Cheers to the last episode of The PolicyViz Podcast for 2019! I’ll be taking a couple of weeks off before coming back with brand new episodes in January. In the meantime, please take a peek at my forthcoming book, Elevate the Debate, which is a collection of chapters from my colleagues at the Urban Institute to help you better communicate your work and research. If you need some data visualization gifts for the holiday season, please check out my online shop, which now has Happy Holiday! dataviz cards. I hope you have a great, relaxing, safe holiday season.

On this week’s episode of the show, I’m joined by Mike Morrison, Michigan State University organizational psychology doctoral candidate, is reshaping how mundane research posters are designed and presented at academic conferences across the world. Morrison’s poster templates have been used at conferences in fields from medicine to meteorology, and he hears from satisfied presenters around the world.

Episode Notes

Mike’s Videos:

How to create a better research poster in less time (including templates)

Let’s Make Science User-Friendly

Selected News articles:

#betterposter from Inside Higher Ed

To Save The Science Poster, Researchers Want To Kill It And Start Over from NPR

Support the Show

This show is completely listener-supported. There are no ads on the show notes page or in the audio. If you would like to financially support the show, please check out my Patreon page, where just for a few bucks a month, you can get a sneak peek at guests, grab stickers, or even a podcast mug. Your support helps me cover audio editing services, transcription services, and more. You can also support the show by sharing it with others and reviewing it on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.


Welcome back to the PolicyViz podcast. I am your host, Jon Schwabish. Happy holidays everyone. I hope you’ll find some time to rest and relax and unplug over the next couple of weeks and recharge for 2020. This is the last podcast for 2019 and I’m very happy to have Mike Morrison on the show. Mike is a graduate student at Michigan State University and he has started a movement to improve the way people create posters for academic conferences. If you’ve never been at an academic conference or have never seen an academic poster, it is worth a couple of minutes of your time to do a quick google search because a lot of them are not great, a lot of them are packed full with lots of text, 3D bar charts, 3D exploding pie charts – a lot of the things that we in the DataViz community would not really appreciate in terms of good data communication; but Mike has taken upon himself to try to help people improve the way they present their information, their data, and the research through the poster medium. So I’m excited to talk to him on the podcast.

Before we get to that interview, just a couple of notes to close up the year. First off, if you didn’t see, I have a new book coming out, it’ll be released in early February, it’s called Elevate the Debate, and it is authored with members and colleagues of the Urban Institute Communications Department, and I’m really excited to have that book coming out. It helps researchers and analysts go all the way through the communications process of how to get their work out there to people who need it and who can use it, so we talk about how to create strategy, we talk about data visualization, we talk about presentation skills, how to write blogs, how to use social media effectively, how to talk to reporters, and how to put all of that together into a communication strategy. So I’m really excited to have that book coming out in just a few weeks and I hope you’ll check it out and leave a review on Amazon, or just let me know what you think about the book. And of course, if you are interested in supporting this show, please do. Head over to my Patreon page or just head over to my PolicyViz shop where you can check out new DataViz inspired holiday cards, thank-you cards, postcards, there are T-shirts, there are games, there are posters, and there are more things there for all the DataViz folks in your life. And if you would just like to leave a review of the show, that’d be great. Check it out on iTunes, on Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, and all the places where you can listen to your favorite podcasts. So I hope you’ll have a great new year, I hope you have a great holiday season. So until 2020, this is the PolicyViz podcast and here is my interview with Mike Morrison.

Jon Schwabish: Hey Mike, how are you friend?

Mike Morrison: Hey Jon, pretty good, how about you?

JS: I’m doing well, it’s a Monday morning, so you know [inaudible 00:02:59] still trying to wake up a little bit. Yeah, all is good. How are things by you?

MM: Pretty good, preparing to fly out to Philly for the first big data collection for my Better Poster stuff, we are going to test it at a live poster session.

