I'm inpsychology so I get that but if you're studying something that people aresuffering from like cancer or Alzheimer's mecfs like one of those misposters could contain some finding you hadn't thought about that triggers amoment of insight that helps you cure that disease sooner than you would haveif you had missed that poster and all of these mis insights are happening in massin every single field of science right now this isn't just a design frustrationthis is a serious problem in a serious opportunity I think a lot of theseproblems come down to the way we approach designing academic posters solet's see if we can fix that okay so here's how the poster design processworks if you can call it a design process six months before the conferenceyou write an essay talking about your research findings that you want to puton your poster and then you submit that to the conference and then hopefully itgets approved and then you're happy because that means your school will payfor your travel and then you forget about it for like five months untilabout two weeks before the conference and while you're already worrying abouteverything else you have to do for the conference plane tickets packing thingslike that it suddenly hits you and you're like oh oh oh shit shit shit shitI actually have to create the damn poster crap and then you get like reallyidealistic you're like you know what I'm gonna make this thebest poster ever you open a blank PowerPoint file and you get started andthen like an hour later you're like oh crap nothing's done and this is goingnowhere I need to get this done into the printer by 2:00 tomorrow and I don'thave time to do this perfectionistic crap I just gotta like I need somethingdone now it doesn't make me look stupid so you desperately email one of yoursenior grad student friends and they're like no problem I got you covered here'sthe poster design I always use it was handed down to me by Suzy oh you nevergot to meet Suzy she was one of the senior students that graduated beforeyou got here I was like four years ago Suzy was amazing anyway this is thedesign I always use it works for me hope it helps and you're like great greatokay great it's perfect and what you're really thinking is like I don't havetime to be original here I'm just got to get this done into theprinter and it's my first year of grad school or whatever and I'm kind ofafraid of looking unprofessional or looking like I don't know what I'm doingI don't have really time to think this throughso what are you doing times of uncertainty you mimic you copy somebodyelse and that makes you feel safe so you open up your friends template and thenwhatever is on that old hand-me-down poster design you copy like whateverthey did you do if they had their entire introduction paragraph copy and paste itinto this tiny box in the corner and that's what you do you take your entireentire introduction paragraph and you put it in that little box if theydisplay like their full table of correlation coefficients that don't allreally relate to like what their central points are and that's what you put inyou put in all your correlation coefficients that uses up space and thenwhat you end up with is this monstrosity of a wall of text poster with like copyand pasted bits of your essay squeezed into these templated old boxes with likeyour school's faded header on top from its 25-year old branding scheme and yourposter just looks like a wall of mess and some part of you is like justlegible like nobody can read this but that part's very quiet the very muchlouder part is like good it looks great it looks great because it looks like Idid something it looks like I spent longer on this than the rush hour that Iactually spent on it now if you have a little extra time on your handsyou may be able to listen to that let's make this a little more readable voiceand if you have that kind of time maybe you like add a nice graph or turn onesection of text into bullet points or something like that or at a picture andI've done this when I first started my ph.
