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Steps in effective poster design

The following six steps should be considered when designing a poster:

1. Define your audience

  • General public, academics, subject specialist colleagues, industry/government? What is their level of prior knowledge? What will the viewing situation of the poster be?

2. Gather the content for your poster

  • Use the assignment specification and brainstorming to identify the necessary sections - posters need identifiable sections just as books are divided up into chapters for accessibility.
  • Think of the title, content, layout, structure (introduction, sections, conclusion and main references).
  • Find out how much poster space you are allowed.
  • Research each section and collect relevant graphics (do not use clip art to liven up your poster if the graphic does not carry information itself e.g. makes clear what the section is about).

3. Make a heading and statement for each section

  • Each section needs a clear heading (and perhaps a graphic as well).
  • A one sentence statement explaining the section heading is also often useful/necessary.
  • Each section then needs the detailed material - this might be in graphical/diagrammatic form or text.
  • Simplify - break information up into bite-sized pieces and use sub-headings to organise information logically.

4. Eliminate noise

  • Edit, edit, edit. Reduce your information detail to brief, concise, legible statements.
  • Audiences have limited time to view your display so make it visual and easy to read.
  • Identify the most important points you need to make and remove all others.
  • Wherever possible reinterpret text as charts, graphs, illustrations or diagrams. Use bullet points - they are much easier to read and more concise than full text/sentences.

5. Find your focus - the attention grabber

  • Identify the main message that you are aiming to get across in the poster, then select a heading and/or graphic to capture the audience's attention. This is the three second hit - those first three seconds when you focus the audience's attention on the message/information you are hoping to convey.
  • Compete - you should aim to arrest and intrigue the viewer, there will be many other things competing for their attention. An effective poster is highly visual and delivers a clear message.

6. Put it together

  • Layout - arrange the sections so that the audience follows from one to the other logically; use positioning and arrows to direct their attention and build up the points.
  • Use colour, highlighting and colour-coding to group information and indicate the relationships between sections/subsections.
  • Use contrast - visuals and small bites of information with interesting use of white space rather than a uniform of 'gray' text running up to the page margins.
  • Standard 12 point text is too small, use at least 16 point text for the main content with the heading and subheading much larger. Avoid fancy type styles/fonts - they are more difficult to read.

Summary:

  • Divide up the poster: how many sections?
  • Use graphics rather than words - so long as their meaning is clear.
  • Put text in boxes, or not.
  • Use bullet points, be concise.
  • Show connections between sections.
  • Show connections using symbols.
  • Make full use of the space.
  • Don't let the background obscure the text.