JS: Okay, cool. I want to talk about that. I want to talk about all the work you’ve been doing with the posters and the Better Posters hashtag that keeps popping up all the time on my Twitter feed. Maybe we can start by having you just give a little background for folks so they know where you’re coming from, and then we can talk about why you got into creating Better Posters and all the ongoing work that you’re doing.

MM: Sure, yeah. So a quick life story, I guess, I was a UX designer and web developer for about 10 years. I got really bored out of my job, quit my tech career to go back to school and get a PhD in work psychology where I am now. And so hopefully, I have about a year left on my PhD. And then I was completing my PhD, I started getting frustrated with a lot of the user experiences of science including the poster which is like, you may not know this, but posters are actually I think by quantity the biggest medium of science dissemination, even about papers, just by count I think. I heard [inaudible 00:04:09] paper, but they’re very big. And so everybody uses – basically, scientists try to communicate tens of thousands of findings every year through posters, they all use the same templates – but my idea was, well, if we can improve this default crappy template everybody uses even by a little bit, any gains and efficiency of knowledge transfer since everybody uses it, would have these massive ripple effects across all of science and kind of speed up the scientific system.

And so I introduced a new layout, a new sort of default proposal for scientific poster layouts and made like a cartoon about it, released earlier this year. And I expected to be sending it to people for years and bothering them and trying to get them to look at it, and instead it exploded across science in 24 hours, and then people started using it, people started using the design, and now Better Poster is a thing and it’s becoming increasingly sort of a standard alternative to the traditional wall of text scientific poster.

JS: So can you talk about the template that scientists are using, because when I go to social science conferences, there are also lots of posters obviously, but they don’t seem to be using a particular template, they seem to be fairly – I mean, they all seem to be very dense with the words and the 3D bar charts and all that stuff, but like they don’t seem to follow a particular template – so is that different in these various scientific fields?

MM: I think templates maybe not the most precise word. I think sort of approach is probably a better word, approach to use that. But like I think, basically when – there are some common elements that you want, but people put like the giant title of a top, and below that the second most important thing in science which is your long list of author names is the second biggest priority in [inaudible 00:05:48] hierarchy for most posters. And then they sort of, next thing they do is they try to say, okay, I got this very complex dense paper, how do I get everything in this dense paper onto this poster in the same format, so they’ll have like an intro section, they follow the same format as a scientific paper. You have like an intro, methods, results, discussion, inflows like that, and there’ll be some variation in where people put that which is actually a problem; because if there’s variation in it, then you have to learn the layout of every poster which takes resources. And so, it’s generally the approach is they’re trying to condense everything in their paper onto a poster, and what that ends up looking like is like imagine driving down the highway and seeing billboards with paragraphs all over them, and you’re just not getting anything; and so it’s medium, if you look at how movie posters are designed and actual posters are designed, they’re very minimal. I was once like printing out a poster at Kinkos or something, and it was one of my Better Posters and the girl printing it out was like, huh, this doesn’t look like a scientific poster normally. I was like, what do the normal look like. She’s like, just covered in text. And I was like, and what do other posters look like for actual like poster venues. And she’s like, well, like, imagery and a couple of words. So I was like, yeah, exactly. They’re not – they’re designing posters like papers more than they are designing posters like posters.

JS: Yeah. So I mean, it’s an interesting quandary, because at a lot of conferences that I go to, what they usually have is a session for posters and they will have the author standing next to it.

MM: So it’s a crappy presentation.

JS: Yeah, right, exactly. And so I wonder, I would guess that most people who would push back on this would say, well, I need to have all the detail on there because I want the reader to be able to find all the subtlety and nuance and detail which is what researchers always think, and now they take the same approach with their slides which of course we could talk about too.

MM: Yeah.

JS: Do you view the fact that people are reading these posters as a different medium than like a presentation?

