• Kendra Oliver

How do we make scientific posters better?

Updated: Apr 25

Let's get down to the usability


Ultimately, the scientific poster is a visual product that is intended to be used by the presenter as a way of communicating information to the viewer. The scientific poster is the interface through which this information is transmitted. During a conference, information can also be transmitted by the presenter verbally to the viewer. This interactive experience is the ideal situation where the viewer and the presenter can engage and discuss other topics that go beyond the information presented in the poster. But all information should also be available in written and visual form on the poster. The poster should be usable as an independent product and to avoid having the development of this product be a complete waste of time, it is important to design it to have its own usability and purpose. Within the science field, the typical poster (Figure A) has been challenged including the most recent recommendations by Mike Morrison who has recommended a new format (Figure 2) based on his past experience as a user experience designer.


Usability is a measure of how well a specific user in a specific context can use a product/design to achieve a defined goal effectively, efficiently, and satisfactorily. In this case, the user is the poster viewer, and the specific context is that the poster is being viewed at a conference. We will assume that the presenter is not providing any additional information. The product that we are evaluating for usability is the poster which is a large document with both text and visual elements. The goal of the poster is to communicate key findings or discoveries made by the presenter or the presenter's lab.


Usability can be measured by a number of things including efficiency, effectiveness, learnability, satisfaction, and accessibility. Efficiency is the quickness by which a task or operation is achieved. This is typically in line with the goals that the user has when engaging with the product. Effectiveness is the ease, behaviors, and intent from the perspective of the user when engaging with the product. Learnability is a part of usability and refers to the user’s ability to engage with the product after some training. There is also the area of satisfaction which refers to the perceptions, feeling, and opinions of the product by the viewer. Finally, accessibility is a part of usability and addresses if the product is usable for people with disabilities.


Jakob Nielsen's 10 general principles for interaction design are broad rules of thumb and not specific usability guidelines but are particularly relevant for web products. Therefore, these heuristics might not be entirely relevant for visual graphic design products like posters. However, posters do have a use and there has been a growing interest in understanding their usefulness in relation to design elements. As poster inevitability becomes more and more technologically advanced, such as with the incorporation of augmented reality elements, Nielsen’s principles might become even more relevant.

Figure 1. Traditional poster format.



Figure 2. The scientific poster, as envisioned anew by Mike Morrison.



User Types and Tasks


This is the hypothesis!!!

● Test with eye-tracking and self-reporting of the group (expert, intermediate, non-expert -scientist)

● Usability test for visuals: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/testing-visual-design/





So what does this mean?










In summary

Oftentimes, after a conference, people wonder what they should do with their posters. Should they keep it? Should they toss it in the nearest trash can? Through this heuristic evaluation or more accurately expert review, the goal is for the poster to be a communication product in itself. itself as a product that has a life. The goal of this evaluation is to make a poster that is more usable; a poster that can be kept beyond the life of the poster. Furthermore, if scientists adopt the latest technology including QR codes and augmented reality, the information on the poster can be updated over time.

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