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How to design an effective virtual poster

September 7, 2020

Scientific posters offer an excellent way to get your message across in a short space of time. However, they are only effective if they are designed and formatted in a way that ensures your research is easy to understand. In this article, we will provide advice and tips on how to best design your digital poster and showcase some examples from the Morressier platform for your inspiration.

Follow the conference guidelines


To start off, make sure you have the correct image guidelines prescribed by the conference organizers. Each conference has its own specifications regarding poster dimensions, orientation (landscape/portrait), font size, use of color, etc. If your poster does not meet the required guidelines, you'll have to deal with the hassle of redesigning it and it may even be rejected by the reviewal committee.

When using images, make sure to stick to a high enough resolution so that the content does not become distorted, regardless what sized screen it is viewed on. Digital posters allow for a variety of extra colors - for example, white can be used more successfully as a text color because the computer screen actually illuminates the words, whereas printed white text may be harder to read than anticipated. 

Pick the right tool


There are a variety of tools you can use to create and design your poster, depending on the computer or laptop you're using. A popular and easy-to-use option is PowerPoint, which is part of the Microsoft Office package. Check out this in-depth guide on how to design your poster using PowerPoint. Alternatively, Mac users can use Keynote, Apple's presentation software tool. If you already have a stronger understanding of design, you can try your hand at Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, or InDesign to create your poster - these tools offer a host of additional features and a higher image resolution, however are more complex to use and can be expensive to purchase.

Poster from the 2018 Charleston Conference

Make sure your poster is clear and concise


To help your peers quickly and easily understand your research, we recommend the following when designing your virtual poster:

  • A large, bold title that catches the eye
  • A logical structure to clearly guide viewers through your poster
  • An emphasis on relevant and informative charts or graphs over excessive text
  • A thorough edit of remaining text to be as concise as possible
  • Ample blank/negative space to prevent cluttering
  • A consistent layout, ensuring that heading and subheading font and size is standardized
  • Include bulleted lists to facilitate reading

Include interactive media


One of the main benefits that virtual posters offer in comparison to traditional printed posters is the ability to embed audio and video files directly into the body of your poster. Adding interactive media formats increases the engagement in your poster and can help you more effectively convey your research. Again, check the technological specifications laid out by the conference organizers before you add audio or video files; things like file size, length, or number of videos, automatic playback, and audio support may all vary depending on the conference. With that in mind, consider the following uses of video content in the presentation of:

  • A specific example of animal behavior
  • A complex 3D model
  • A novel surgical procedure
  • A growing cell cluster
  • Footage from microscopic cameras

Additionally, video content has other practical uses, even when the poster’s content is well-suited to a 2D medium. Virtual conferences now often offer poster authors the ability to upload short video presentations alongside their posters, allowing them to explain their research personally. You can see an example of one poster presentation from a researcher at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai below:

Recording your presentation doesn't have to be complicated. Just ensure you are in a quiet, well-lit location, and you've practiced your presentation in front of friends or colleagues. You can easily record using your own smartphone, either set up on a tripod or even simply propped up on your desk.

Make your poster accessible


Where possible, it's important to remember to include alternative text for all images on your poster. Alternative text tags should briefly describe each image on your poster to ensure they are accessible to the visually impaired who use screen readers when browsing. You can find directions on how to add alternative text in PowerPoint here. In fact, PowerPoint offers a general tool to check the accessibility of your poster. Just click on File, Check for Issues, Check Accessibility and follow the recommendations in the report.

Meanwhile, if you opt for video content that includes audio, be sure to include subtitles where appropriate. This will allow the hearing impaired to access your presentation, plus surveys have found that as many as 85% of online videos are actually watched without sound so subtitles make for a helpful addition to your research.

Considering the major challenges that 2020 has thrown at us, it looks like virtual or hybrid conferences will continue to be the norm going forward. As such, it is ever more important to set out good design practices to ensure that virtual posters are used to their fullest potential. While some parts of poster design remain largely unaffected, like the need for a large, easy to read title, new capabilities like audio and video support have created vast new possibilities for the ways in which posters are developed, making it easier than ever to have an informative and productive conference.

Virtual and hybrid conferences that significantly increase content engagement and add new revenue streams - learn more about how your organization can benefit from Morressier's support.

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