A poster is not simply a vertical version of your research paper or promotional brochure.

People need to be attracted to it from across the room. It should stand out from what’s next to it. It must also get its message across quickly.

Before you design your poster, be clear about your audience and what you want to communicate.

To design an effective poster:

  • plan it well
  • have a simple, clear message
  • use a balanced layout that people can easily navigate.

Planning – 8 questions to ask yourself

  1. What is the key message I want to get across?
  2. Why am I presenting a poster? Is it the most appropriate medium to present my work?
  3. Who is going to look at my poster? Will it be my peers, the public, specialists in my field or several of these groups?
  4. Will someone be nearby to provide further information on the poster or will it stand alone?
  5. Who is going to give me feedback on the poster? Other people can sometimes spot what you cannot, and they may have a more objective eye.
  6. How much time do I have to design it, get feedback and approval, edit, print and deliver the poster?
  7. What are the guidelines and size constraints? Size is usually A0 or A1. Orientation can be portrait or landscape. Check with the organisers.
  8. What format and resolution does the printer need?


  • Use a title that fits your theme and key message.
  • Develop a simple key message.
  • Source the content, e.g. text, photos, figures, diagrams, logos, permissions and copyright statements, acknowledgements (authors, sponsors and funding bodies) and contact details.
  • Edit the text before laying it out, making sure that the language is appropriate to the audience. Use active voice, simple language and personal pronouns (you, we, I, our).
  • Keep text to a bare minimum. Are there other ways to get your information across?


  • Decide on the key element – Is it the title, the colour or an image that will attract people’s attention?
  • Do a rough design – First, sketch your ideas on paper. This gives you initial direction and a chance to play with the design before you start the nitty-gritty work. Divide the page into a grid to help you place text and images.
  • Colour – Colour can be an effective visual cue; use it sparingly but bravely. Pick a palette of colours appropriate to your topic, preferably before you start investigating the colour palettes available with your computer software. Use the base colour and shades of that colour to guide people through the information.
  • Fonts – Keep to one or two fonts. Choose a sans serif font such as Arial; they are easier to read than a serif font. Use a large point size (18–24), and increase the leading (space between the lines) a little.
  • Line length – Keep line length to 7–10 words.
  • White space – Give the design some space. Having space around a visual element helps draw your eye to the element. If you clutter the poster you may lose the flow of information.
  • Balance – A balanced page is one that is pleasing to the eye. Balance does not mean centred. Print your poster and turn it upside down; if it still looks ok it is probably balanced. Does it look good in A4?
  • Navigation – Make it easy for your reader to see where they need to go. People will lose interest if the flow is not logical.
  • Break the square – Even if you have used a grid, having one or two elements sitting outside the grid, either by their shape or size, can add interest to a poster.
  • Images – Do not use images that are smaller than 10 per cent of the overall poster size; they will not print well.
  • Stay calm – If you’re getting frustrated or lacking inspiration, leave it and come back later or the next day.
  • Show other people ­– Seek the opinions of others about your design. Be prepared to revise if they offer good ideas and allow yourself time to do so.

4 levels of text

Get your message across quickly and clearly by organising your text into four levels:

  1. Present your theme through titles and subtitles. Use catchy headings to keep the reader engaged.
  2. Get your message across in the body text. Use up to three messages to support your theme.
  3. Give details (facts/information that explain your main ideas) in captions or subtext.
  4. Have a take-home message or ways the reader can act on the information in your poster.

Presenting the poster

  • Include brochures, activities and samples to add interest.
  • Consider how you can use the whole display area, not just by putting your poster up.
  • Have a person on hand at the display.

Climate Champion program - 2012 NCCARF poster










Poster for the Climate Champion program – presented at NCCARF 2012