In this edition

Quote of the month

“To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

— Aristotle


Welcome to our March 2014 newsletter: Designing a poster

For the 2014 Australian Science Communicators national conference (ASC 2014) in Brisbane last month, we decided to submit posters about 5 of our recent projects—partly to share with our peers our approach to communicating the science, but also to show off projects that we were proud to be a part of last year.

Now that we’ve had some time to reflect on the process of creating posters, we’d like to share our thoughts, tips and ideas with you.

To see our 5 posters, check out Postermania at ASC14. Or click on any of the low-res images below to see a higher-res PDF version.

Congratulations to poster winner: Rangelands NRM. Great job!

As always, we’d love your feedback via Facebook, Twitter or email us.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam:

Getting inspiration for a poster – 3 tips

By Alison Binney

Technically, my poster for ASC 2014 was not scientific. It was not presenting research or outcomes. It was a poster about storytelling.

My aim was to showcase the case studies we developed about climate change research in the Pacific region last year.

At first, all I could visualise on the poster was the wonderful faces of the Pacific Island people we had interviewed for the case studies. I troubled over this for a few days. How could I turn this wonderful storytelling process into an insightful scientific poster? Does it even need to be scientific?

I looked for inspiration on the internet, only to find far too many posters with far too many words and charts.

What I also saw, though, were a lot of numbers. It gave me an idea.

As storytellers, it’s easy to overlook the numbers in our quest to find the right words.

I tallied up the number of photographs, the minutes of film footage that we took, the number of text drafts, and the number of words we wrote—it was starting to look interesting.

With a heap of numbers scratched onto a piece of notepaper, I had a quick brainstorm with my colleagues, and there it was—the recipe for storytelling.

Not exactly scientific but, nevertheless, a method that started with a question, required some research, and ended up with results.

Here are my 3 tips for getting inspiration for a poster:

  • Step away from the desk (and your computer).
  • Don’t look just at other science posters—look at posters in the street, look at billboards, look at advertising. Ask yourself what grabbed your attention.
  • Talk to your colleagues about what you are trying to visualise. It is surprising how explaining something crystallises it.


Thinking inside and outside the box

By Mary O’Callaghan

Most of my working life in 2013 was spent developing Biomass Producer, a new portal about bioenergy (energy from plant material) for people in Australia’s primary industries. So the project was my obvious choice for a poster for ASC 2014.

Here was an opportunity to not only show off the portal (launched in November 2013) but also the task-driven process we use to develop websites.

Pictures, diagrams and captions – that’s what we want, Jenni advised. Not great big wads of text.

I like the ‘show, don’t tell’ maxim and I love to write short, so this was my idea of fun.

The first thing I did was work out the message I wanted to get across in the poster.

The portal is aimed at farmers, foresters and regional developers and the content is task-driven i.e. it supports these people in completing tasks such as:

  • I’ve got a waste problem – can I sell it to someone to make bioenergy?
  • I’ve got some marginal land that I can’t grow grain on – can I use it to grow a crop for bioenergy?
  • I want to build a bioenergy plant in my region – where do I start?

Then I thought about the design. The portal has a rather boxy design that is clean and bright. So the idea of a boxy poster sprang to mind.

On a blank sheet of paper, I quickly drew a 9-box grid and jotted down what each box might contain. Here it is:

The designer (Alison) was constrained by the fact that the screen grabs were not high resolution, which they needed to be for the printed poster. So I had to make some concessions.

Here’s how it ended up:

My poster differed markedly from most of the other posters on display, mainly because it didn’t follow the typical academic poster style. But then I don’t think a poster about communicating science has to look and feel like a poster about doing science.

One thing I learnt from this process was that doing a poster with minimal text forces you to really nut out your main message, clearly and concisely. Did I succeed?

P.S. I did also supply a 1-page handout with details about how we identified the tasks, selected the content, and made sure that all content was from credible sources.


Words, visuals, audience – 3 poster challenges

By Robbie Mitchell

My poster for ASC 2014 showcased the iNature urban biodiversity strategy, which we helped the Gold Coast City Council develop during 2012–13.

In conceptualising and creating the poster, I had to overcome 3 challenges:

1. Minimising the number of words
I fell into the common trap of trying to fit too much information into the poster. With the help of my colleagues I stripped it back to the attention-grabbing facts and the outcomes of the project.

My first draft had 690 words. My final draft had 110 words.

My first draft had way too much text (690 words). 

2. Finding appropriate visuals
As part of the iNature project, we developed 3 documents:

  • a situation analysis
  • a strategy
  • an implementation plan.

Pictures of documents are not appealing so I tried to think of images that encapsulated the program.

In the end, I chose a Google Earth image of the Gold Coast City which I edited to make its parks and natural reserves stand out against the washed-out urban areas.

I did this to highlight the amount of public space which is covered in native vegetation—a key message of the program.

3. Understanding the audience
Our focus as a team was to use the posters to showcase our services and the range of products we develop. But I thought the conference delegates—mainly science communicators—would want more details on the project. So, to keep the word count down on the poster, I created a handout that gave more details and explained the methods we used.

And, while I think my poster was concise in its communication, it may have missed the mark in the eyes of the judges if they were expecting that level of detail in the poster itself.

Posters for peers

By Sarah Cole

I seldom write for other science communicators so I found it refreshing to be creating a poster for delegates to ASC 2014. My subject was the MCV Climate Champion program.

Because the audience, structure and angle of the material was different from usual, crafting the poster was easier and fun.

Audience = peers
Usually, I write about the program for an audience of farmers, agricultural industry people or researchers.

At the 2012 National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility conference, I had presented a Climate Champion poster intended for scientists.

This time I was able to put forward reflections on the program that were relevant to communicators, such as the program’s paradigm, format and evaluation. I targeted communicators as an audience through my choice of concepts and words.

Structure = flat
Stories (beginning, middle, end) and inverted pyramids (important info up front) are structures we commonly use in products such as feature articles and videos.

But for my poster I wanted two equally important ‘chunks’ of information: the strengths and challenges of facilitating the Climate Champion program.

So I arranged the two chunks around a central title, a photo and a brief explanation of the program.

Angle = process
I’m usually focused on writing about the outcomes of the program. In the poster, I focused on what is most important for facilitators of a similar network—what to look out for and how to make it work.

Although I couldn’t address that in full in a poster, I was able to offer insights from our long-term experience in facilitating the Climate Champion program.

Making it all about ‘them’ – 3 ‘P’ elements of poster content

By Jenni Metcalfe

I wanted my ASC 2014 poster to reflect the experiences of the Papua New Guinea women we trained in communication skills last year in Lae and Rabaul.

And I wanted to avoid talking about what we did in the 4 days of training and focus on what these women did and why. To do this, I used 3 content elements:

  1. Pointed statistics that showed why the training was important: because women do most of the agricultural work in PNG, but earn a pittance. Having communication skills can help them change that.
  2. Photos that showed the women in action, with meaningful captions that explained some of the important characteristics of the training such as doing media interviews and presenting to a group.
  3. Personal quotes by the women about the benefits they got from the training, to demonstrate the outcomes from their points of view.

Then I left Alison to weave her graphics magic and, hey presto, we had a poster that won the judge’s runner-up prize.