At APHA, a Reminder of Best Practice in Poster Design

Many conferences dedicate part of the exhibit hall to technical posters, where presenters spend about an hour discussing their work with passers-by who have a shared interest in their topic. After much time and effort spent in preparation, most presenting authors are disappointed by the number of people who stop by.

Here’s why.

Leading up to each conference, communications staff often engage in a tug-of-war with poster presenters over the number of words (we want few; they usually want many) and graphic design (simple, clean, large vs. many, small, and often difficult to understand).

The creative tension is easy to understand; presenting technical staff are wedded to their work, and they want to share each and every detail of their impressive achievements and lessons learned. Communications staff want to create a compelling design that will set apart our staff’s work and attract the passers-by to our presenters.

Consider that the real exchange of information happens not by reading the poster but by engaging in a conversation with the presenter;  the conversation can’t happen unless passers-by are compelled to stop.

The design of this eye-catching poster that was presented at APHA 2014 engages readers with easy-to-digest information and clear, simple graphics.
The design of this eye-catching poster that was presented at APHA 2014 engages readers with easy-to-digest information and clear, simple graphics. Bravo, we say!

At the APHA conference, one poster in particular caught my attention like no other, so I share it here as an example of best practice.  Unsurprisingly, the presenter from Booz Allen Hamilton (Booz is one of 13 partners with JSI on the Supply Chain Management Systems) was so fully engaged in discussion that I gave up trying to ask him how such a nice design happened. But based on my experience, here’s the likely scenario:

  • I’ll bet Booz Allen has a policy that requires that all external communications go through communications for review and design
  • The author engaged with an editor and graphic designer weeks in advance
  • They discussed who attends APHA and agreed the key messages of the presentation
  • The editor cut the original number of words by a half to two-thirds
  • The editor and author spent considerable time honing the headline
  • The designer engaged with the author in a conversation about what images would be most appropriate to convey data; considering the topic, they agreed on the image of a highway
  • The author came to APHA with a product that he’s proud of

Communications staff bristle when asked to “make this pretty.”  While the Booz poster isn’t exactly “pretty,” it grabbed my attention and hooked me with easy-to-digest information that left me wanting to know more about this work—the hallmarks of an effective poster.

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