MM: Our posters are different from presentation, yeah. I think people assume people are going to read more than they do, and I think that’s the largest like bad assumption that scientists make when they make these posters is that people are going to stand there reading them in silence for 10 minutes. And what really happens is you walk by one, you desperately like sort of just ask the person, and then you go up to the person and you ask them to explain everything. And like almost I suspect it and I think the research on posters supports me on this, that very little poster content is actually read. And so I think there’s this misconception that I think beginner designers often have that like everything you put on the poster gets read or everything you put on the poster gets in the attendee’s brain. And if that was true, you’d want everything on there and it’s so important. And like you said, in science you’re so trained that leaving something out is like lying by omission, like you don’t put it on there, how are they supposed to know you did it, where you are like, when in reality, there’s a thresholds to people’s attention spans, especially when they’re trying to process a roomful of 50 posters. And that threshold is very, very low. And so, if your poster content goes over that, people will just ask you to explain it. And so the most common phrase you hear in poster sessions is like, so tell me about your poster and that’s like they are just asking for a summary because it’s easier to ask even to try to read this thing. And so it’s really like that question of like if no one reads it why put it on your poster, and like I think people, like they don’t realize how little content is actually used whereas a designer can have approaches that is like, if it’s not actually used, it doesn’t belong on the poster, even though it makes you feel better to put it on there.

JS: Yeah, right, because you need everything on there all the time.

MM: Right, exactly, it’s good science.

JS: Along with the posters, do you also talk to people about how to do that little summary, that little elevator pitch – so when someone comes up to you and says, tell me about your, you know, you’re standing in front of your poster and they say, tell me about your research, when you’re talking about designing Better Posters, there’s obviously the second part of it which is the researcher standing there have to give this 30-second, one-minute little summary, have you talked to folks about that and how they can improve doing that aspect of the presentation?

MM: So actually I kind of think that that problem of having like an elevator page, people asking you a summary, is almost like a, it’s a symptom of the disease of bad designs, because if people are coming up to you and they’re being like, so tell me about your poster, what that means is they have no idea what’s on your poster, and they are asking you general question. And your poster literally did no work for you, it prepared them not at all for anything. And I think when you use a Better Poster which we will probably talk about in a second, I’ve noticed that if you teach somebody something before they walk up, like if your poster actually does some work for you, when they walk up, they won’t ask that, they won’t ask for a general summary, or what I also have people do is just start ranting about the subject they picked out of my title. And so, they will do that, they will ask a specific question; they’ll be like, oh did you consider like – like, I had one of my Better Posters where the finding was like people who find they work meaningful identify or like speak more using identity language. And this guy came up and he was like, oh did you consider collectivist cultures – that was the first words out of his mouth – did you consider collective cultures, not tell me what you did, tell me everything, but a very thoughtful specific question. And when you provide a stronger information then you get better questions like that, and most people, a lot of people who are using Better Posters report that, they report much deeper conversations. So I think if you are giving elevator pitches and people are asking you these generic summary questions, your poster is not doing anything for you, your poster should

[inaudible 00:11:03]

JS: Yeah, that’s really good. So let’s talk about your poster designs. You have a particular design that you’ve developed and people are always obviously using it, and I’ll link to the hashtag on the show notes. But can you talk about the overall design of the poster template that you have, and also how you developed it and why you went in the direction that you did?

