Top creative tips for designing an academic poster that stands out from the rest

Do you want to know how to make your academic poster stand out? Whether for an in-person or virtual conference, we’re here to help with our top poster design tips.

Before we dive in, let’s define exactly what an academic poster is. The way we think of a poster is as a visual abstract, which means that information should be limited, concise and act as an overview to your main body of work.

Now we can get going with how to create your best academic poster yet.

Step 1: Plan

Poster purpose check-in

Before you do anything, make sure you can answer the following questions. This will help you set the context for your poster and highlight what needs to be included:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What is the most exciting/impactful/educational finding from the research?
  • What are the best ways of conveying the findings? Should I include charts, text, photos, images, graphs?
  • What other requirements do I have? E.g. sponsors, affiliations listings

Sketch it out

Now you have the context, what’s the best way to create an academic poster design?

With all design work, it’s better to start with a pen and paper before moving onto your design tool of choice. This way you can play around with positioning without wasting time moving around lots of text and images.

Some things to think about at this stage:

Grouping

Think about the content that should be grouped together.

Humans will automatically group things together if they are visually near one another, so be sure to create distinct groupings for distinct topics. You can do this by giving related elements a frame to show that they belong together. If you define a clear border, you will be telling your readers that information is together as a group.

At this stage you can just jot down roughly what you want and where you want it, in your sketches.

Content order

Is there a logical flow you can create with the content you want to include?

Think about how the user will scan through each of the sections and visually bring the connected content closer together. Be careful when putting elements close to each other when they don’t actually belong together, because, as we said earlier, your readers will automatically group them together!

Again, just make a note on your sketches of what you think will work.

Keep it simple

Don’t overwork it! Simplicity always wins in design.

Step 2: Design

Now you have some ideas on layout, content and structure, you can move over to your design tool and start putting your academic poster together.

Some important things to consider at this stage are:

Colour palette

Choosing colours is an important part of the design process. You can use colour to draw attention to important information and bring your academic poster to life.

Text

  • Keep your title font and important highlights readable from 2-3 metres away.
  • Keep headings short
  • Try to keep your word count to the absolute minimum
  • Avoid putting text on top of images
  • Use fonts that are easy to read

Negative space

  • You don’t need to fill all the space you have. Avoiding clutter and keeping white space will help your readers focus on your academic poster

Image quality

  • If you are using images, make sure the resolution is high enough to be printed out or magnified.

Graphical content

  • Ensure clear legends, titles and axis labels
  • Remove or reduce grid lines so focus can be on the plot lines

Step 3: Review and cut

It’s easy to call it a day once you’re happy with the design, but don’t skip this final step as it’s the most important of all!

Cut what you can

It’s tough love time. You have to be honest with yourself and decide if there is anything else you can remove from your poster.

  • Try printing it out yourself and reading it through - is anything repeated? Is there too much detail in places?
  • Get someone else to review it
  • Think about your initial planning points and keep them in mind when reviewing

The top tip here is be ruthless.

French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery said:

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Catch the typos

There’s not much worse than standing in front of your academic poster on the day of the conference and realising you’ve misspelled your title. Read, re-read and read again. And make sure you have at least one person other than yourself reviewing your poster for grammar errors. If you are writing in your non-native language, we recommend getting a native speaker to do this review. You can get a freelance proofreader on platforms like fiverr or upwork, should you need to.

If you're running a virtual academic conference and need a clean and engaging online space where you can showcase your academic posters, have a look at our Virtual Conference Suite or get in touch.