Scientific Poster Design

Many presentations at NAC will be in the format of a poster presentation, which is comparable to other international conferences in Earth Sciences. There are a few ‘best practices’ when it comes to designing a poster that can increase its effectiveness for communicating your research. Remember that it often takes a few seconds for a person to decide whether they will stop to continue reading your poster. Proper design therefore helps to draw people into your story and explain your research.

Our Top-5 tips for designing a poster
1. Readability

Poster should be readable from a distance. When multiple people are admiring your work at the same time, not everyone may be able to read the content if its text and figures are too small. Adjust your design accordingly. For example, your title needs to leave an impact, so think of using an appreciably bigger font size. In contrast, use smaller font sizes than the regular body text of the poster for all the ‘administrative sections’, such as the affiliations, acknowledgments and references. Also think of contrast; dark-coloured letters on a light background are often easier to read than light-coloured letters on a dark background (same goes for photos used as a background). TEXT IN CAPITALS IS LESS-EASY TO READ than a regular font. Here is our lifehack to check the readability of your poster: print your A0-sized poster on an A4-sized sheet of paper. At this scale all your body text and caption should be readable; if it’s not, your font size is too small.

2. Text and word count

A poster is a presentation form, but think of it more in terms of an illustrated abstract. It is by no means meant to be the equivalent of a peer-reviewed paper printed on an A0 sheet. The optimum word count for an A0-sized poster lies around 500-600 words (or less). Therefore, the challenge is to design a poster that has enough information for a reader to understand and enjoy your work without needing you there (e.g. when you are away on a coffee break); while you can also use the poster to illustrate and discuss your work when interacting with someone directly during the poster session (i.e. actually presenting with your poster).

3. Structure and layout

Help your audience in reading your poster. Use a recognizable structure and flow of the story. Provide context for the work that you present and include a clear conclusion/take-home message. So, use a design that helps to tell the story. For example, (1.) apply numbering to your sections, or (2.) be creative in using colours or other means that show the connectivity of text, figures or different sections on the poster. Condense your information into powerful phrases; use bulleted lists as opposed to lengthy sentences, or full paragraphs. In a block of text, sentences broken off at ~10 words contribute to its readability. Also pay attention to aligning text blocks and figures and leave some breathing space around your text and figures. Make sure the poster doesn’t look cluttered.

4. Figures

When including figures on a poster, note that a figure for a poster needs to be a bit more ‘robust’ and readable than the ones you design for a scientific peer-reviewed paper (e.g. thicker lines, lower complexity). It’s a philosophy comparable to the readability of the poster with respect to font sizes. If you can’t read a figure at the scale of an A4 print, it will not draw attention on a poster or properly convey its information. Also, figures need to be self-explanatory. If you are not standing near your poster, a reader should still be able to make out what the figure conveys.

5. Creativity and interactivity

Go wild, be creative! Make your poster stand out among the many other posters at our conference. However, try to be methodical about this and don’t let it be at the expense of the scientific content of your poster. Avoid too many base colours in your poster; three tops. Find ways to make your poster interactive. Use anaglyph images and a pair of 3D-glasses to share a fieldwork site with your audience. Include QR-tags for directing readers with their smartphone to online content such as a video of your work, a website or your email address to contact you. Are you presenting a study related to a landscape feature, planetary body or a specific study object? Perhaps you can add a relevant 3D-print related to your study (e.g. velcroed to the poster) or use other creative means (check out these crocheted temperature records). Gadgets really can help!


n.b. If you want to use the NWO logo on your poster, please use the new logo.