MM: Sure. So the real backstory behind Better Poster is I wasn’t, like there are a lot of inefficient communication mediums in science, really like there isn’t a lot of design in science, and so I think I saw that coming in as a next designer, and I didn’t really care. I was like, that’s frustrating, it’s knowing, but like, I got my career to think about like everybody. And then I got a really bad health scare, and I think if you’ve ever been in that position of waiting on science to fix you or knowing somebody in your life where you want science to hurry up, I think it’s a terrible position. And if you know if you’re in science and you know how inefficient it is for stupid reasons, like it’s even more frustrating. And so the poster was really me trying to address a low-hanging fruit, just be like, you know what, I could speed up the whole system if I could just do a better PowerPoint template and these people are using. It doesn’t even have to be perfect, just like better than the wall of text which is a really low bar because, I mean, scientists, they’re very brilliant people, but they don’t have design, a lot of them, like very few of them have any sort of design skill, they’re just beginners at design, as brilliant as they are at curing cancer or whatever. And so they make all the mistakes beginners make, so really like an intern at a UX company could improve most scientific posters. But that was sort of the motivation behind it and then [inaudible 00:12:39] I could fix, I can’t fix publishing, maybe I could take the crack at posters, and then the poster layout itself is like, it’s sort of like a TV with speakers on the side, so in the middle you have your main findings stated in plain English, and then you can use imagery and graphs and things to back that up. And then if the person wants more detail, they can skim a sidebar where you have sort of a tight like one-minute summary of your interim methods and results, and people call that the introvert bar because it’s like the opposite from where the presenter is standing so you can kind of keep your personal space and skim the sidebar. And then if you want to engage the presenter, then the presenter has a sidebar by them [inaudible 00:13:16] where they can point to things they need for presenting. And if you want even more information than that then there’s a QR code you can scan and get a copy of the whole paper. And it really was just sort of – it wasn’t meant to be like the perfect end-all template, it would just sort of be like here’s an example of how we could use UX principles to transmit knowledge a little bit better, here’s a default you could build from using the principles. So does that cover it?

JS: Yeah, I think so, and I’m curious so I love this idea of building the poster so the presenter or the – I guess, presenter would be the right word – knows where to stand. So I was curious about why putting it in the center and the big headline box part is in the center, and from what I gather, that’s because you want people to be able to gather on the edges as you get them more information, is that right?

MM: Yeah I think so, and I think it’s basically just like looking at how people use posters, like I would see people pointing to things right by them and then there’s a big awkwardness factor in poster sessions. So when you go to a poster session, the person standing next to the poster has this sort of like bubble around them; and if you go in that bubble, you’re going to have to engage, you [inaudible 00:14:25] talk to them for five or 10 minutes, and you want to kind of engage a little bit more with the poster, but maybe just like not quite fully engage yet; and there’s also the case of like if the person is talking to somebody already, normally, what you have to do is you have to wait on them to finish or wait on a new elevator pitch because you can’t read the poster, it’s too overwhelming. But with a Better Poster the idea was you’re standing far away any way, you could just sort of skim their sidebar while they’re [inaudible 00:14:49] and read the details. So that was the idea.

JS: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So have you gotten any main complaints about how to make the actual poster, I wonder in particular like because some people say, I don’t know how to make a QR code, like what…

MM: Oh yeah.

JS: Yeah, like what are the pain points people find – I mean, it’s a pretty simple layup, but I’m sure, especially among academics, there are lots of pain points, I’m just curious what they are.

MM: Sure, yeah, I think [inaudible 00:15:16] the QR codes have definitely been the biggest barrier, sort of like I think, at first people are like, no one’s going to use the QR code, like nobody knows how to use them like what we had a use case for it, there’s been no reason to learn. And now you’re seeing it more, people are like, okay, I get it, I just point my phone at it. I think creating the QR code is probably really the biggest barrier, it’s just sort of like you go to the site, put in the link, understanding what it is, how it works, and it really is the least important part of the poster. A lot of the Better Poster design features including the ammo bar were really just me saying get your need for just complete comprehensiveness and over detail out of the way using the ammo bar and the QR code. So that you feel like you’re free to focus the rest of your poster, most of the poster is real estate on communicating very efficiently because you’ve gotten your insecurities out of the way. So the QR code is kind of a catch-all, but yeah, that’s been a barrier. Let me think of what else – I think it is a dead simple layout. I think it’s funny that there’s been parodies of it on Twitter and things, and it’s like, well, if you can parody it, it’s probably simple enough…

JS: Yeah, right.

