Posters and the Scholarly Forum

One of the great perks of the Graduate School’s Scholarly Forum here on campus is that you get to see so many academic posters. As some of you may know, the academic poster is the new conference paper. While commonplace in the social and applied sciences, the post has made significant inroads into the humanities with poster sessions appearing even at such august and tradition bound gatherings as the American Historical Association annual meeting.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, two of my digital history students presented a poster at the scholarly forum. In general, their work was well-received, but I have to admit that their poster was not the flashiest or most attractive.  After wandering the over 100 posters present at the Forum, I’ve come up with a simple list of things that made posters stand out to me:

1. Flashy colors. A few of the best and most noticeable posters used some kind of flashy color to attract my eye. While I know that poster sessions shouldn’t necessarily be driven by visceral reactions to common advertising ploys, bright colors do draw the attention to content.

2. Visual Content.  The best posters also relied heavily on pictures, charts, diagrams, and other illustrations. Posters are really ideal for communicating visual data. Our poster included too much text and it was tricky for people to find the time and space to stop and read a text heavy poster in the bustle of the poster session. Some of the best posters communicated their message through straight forward diagrams and visual images.

3. Non-linear. I’ll admit that despite my training as a historian, I find linearity boring.  Posters that depicted linear processes from one stage to the next did not attract me. I found myself drawn to posters that captured non-linear character of processes.  Posters are a great place to experiment with non-linear explanations and descriptions because they allow the reader to engage the content of the poster from multiple starting points. Just as long blocks of text make engaging of the content of a poster difficult in the bustle of a crowded ballroom, a non-linear approach allows viewers to engage the content of the poster from different angles and directions.

4. So many icons. I really liked the posters that marked the project’s affiliation, partners, and funding through icons. It made it easy to understand the institutional basis for the research without having to read some small thank-you text at the bottom of the poster board. It reminded me of the importance to developing a slick logo or icon for our organization!

5. QR Codes and more information. One thing that our history poster DID do right is to include QR codes to allow the viewer to quickly get additional information on the material present. QR codes worked so much better than a clumsy url directing the viewer to a website. In fact, the QR codes worked so well that they actually drew attention and comment to our poster!

Check Teaching Thursday next week for an expanded versions of these observations with some visual complements!

One Comment

  1. I stumbled across this at random while looking for examples of archaeology posters. I never thought of using QR codes (partly because I don’t have a smart phone myself), but it’s definitely a cool idea for the future!


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