Poster design tips

Well-designed posters can be an effective way of informing, persuading or influencing your audience. Make a great visual impression by following the design tips below.

Posters present your work visually, using both graphics and text and are designed with audience and purpose in mind.

For example, a poster might:

  • present the findings of a research project at a conference, aiming to inform and stimulate discussion amongst peers (audience has similar background, education, interests).
  • raise awareness of an issue or campaign and provide guidelines, aiming to encourage action in the community (potentially large and varied audience with different knowledge, views, backgrounds and experience).
  • pitch a new product, service or concept, aiming to secure funding from potential investors (audience may not be from the same background and may be highly critical).

Sometimes they are accompanied by a short presentation, but it should be understandable without this as you won't always be there to explain it.

Students offer their tips on poster design including: layout, headings, using graphics and images and deciding what to include.

Focus on the most important message

We often scan posters, rather than reading in detail, so we need to be able to get the key points quickly and easily. Think about what you need your audience to know, and what your audience needs or is interested in – the most important message.

Consider your audience’s background knowledge and motivation for reading the poster – this will help you to work out how much detail to include and whether you need to write for a specialist or non-specialist audience.

Use the layout to guide your reader

Once you’ve decided on your main message, try looking at a few different poster layouts online. Think about how you read them. Which direction do your eyes move? How did you know where to start reading and what to look at next?

The layout of your poster should clearly define sections and have a logical flow. Eye movement should be natural – down columns, along rows, or from larger to smaller.

Try using some of the design features below to break the page up and indicate the path you’d like your reader to follow.

  • Lines – different sections are separated vertically or horizontally by solid lines
  • Content blocks – content is chunked and placed in different boxes
  • Headings – the main topic of each section is given a descriptive and meaningful label
  • Font size – indicate sections and sub-sections
  • Arrows – the path is marked visually using arrows
  • White space – different sections are separated by leaving blank space
  • Numbers or letters – sections are given a number (1,2,3…) or letter (a,b,c…)

It’s a good idea to play around with different layouts until you find one that works (either using physical paper or digital software).

Balance text, graphics and white space

Knowing what your key message is and the logical path you want your reader to follow will help you to achieve balance and make a visually appealing poster. The main thing to remember is not to overload the poster – the more you include, the more difficult you make it for your reader to follow.

Include ‘white space’ (blank areas with no text), so viewers can easily take in the most important information.

To help work out the balance, ask yourself:

  • Would this information be clearer as text, image or graphic?
  • Would this information be more impactful as text, image or graphic?
  • Does it feel cluttered or spacious?

Use a clear font type and size

Any text on your poster should have a legible, uncluttered, consistent look. We recommend using a sans serif font as they are more modern and clearer.

Use a large font for headings and make sure that they are interesting and informative enough to capture your audience’s attention. For example, compare:

‘Eating habits’ vs ‘What did dinosaurs eat?’

‘Eating habits’ is a little vague and doesn’t tell us much about what’s coming next, whereas ‘What did dinosaurs eat?’ is much more specific and interesting (as a reader I’m already thinking about the answer to the question – my curiosity is piqued).

Body text should be brief and large enough to read in context. Think about where, when and how your audience will read. For example, if your poster is printed, could you read it if you stood back 3m? If it’s digital, could you read it without scrolling or zooming in?

Dot points or numbered lists are a good way of reducing text and increasing clarity.

If you want to draw your readers’ attention to certain parts of the text, you can use formatting such as bold, italics, underline, or highlights. Be careful not to overuse these, or you’ll lose the emphasis.

To help you decide how much technical language to use, think about your audience. Which technical terms might they know? Would you need to give definitions or explain concepts?

Use graphics and images that are accessible and meaningful

Choose graphics or images that will support your message (not distract from it). For example, if you want to show a rising trend, a graph would show this more clearly than a paragraph of text.

Likewise, an image would help you to explain certain features of a physical product.

Label all your graphics and images and make sure your reader knows how to read them and how they fit into the logic of your poster.

You might also like to include icons in your poster to help guide the reader.

Choose a simple colour palette

It’s a good idea to choose only two or three colours for your poster as this helps give a consistent feel. Try to find colours that are simple, pleasing to the eye and high contrast (light and dark). Use more intense colours for borders, contrast and emphasis. If you’re not sure which to choose, take a look at some templates or online examples.

Final tip

You’ll probably need to do quite a few drafts to get your poster right. Start early and leave enough time to refine and edit your poster.

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