MM: And so, I don’t know, it’s hard to paint the pain points in the presentation experience, in the present experience, because I’ve had such good feedback on that. One of the things about Better Poster is like it forces you to spend your time on the right things, and that was part of the idea is that scientists shouldn’t worry about where do I put this or how do I put this wall of text next to this wall of text, it should just be like how do I really concentrate my research findings, how do I really condense and like what I found and what I learned into something people will actually absorb, which is very difficult, and like, that’s where the pain comes from.

JS: Yeah.

MM: It’s really cutting, you know, when you’re used to splattering your paper all over a poster, forcing yourself to cut it down to like a quarter of that content is painful, it is excruciating, it goes against everything you’re trained to like over-detail everything. But like that’s where learning to be a good science communicator comes from, is that pain, and a good designer, is like really learning how to cut things and how to summarize, and that’s hard. But in terms of cream the poster itself, most of our surveys so far have found that people rated just much, much easier and much, much faster. I’ve even seen one guy do it where I think he found that people were able to create posters in something like a third of the time, and spent more time on better things, so it’s much – I mean, that was the secret sauce to Better Poster is it’s the right way and it’s lazy way. If it’s easy and it’s better, you know, like, why not?

JS: Yeah.

MM: And if it was harder, then never do it.

JS: No right. Well, it’s interesting, right, because there’s a trade-off in the time that you need to put into it. You need to put a lot more time in upfront because you need to narrow it down to the core elements of the paper, but it’s really easy to make in the template; on the other hand, you don’t have to think that hard about what you’re going to show because you’re going to show everything, but then you have to worry about how you’re going to get it into the actual framework to actually print the things.

MM: That’s a great way to think about it, yeah, it’s flipped.

JS: It’s flipped, yeah, actually, yeah, it’s totally flipped. So you have this template out, and I’m curious how you think about templates and whether they’re a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, obviously you have a template, so my guess would be, [inaudible 00:18:19] towards being a good thing, but I do wonder whether there are some downsides to having the templates where maybe it constrains some creativity, so how do you think about that in giving people templates and then letting them branch out – I mean, you’ve already mentioned that it’s a pretty basic template, so I would guess it’s easy to go beyond that but how do you think about… ?

MM: I hope so.

JS: Yeah.

MM: Yeah, I mean, I really didn’t mean it. I really want to talk about this for a while because, I mean, like, look if you had that kind of creative mentality, you want to see a lot of novelty, a lot of different things, a lot of variation – and I think for poster sessions, like one of the things I found with Better Poster, and this is something I learned by it being all the same, like when everybody used the same template, there’s this concern that like it’ll [inaudible 00:19:03] and I’ve been to a conference where it was all Better Poster, like every single poster was a Better Poster. And you do get that, like, sort of, okay, they’re all the same background color, but people didn’t feel comfortable enough to really build on top of it enough yet. So that’s the downside, but the trade-off is using

[inaudible 00:19:19]

templates in a second, but good things first, like using a template, it’s a consistent location for everything, so I didn’t realize this, but I think people spent a lot of time in poster sessions learning the layout of each poster, every layout is different, you have to develop – you have to dedicate cognitive resources to like, okay, where do they put this thing, where do they put that thing; whereas if it’s all the same layout, you know where everything is. And so what that does is it reduces poster fatigue which I didn’t even think about. But I found it like the all Better Poster Conference, people were coming up to me and they were like, oh I find myself looking at more posters because I get worn out, like I don’t get worn out as fast, I can just keep going.

