Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Preparing a Poster for a Conference

A poster is a short form presentation at an academic conference. The process is much simpler, and often used to introduce new postgraduate students to conferences. Unlike a full refereed paper, the author just submits a short proposal, here is my poster "International Graduate Level Sustainable ICT Course" for CCA-EDUCAUSE Australasia 2011 (now called THETA Australasia).

Consider a Poster and Paper

Even if your full paper has been accepted for a conference you may still want to prepare a poster as well. Academic conferences have multiple streams, so every delegate can't attend every session. There is usually a poster time, where the author standards next to their poster and answers questions, giving you a chance to talk to people one-to-one, rather than the sometimes adversarial question and answer sessions in the paper sessions.

Unlike a full paper, which has to be submitted months beforehand, the author brings the physical poster with them to the conference. The poster is usually a paper document (possibly laminated with plastic for strength). Printed on one side of the page in colour. The poster might include a small sample object, or even a computer screen. But usually no power is provided and limited security, so any valuable or breakable object on the poster may be lost, stolen or broken.

The poster is placed on panels in an area of the conference venue, usually for the full period of the conference. The poster can include contact details for the author, so a delegate can arrange to meet. The author can use a computer for a presentation, but will have to prop it up as best they can, with no desk provided. Therefore a hand held tablet computer might be best for a demonstration.

Include a QR Code

It should be noted that many delegates at conferences, particularly at high tech ones, will have a smart phone or tablet computer. If the poster has a web address and a QR Code (a 2 dimensional barcode), this will allow them to obtain a copy of the poser, additional text, a video presentation and submit a question for the author. The Google URL Shortener will create a QR code from a web address.

Posters vary in size, but are usually 750 mm by 1200 mm  in the USA and A0 elsewhere (841 mm x 1189 mm). Large posters are usually in landscape mode (long side horizontal), but portrait mode is better for smaller ones.

Make it Bold

There may be hundreds of posters at a conference, with less than ideal lighting and positioning. Therefore the graphics used have to be bold and text kept short, in a large readable format. Many authors make the mistake of putting the text of a whole paper on the poster. The result is not readable from a comfortable distance. It is better to think of the poster as the slides for a short presentation.

"Advice on designing scientific posters" (Colin Purrington, 2011) provides a good overview of what to put in a poster. This suggests a person should be able to read the poster in at most 10 minutes, equivalent to a 15-minute talk.That sounds like too much content to me. A sample poster is provided by ANU CECS has about 1600 words (22,000 characters), which seems more than is desirable.

The conference organizer might provide a template for the conference, or your organisation may do so. ANU CECS have a LaTeX template (Zip) and a PowerPoint template (PPT). There are also specialist products, such as PosterGenius. Usually the poster will be created as a PDF file and then printed using a large format ink jet printer. When creating the PDF file, keep in mind that the images will be much larger than on a normal printed page and so need to be at a suitably high resolution.

A typical poster layout will have a header and footer one eighth the height of the page. The title will be at the top center. The organization name at the bottom. The main area of a large poster may be divided into four columns. Images may extend over more than one column. Usually dark text is used on a light background for the main area (sanserif font). Some designs have background images or patterns, but this can make the text hard to read.

An interesting variation on the academic poster is the Quad Chart format, as used for the NSF 2011 SBIR/STTR Phase II Grantee Conference. This divides the page into just four quadrants, each on a specific topic. It is popular for use by US military and government research funding bodies to obtain very brief descriptions of research proposals. The Georgia Institute of Technology Systems Realization Laboratory uses these topics for quad charts:
  1. Motivation & Objectives
  2. Approach
  3. Key Results
  4. Summary & Conclusions
The quad chart is in effect four slides for a very brief pitch presentation.

Consider a Smaller Poster

This year I was attending an international conference (ICCSE 2013) and wanted to display a poster, in addition to my presentation. But I was traveling extensively and did not want to be burdened with a large poster tube. I fond that an A2 poster (one quarter the area of the usual A0 poster) would fit in an airline carry-on bag. Printed on white polyester and rolled into a tight 10 mm cylinder, it resisted crushing well (the polyester looks like glossy paper, but is much stronger and thinner).

Two columns of text in A2 portrait worked well. The simplest way to format this was with the word processor set for an A4 page, which was then enlarged to A2 while printing. I used 10 point for regular text and 12 point for headings, but this was still a bit small when enlarged. 11.5 point text with 14 point headings might be better. Also I included a QR code, which people scanned with their mobile phone for more details on-line.

Perhaps academic conferences should switch to A2 size posters with QR codes as standard. This would allow twice as many posters in the available display space. It would be much more convenient for authors and organizers. It would also force authors to be more succinct in what they say on the poster. In addition A2 posters are much cheaper to have printed (a consideration for students).

1 comment:

  1. Personally not that much of a fan of QR codes, even though I'm in tech. Still, if you are going to use them MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE PLAIN URL AVAILABLE! It drives me nuts when this isn't the case, especially when the lighting it bad so as to make it scan a code….