Designing the poster

Once you have decided what to include, you need to plan how to present it to capture and hold the attention of your audience. There are a number of things to consider.

Layout

This is the first thing you need to decide. The layout refers to where on your poster you plan to place your information. How you divide your space and the placement of headings and graphics, as well as how much space you assign to your different elements, will all work together to draw your audience's attention to your main point.

Orientation: Check if the assignment specifies portrait or landscape orientation. If not, you are free to chose.

The reading path: Readers want to know what to read first and what comes next. English readers naturally start at the top left-hand corner of a page and continue right and down from there.

reading path

In a circular pattern, the eye would start at the top of the circle and travel clockwise. You can indicate the reading path by the placement of your text and graphics, or with graphics such as arrows, but be careful. If your reading path is not clear or logical, your audience will not be able to follow your thinking.

Placement of text and images: Make sure it is completely clear which text relates to each image.

If you do not take the time to carefully consider your layout, you may also accidently 'hide' the ideas or information you most wanted to share.

Look at the layout examples below. Which of them do you find the most appealing? Will they be able to accurately portray your information?

poster traditional layoutposter alternative layout


These are just two possibilities. Try searching the internet for more layout ideas. You can be as creative with your layout as is appropriate in your discipline.


Space and spacing

It is important to leave some space on your poster blank. Without some white space, you poster will appear crowded and overwhelming. You should also leave space around your images and text, so that they do not overshadow and detract from each other.

Compare the two examples below.

Poster 1:

poster space example 1

Poster 2:

poster space example 2


Graphics

You poster should not contain a lot of writing. Instead, use images, graphs, tables and diagrams to convey your content. This is a chance for you to be creative and consider the best ways to visually present your information. Each visual that you use should have a caption, briefly explaining what it represents.

Compare the text and graph below:

text census information

graph census information

Although both of these examples provide similar information, the graph is easier to read and can convey more information in a similar space.

If your graphic is complicated, you may need to include a brief explanation either on the poster or when asked while presenting.


Copyright

Although it is easy to find images on the internet, you need to make sure that you have permission to use them. It is best to use sites that have a Creative Commons license. You will also need to acknowledge where you found the image. Different websites have different rules for how to acknowledge them - make sure you read them carefully.


Font type and size

Not everything can be represented by an image, so some text should appear on your poster. It is very important to choose an appropriate font which both looks good and is easy to read. Times New Roman, Arial and Garamond work well.

Your poster should be able to be read from a distance of 1 meter. Make sure that your text is not too small to read, or so big it overwhelms your poster. As a rule of thumb:

Paragraph text: at least 18 points

Headings: around 30 points

Title: around 72 points

Text appears in comic sans that reads "Although Comic Sans is fairly easy to read, it does not look professional and should be avoided. So should Papyrus".

Text appears in handwriting font that reads "Fonts that mimic handwriting should also be avoided - they are difficult to read from a distance"

Text appears in Arial that reads "Arial has clear lines and is easy to read. It also looks more professional."

Colour

One way to make your poster visually appealing is to use colours, either as background or for the text. Be careful in your colour choice. Bold colours draw attention, but pale colours are hard to see. Avoid clashing colours and make sure text stands out clearly from its background.

Text and background colours that are similar are difficult to read, especially from a distance.black and white alternative to image abovelight colour on dark background works better as the writing stands out more.clashing colours, particularly bright colours, are also hard to read.Having a number of coloured backgrounds next to each other with no break, can also be difficult to read. Remember to include white space.


Even posters which obey all the design rules can still appear uninteresting. Every poster needs a way to catch the eye of prospective readers. Use your own judgement - stand back and look at your poster. Would it inspire you to have a closer look?


Production

There are a number of software programs you can use to create the content of your poster.

  • PowerPoint
  • Publisher
  • Visio
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Photoshop

Each of these have good features and limitations. There are also a range of open source (free) programs available online. Explore different software to find what works best for you. You are not limited to what can be created in one type of software. You can create your content in different programs  and then insert or copy and paste it into your main poster file.


Not all poster assignments need to be printed; a ‘handmade’ poster is often acceptable. In some cases, the poster needs to be laminated. Check the assignment instructions carefully.

Activity


Have fun when designing your poster! Be creative, find new ways to present your ideas and don't be afraid to change it. Your sense of fun will carry into your poster and make it more appealing and interesting.