So it’s worth it right now I think to, like the trade-off, they’re getting less poster fatigue at the expense of like a little bit less novelty, it’s better, but it’s not perfect. So I think the ultimate answer to that is what we want is we want that reduced poster fatigue and we want the engagement, the bigger engagement, the bigger fun you get out of all this creativity, all these variable novel layouts, is where we want to go. But I think in the beginning, getting people off the old way, like I had to do a template because most people, the way they design posters, is they get a template, they get basically their old poster or a poster from a senior grad student or something like that, and that is effectively a template, it’s one with local to their program or whatever, but they’re just copy and pasting their own crap into this old layout that one person created. I mean, a lot of times it’s like the school created one or something, or the conference or something, and so everybody uses templates already because it’s very easy, because they don’t have a design training, it’s very hard to start from scratch. And so I think creating a template was extremely necessary to get this to catch on and to get us over that old kind of design thinking and I [inaudible 00:21:02] that old non-sign thinking. And I think that like if you’re not going to go further, if you’re not going to like get really creative and understand the UX principles right, I think defaulting to a better template than the template you were using before is great. I think, to your point I think, where I’d like to see it go is maybe something like the Better Poster version one default as just sort of like, if you’re pressed for time and you’re rushed which most grad students are, just here, here’s something that’s decent, and maybe providing a few different alternatives, maybe several different alternatives, as many as I can [inaudible 00:21:34]. And just here are some variations, try one, that what I tried to do is I put different mods in there, it’s like here are some ones, you can just grab them and go, you don’t got time to worry about it, just stick your content in here. But for the people who want to really understand and do a really exceptional job, providing them like some guidance on, well, here are the principles, here are just the basic rules, go nuts, and encouraging that creativity to get more engagement which will reduce poster fatigue even more. That was a long answer but I think, so I guess, the short answer would be, I think templates are a 100% necessary to get actual adoption, but I think long term we really do want to see a lot of creativity and a lot of variation to get more engagement.

JS: Yeah, that sounds about right. You mentioned a few minutes ago that you had done some survey work, and I’m curious, you know, you’re coming from a research background, I’m curious how you thought about testing some of these hypotheses that the posters were better, that they reduce fatigue – have you done any work in there, are you thinking about doing work in there, like where’s the next step for you in the Better Poster area?

MM: I think, so it’s two things, one is doing that formal study testing, so we’ve had exit surveys so far which – we have to get them published first before I can really talk about them in detail. But I mean, short answer, like Better Posters is coming ahead versus the old traditional wall of text. Poster fatigue is not [inaudible 00:23:00]. I did the poster fatigue things brand new to me, like I just, I didn’t think about that being a thing till I started going to more of these conferences and getting the feedback from people using Better Poster. The next step, number one is doing the formal studies. We’ve got our first big data collection this weekend at a major conference in Philadelphia. Our next big data collection is going to be in April, and we have a team of psychologists and educational researchers who are working on this with me [inaudible 00:23:30] cheerleader. But they’re doing a really good job of coming up with, like how to measure these outcomes; and the key is like the exit surveys we’ve done so far have just been like preference, like do you prefer a Better Poster or the old design, like why, like that kind, which is great, but I think really what we’d love to get at is these objective measures like people report they get more conversations, more people saw the Better Posters, can we make that objective, can we get an objective account of that. People report better conversations – well, how the hell do we measure that? And then getting these learning outcomes, is there really like a longer life for the learning you get from a Better Poster, do you learn more from Better Posters which is what we want. And so those are our plan for the data collection, and then for me, it’s also like creating – I’m working on the sequel video to Better Poster right now to really, the idea behind a sequel video is like, to the template point, like there is no such thing as 188 proof layout, [inaudible 00:24:28] is considerably better performing and I’m more convinced now after seeing data than I was before even – considerably better than what we were doing. But really like the perfect poster is going to be different for everybody, and it’s more important to teach these principles and encourage that creativity, so the Better Poster sequel video is really more of a lesson in user experience design for posters and then you take it from here and here’s 50 different ways you could do it, and across different fields. That’s what’s next is formal study and a sequel.

JS: Nice. And the formal study, it sounds like you’re going to be talking to both the producer of the research, producer of the poster, and the audience members, the people who are walking around talking to the presenters and then reading the book.

MM: Oh absolutely. I kind of think of it like, I know you heard of like how Lego builds their toys, but like I don’t know why I think of that, but like, they always talk about how like the build experience for a Lego is as thought through as like the play experience, right?

