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Can graphic design save academic research?

Posters are a a long standing tradition for research presentations throughout academia, and for those who haven't gone to an academic conference, these posters are long with far too much text shrunk down and shoved onto these large prints. With no clear visual hierarchy except the expected titles of "Methods," "Findings," etc, finding out what it's actually about requires a lot of squinting and frantic (and poor) skimming through jargon rich, verbose language.

And ultimately, the most unique content is buried in endless long form 16 point, black Arial font.

The truth is, everything can’t be important. Shouting is usually the result of a failure to make tough decisions about which elements are really the most important and then create a visual hierarchy that guides users to them first. - Steve Krug, author of Don't Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

Luckily though, one man is changing this all. Meet Mike Morrison.

"A poster session, ideally, is this incredibly fertile ground for creative insight," says Morrison, who met me at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Washington, D.C. "You're walking into a room, completely open-minded, and ready to hear and read findings around stuff that you didn't even study before. If there are 50 posters here, it should transmit 50 new insights into your brain."

The days of exploring conferences will feel less and less like skimming billboards filled with paragraphs and more and more like seamless, easily digestable, cutting edge findings.

Poster for academic research with findings displayed in large text and plain language, a huge contrast to traditional posters.
Sample mock-up of the poster changing it all

And I know, graphic design is all to often seen as frivolous dressings for content. But visuals, weighted text, all of these things are truly vital towards information actually tracking with audiences. Information is only valuable if people read and retain it.

Identifying your core message is vital. To borrow a famous design quote: Perfection is not when you have nothing to add. It's when you have nothing to take away.

Most industries can benefit from creative insights and design. Scientific and academic communities are no exception.

Read NPR's amazing coverage or watch this incredible in depth video created by Morrison himself (templates can be found here).



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