D program I tried to take an extrahour with a poster and improve the usability of it a little bit so here'sone of my first posters I had like a so what box and icons and pictures foreverything but it's still just a wall of text in the same old format and thenthere are these like unicorn poster these are the posters that you seen oneup at every conference if you're lucky and they're beautiful they're likeinfographics and they're designed by either like professional applied firmsor grad students who were designers before coming to grad school or theyused templates or paid somebody and these infographic style posters make youfeel completely inadequate you're like man my poster should look like thatthat's a good poster but they're still not like there's still just a wall ofpretty things you can't interpret very quickly and they're cardinal sin is thatthey expect people to be up close and reading them the cardinal sin of everyposter I've seen including the posters I've designed myself is that we assumepeople are gonna like stand there and read our posters in silence for 10straight minutes following the order of the sections we laid out and when wedesign them we're sitting up close to them reading them in order so we designthem for that kind of user experience for a context that's really differentfrom how people actually read posters at poster sessions really the accurate wayto design your poster based on how they're actually used would be toproject your PowerPoint file on a wall it's like full-size and walk past itover and over again and improve the design for the experience of learningwhile walking by but none of us do that like watch here are beautifulinfographic style posters they're gonna move past you at walking speed try toread them did you catch anything besides the title did you even catch the titleto learn anything from the infographic format you have to walk up and spend alot of time with it because that's what infographics are designed for they'redesigned to sustain your attention while you're right up next to it for 5 to 10minutes reading it on your own and silence infographics aren't the rightgoal for scientific posters because we just don't spend that much time withmost posters if anything a billboard is a better design analogy because thoseare designed to transmit information as you move past them so what should anacademic poster look like I think an ideal academic poster should accomplishthree goals first we want to maximize the amount of insight transferred toattendees in the poster session if you're attending a poster session wewant to make it easy for you to interact with every poster in some way so thatyou could conceivably learn the insight that every single poster in the sessionhas to offer in less than 50 minutes second we wantkeep the good stuff we still want to leave time for having good conversationsand getting deep insight about any single poster if you want to and thirdwe have to accomplish these goals in a way that is as lazy or lazier for gradstudents and scientists to create posters with the new design under timepressure and with no free mental bandwidth even if this new approach todesigning posters cures cancer faster if it's not easier for scientists to createand what they're currently doing it'll never happen so we have to make it easyso that it's both the right way to do it and the fast way to do it so let's getstarted okay so let's get into the right frame of mind here we're gonna startthings off with one of the most famous quotes in all of design here it goesperfection is not when you have nothing to add it's when you have nothing totake away good designs start with something very very minimal like a corething and they work from there so that's what we're gonna do and for that corething we're gonna follow the biggest most reliable rule in all of usabilityresearch you put a lot of effort into what people need to know and then youinclude the stuff that's nice to know last punch line first so here's a blankacademic poster what is the minimum need-to-know piece of information thatshould go on here if we could only put one thing on it well that's probablylike the main finding of the city right so we need a finding I'm gonna use areal finding for my friend Jacob study Jacob very bravely sent me his posterand let me use it for the video Thank You Jacob and you probably can't tellfrom this poster but Jacob study is actually really cool and important butthat coolness and that importance is lost in this traditional academic posterformat so we're gonna take this and we're gonna redesign it and we're gonnastart by grabbing the main finding the core takeaway of this study and puttingit on our blank poster so let's see what's the main finding of this studywhat's the main finding see this is the problem I'm talking about it's taking meway too damn long to find the main takeaway from this study which is prettyrepresentative of the problem here that has nothing to do with this poster everyposter in science like this okay so after reading this entire poster I thinkthe main finding is this bit right here we found consistent differentialvalidity for some non-cognitive measures for predicting international student GPAspecifically with SJ T's continuous learning social responsibility andperseverance so let's put that on the poster and then we're gonna change thebackground color you can use your school's color if you want to but Ithink it would be extra efficient to use colors that prime people's expectationsabout what type of poster they're about to see because they'll notice the colorfirst like we could use green for empirical studies because they're themost common blue for theory red for methods andyellow the most attention-getting color for that rare and wonderful interventionstudy so this is already better but it sounds kind of technical to anybody whodoesn't specialize in the sub feel that this relates to which is selection orhiring decisions which is fine for an academic paper where people can go backand look up terms they don't know but we don't have that kind of time people arewalking by in five seconds we got to punch it in their brain and research onusability writing shows that plain language is interpreted faster and getspeople's attention better so the most efficient thing we can put on thisposter is actually a plain language version of our main finding so we'regoing to say for international students perseverance and a sense of socialresponsibility are extra important for predicting first-year GPA now this kindof makes sense right now you're getting this whole story popping into your mindbut what if we're presenting a poster and somebody comes up and asks us aquestion we don't know the