JS: Yeah.

MM: I think I really wanted Better Poster to be a really good build experience, to have like be – and so far it’s shown to be that, and also be a good attending experience. So absolutely, we’re definitely studying both.

JS: Now, just one last thing, I’m curious, have you thought about creating these templates and other tools and other software tools, so, I mean, it makes sense to me that most people probably find it easier, easiest maybe to work in PowerPoint to create these sort of things, but have you thought about trying to create templates in other tools, I mean, I don’t know how many researchers are using keynote, probably some, but like are Markdown or some of the other software tool, presentation tools that are out there, have you played around with that, like Google Slides might be a good example, have you thought about creating these templates in other places?

MM: Oh definitely. The Better Poster template file right now already has versions that people have made in our Markdown in LaTeX, and I’ve got one up there in InDesign. It’s been a difficult thing for me because, yes, it’d be great if we could get scientists using something besides PowerPoint to design, like using design software that’s built for designing things, whereas PowerPoint is built for presentations. But it’s, I don’t know how to approach almost, like I’ve included R Markdown and the LaTeX versions, those are in the template file, you can download those now. But I think I’d love to see scientists maybe at least get to Adobe XD which is a free markup app from Adobe, so you don’t have to pay for it. That alone, just getting them like a sense of like grid and guides and alignment and things like that that are built into Adobe XD, that aren’t in PowerPoint as well, would start getting them Better Posters just by default and helping them do these more complex design patterns and things very easily with a very easy learning curve. I think that’d be step one. Do you think it’s possible – do you think we could, like if we could get people using get off PowerPoint, I don’t know how we’d do it.

JS: I think it’s pretty like field-specific too, right, like I think there are some fields that use SPSS primarily, there’s some fields that you data primarily. I mean, it seems to me, I would guess, a lot of people who are building presentation slides aren’t accustomed to, at least in the academic world, or at least in economics, I should say, aren’t used to billing them via code. But there’s no reason why they couldn’t learn, and there’s a lot to be said for being able to do it in code, but I think a lot of people at least in the fields that I work in are used to working in the Microsoft Office suite, and there’s nothing inherently, as I’ve argued many times, there’s nothing inherently wrong with PowerPoint.

MM: Yeah.

JS: So like, I think, just like you said, you have these other platforms, these other tools. I mean, that only serves to broaden the base of people who could use them, and so inherently I think it’s only a good thing because you get more people involved and part of this is just making it social, kind of like a social network that you get people to buy in, they do a better job, and then their friends start to do it. And if they say, well, I don’t use PowerPoint, you get that little thing. You say, well, hey you could go do it in our Markdown, or you could do it in Google Slides or whatever. I think that’s only a good thing.

MM: That’s a great point, and I think that sold me on it being worthwhile, I was trying to capture everybody.

JS: Right.

MM: Just getting the people who already use it or who will is enough to maybe start them talking about it, like oh Adobe XD is free, it’s actually easier, or like R Markdown. I think I will try to do that more, especially some of the new layouts I’m introducing in the sequel video, they won’t even – I doubt, it’d be difficult to do them in PowerPoint.

JS: Right. So this conversation leads me to, I think now what I want to do is one last question…

MM: Oh sure.

JS: [inaudible 00:28:54]

MM: I know I would be two hours on this stuff.

JS: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So we talked a little bit about pushback that you’ve heard about the template itself, but I’m curious about when you talk to people who are using the template, who are making posters, have you heard pushback that they’ve received from colleague?

