Recently I entered into the HRC PhD Poster Competition as a way to gain some much needed experience in creating academic posters. The theme of the conference was to introduce a non-specialist audience to your research in less than 200 characters – my current research into the intersection of the video-game industry, heritage sector and consumer seemed to offer some novel ways to approach this subject. I opted to put a graphic front and centre with a bold title introducing the project and the main body of the text off to the left inside the simplified controllers.
I was thrilled to be awarded the “Highly Commended – Runner Up” prize and to receive such positive feedback from the competition judges and fellow entrants. At the ceremony the judges commended the poster for consistently implementing the video-game theme throughout the design as well as for the eye-catching heading text and large graphic. It was my first attempt at a humanities style poster so it was really heartening to hear that I was on the right track to producing effective visual aids for my research – furthermore only being only a few months into my PhD research it was really gratifying to hear that my ability to communicate the style and scope of the topic in a visual medium was developing.
Things That Didn’t Quite Go To Plan:
But not everything went quite to plan… First of all we had been instructed to create the posters for A2, yet when we arrived on site the posters were printed on B4 – undoubtedly due to the number of posters that had been entered into the competition and the cost of printing at an A2 size. This did however have the impact that the left text, which should have been at 30pt, was squished down to a barely readable 8pt and the text on the bottom bar was barely distinguishable. I had also intended (given it was meant for print not screen display) for the poster to be printed via CMYK to preserve the colour contrasts and intensities, but once on site it appeared that they had been printed with RGB meaning that the colours were flattened, the background texture was missing and the yellow – white divide especially was indistinct. Whilst the perfectionist in me flinched a little I realised that neither of these things were the end of the world and I certinally understand the organisers decision for both – in the end it was a good reminder for me that good design shouldnt be contingent on scale or printing method!
Also, as I began listening to people milling around discussing the posters it became immediately apparent that many of the clever things I had tried to implement were simply not common enough knowledge for everyone to instantly understand the references or implied meanings. For example the decision to use the Atari console was in part driven by its incredible popularity but more directly due to the 2014 Alamogordo ‘ET Excavations’ – which represented the first large archaeological excavation for the purposes of documenting dumped videogame material – a move away from the ‘VS’ styles of interaction which characterise so much of the current sphere for interaction. The cartridge in the console is ambiguously titled ‘heritage game’ reflecting the disenfranchised way we have tended to talk about these things but also in placing it in the Atari console creating a tangible and non opposition based link between the game console and heritage entities. The screen image is common to the “prepare to fight” screen in versus combat games such as smash-bros and is thus meant to infer the way which the three key stakeholders are tend to operate in opposition to each other. To the left the three boxes are actually stylised Atari 2600 controllers, again meant to be representing the three key stakeholders (or players) involved within the research. The use of that particular style of TV, the visible ray-tracks and the stained background, again, were meant to indicate that this opposition or exclusion of each other has been occurring for quite some time, hence the necessity of the research to now bring this debate into the modern era. I often forget, due to the amount of time I have poured into playing and studying games as well as the number of people I am in contact with day-to-day who are engaged with video-games, that not everyone has the same experience. Not everyone looks at three black figures on alternating backgrounds and immediately thinks ‘VS FIGHTING GAME’ and not everyone sees the arrangement of dots and lines on the text-boxes and immediately thinks ‘ATARI 2600 CONTROLLER’. Whilst it was a little dissapointing to realise that much of the nuance in the poster was lost it was a much needed reality check for how I discuss and frame my research – especially when talking to non-specialist crowds.
Finally when I got the chance to see how other people interacted with the poster it became clear that reading lower right, upper right, upper left, lower left was at times problematic, especially when combined with the lack of leading text for the left panels.
Thus I learnt three very valuable lessons for poster creation.
- When your poster is being printed by a third party check the max-min dimensions and printing scheme they are going to use and to design flexibly to allow for departures from anticipated size / scheme
- Don’t try to be too clever with design unless you intend to explain it on the poster itself – especially if the things you are trying to be clever over are specialised areas of knowledge
- Non-standard layouts are not immediately obvious to all viewers
Taking part in the HRC PhD poster competition was an incredibly rewarding experience. It provided a platform for me to take a step back from my usual reading and writing rituals and consider how I might represent my topic visually to a non-specialised audience – I thoroughly recommend it as a way to get a different perspective on your PhD topic. It was fantastic to share my research in this way and receive valuable feedback both on my design and research from audiences which I might not otherwise have been able to engage with. Whilst I am incredibly honoured to place as highly as I did I can now see some of the faults with this first attempt at poster design and as I move forward to develop more posters for this research and beyond I am hopeful that the lessons learnt here will be leveraged to build bigger, better posters in the future.
Huge thank you to HRC for hosting this fantastic event, and a second thank you to the CDH, Aarhus University and the University of York who facilitate my research.