answer to like give me your full list ofpredictors and all the correlations what about those figures and tables that giveus that sense of safety and the ability to answer questions for that we're gonnaadd something called an ammo bar ammo bar is just gonna be a column on theright side or whatever side you plan to stand on and you're gonna copy and pasteall of your miscellaneous figures and tables and stuff that you need foranswering questions into that bar you're not gonna spend any time worrying aboutthe design or layout of this section because it's just for you to use treatit as your scratch board make it as ugly and as fast as you can it's just thereso you can point to things when somebody walks up and talks to you now what ifyou're already talking to somebody and you're showing them things in your ammobar and somebody else walks up and wants to learn more about your study butdoesn't want to interrupt you well for them we're gonna add a sidebar on theleft we're gonna call this our silent presenter bar in the silent prisoner baryou're gonna do all the stuff you normally do on an academic poster butyou're gonna worry about the layout of it a little less go ahead and follow theold intro methods results format copy and paste bits of your essay or addbullets and graphs if you have time just sort of give people an overview of thepaper as if they were going to be standing there and reading it silentlybut in one to four minutes not 10 to 15 these side bars are key to this designbecause with the ammo bar and the silent presenter bar together we really havealmost as much information on this new design as we had on the traditionaldesign it's just arranged much more efficientlybut what if somebody wants a lot more information a lot more than you can evenput on your poster and doesn't have time to read it or talk to you these are thepeople that sometimes like snap pictures of your poster well for these peoplewe're gonna add a QR code that links to your full paper and a copy of the posterthese QR codes look scary but they are stupidly easy to create just Googlecreate a QR code you'll do it in a second and every phone canread them like if you take out your phone right now and take a picture ofthis QR code on the screen it'll automatically know it's taking a pictureof a QR code and follow the link so this last QR code feature lets you snap apicture of any poster and instantly get a copy of the whole poster and the paperso now with this QR code option we're actually providing an option to get evenmore information than traditional designs allow for and doing it in a waythat lets attendees choose how much information they want to get instead ofbeing flooded in design this is called the principle of progressive disclosureso here's our final design now there are more things we could do with this likeif you have a really important graph or an image that needs to go in the centeryou could move the QR code over it only needs to be about five inches big to beread you could also add your own creative flair with images and stuff butfor now let's look at the design in its simplest form let's look at a before andafter so in the next screen a few real academic posters are going to move pastyou at a walking pace see how much information you can absorb now try thesesame posters you just saw translated to the new design now this is gonna be alittle unbelievable and jarring at first because when people see this they don'tbelieve that these clear findings came from the posters they just saw but theydid this is how detached current scientific poster design is fromactually communicating what you need to know here we go you absorbed more right you got the gistof probably every poster if you wanted to know more you could still walk up andtalk or read the silent presenter bar or just scan the QR code and keep walkingso this new design meets our goals it helps transfer insight moreefficiently by leading with the main finding and making it big and obviousand in plain language you can still walk up and have good conversations withpeople and for our third goal and I hope you can tell from looking at it but thisapproach is way easier for grad students to create you can create this posterdesign in much less time than you're spending on your current method so let'slook at the presenter experience now everybody who walks by it looks at yourposter at least because looking at your poster is less effortful and it's morerewarding to look which is already an improvement and now people who walk bycan engage with your poster quickly by snapping a QR code which still makes youfeel good if you see somebody do it and you still get those conversationsperhaps even more of them because your hook is better and now look at theattendee experience you get that feeling of breathing and insight as you walkpast and you have more options as an attendee to choose your level ofengagement with posters you're interested in you don't have to gettrapped in a conversation to learn something from a poster and look at howit could accelerate learning you can conceivably walk into a poster sessionwith this design and learn something from every single poster instead of justone or two if every scientist in every field used a design like this instead ofthe crappy old wall of text template they're using right now it canaccelerate insight and discovery and be more fun for everybody the reason Ispent a year of my life making this cartoon instead of publishing paperslike I'm supposed to be doing is because I really think that it everybody uses adesign like this we could accelerate the pace of science we could cure alldiseases slightly sooner and that's everything to the people suffering fromthem I really believe in this design I know it's jarring ly different than whatyou're used to using but for what it's worth when actual designers designposters and billboards their first advice is to keep it simple and becomfortable with negative space which this design really does also we're gonnado a validation study on this new design so if you're a researcher and you're upfor participating in a study to help validate this design get in touch withme send me an email or hit me up on Twitter I'm at Mike Morrison so pleasetry it for yourself even if you want to hack it up a little and make it your ownno hyegyo's there are links below to download PowerPoint templates for thesedesigns including example posters I'm gonna use this design and all myconferences going forward and lots of people here in my ph.
D program are gonnatry it out too so try it and please let me know how it goes for you now willretweet any poster selfies you send me thanks for watching.
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