MM: No I haven’t. Oh no, there’s such a massive contrast between the feedback I get from people who have tried it and people who haven’t tried it. It’s like the feedback from people who have tried it has been overwhelmingly positive. I mean, it is true with like their – they do get some pushback from my adviser who won’t let me use it. But when they use it, like, I hope the formal data shows half of what I’m seeing just anecdotally. And not just individual using it, like conferences will email me and be like, we rolled it out, it went amazing, like people loved it and things like that. And then individually, people were like, my voice went hoarse from talking so much. And yeah, I think the people who’ve used it, the negative feedback of people who’ve used it has been like, one guy was like, [inaudible 00:29:57] sort of a bigger graph area for my study, or like I think my conference, like it was super, super crowded and maybe like moving the finding up higher, things like that are really like, those are very useful. But overall it’s been just incredible, like – yeah, I hope the formal data shakes up half as good as what I’m seeing in everything else.

JS: Yeah, that’s great. Well, I’m looking forward to seeing the study because researchers, especially when you can say, hey, here’s a study that shows this thing is better, we’re not just making this up…

MM: Yeah, exactly, I got to back it up now, right, and that will be the final push. I think the funny thing though is that there’s a lot of studies showing the old design doesn’t work, like [inaudible 00:30:40] okay, so like almost literally anything besides that crap, but like maybe I did worse, maybe I did worse than zero. And so, I’m actively poisoning people with this layout. But like, because nothing gets it on [inaudible 00:30:55] it’s self-evident, people are asking you, like summarize your whole poster, it means they don’t know what’s on it, it communicated nothing, so I’m trying to be zero. But like, yeah, I’m hoping that if we get some data that’s compelling, it’ll convince even more people. But so far people have been really, really good about trying it. And I think because there isn’t a lot of evidence either way, I think one of the best things conferences can do is just encouraging any alternative layout, forget Better Poster, just letting people know that they don’t have to conform I think is really powerful.

JS: Yeah, and I will make one last comment on that, because I just came back from a conference, and the posters that often win, you know, they have like a poster competition, and the posters that often win are based on the content not on the view, and I am a little torn about that, right, because is that what we’re supposed to be judging when it comes to – and maybe we shouldn’t be judging at all, maybe there shouldn’t be a competition, but given that there is one, is that the right thing to judge, or is it how much interaction someone has had with people who are there and the people are there looking at the poster because the poster itself is more engaging?

MM: I would love, yeah, we could talk more about that one because I’m getting that question, right, I am starting to get the question from conferences, like look, we’re trying to evolve our coding scheme for judging to incorporate, like to encourage really like more Better Poster style layouts. And like what criteria should we look at, and first off, like I’ve seen Better Poster, plenty of people are like, the first ever Better Poster won best poster in the whole show. And so it is still pretty awarded, but I think like, I think that is an important variable, because I’ve seen so many amazing studies, and that’s the worst part about this to me, about people clinging to the old design is some of these are like really brilliant grad students and scientists, it’ll have this really like world altering study, they’ll put it on a poster that transmits no information, which is covered in graphs and texts and things like that, people will walk by it. You’ll have 50 cancer researchers walking by the greatest cancer poster ever made and not even seeing it, because it’s just too overloading, and I wonder how many really great research study findings are just completely lost and they don’t get seen at all by the people that should see them, because of design issues. And I think how many people you actually affect with your poster is a huge variable in how you do it, because if you have a brilliant study that no one reads, like, did you do a good job – you did a great job on the study, but it’s just a different – it’s an interesting question, and I think probably a balance is probably the right answer, that’s kind of balance, I don’t know.

JS: No, that’s right, I think that’s right.

MM: Maybe I will email you later, we’ll talk about some criteria.

JS: Yeah, that’d be great. Mike, thanks so much for coming on the show. This is really great. I’m looking forward to seeing the research come out whenever it does, and it sounds great, so thanks for coming on.

MM: Yeah, thanks for having me, it’s great.

And thanks to everyone for tuning in this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed the show over the last 12 months. I hope you’ve learned a lot about data visualization, about presentation skills, about using data to effectively help people do their jobs better, make decisions and inspire others. So until next time, and that will be in early 2020, this has been the PolicyViz Podcast. Thanks so much for listening.