The Reluctant Poster Designer

[2019 me: This post was in my draft box for over two years, back when I worked in the JPL Library. While it is not up to date I thought it was still worth sharing since it went over some mistakes I’ve done while trying to figure out how to deliver on a task I know very little about.]

For the past few months, my job has started to incorporate a quite a bit of design work. It started with simple updates to icons on our website, moved up to creating instructional signs for our collaborative area, and now requires me to come up with videos for our digital displays. I’ll cover the digital displays in another post, which will also cover how we configured a Raspberry Pi to meet our needs [2019 me: uh… yeah that is not going to happen]. This post, however, will look at how the quality of my posters has improved… or so I like to think it has.

Information Overload

My participation in the Advisory Council for Women (ACW) has allowed me a venue to grow my design skills through various events. Some required a simple 8.5 x 11 flyer, most needed to scale from 30 x 40 down to website friendly size, and even others were multisubject biography posters. Each had to capture the attention of passersby and provide just enough information. I use to just do clumsy layers in Photoshop and the results were… well take a look:


Yeap, a bit of a mess. Now I can see how there is just information overload. I needed to advertise two events on one poster but some items could be cut. The date and time are spread on different sections. Too many texts and fonts to keep track of, which leads to confusion over what the focus is. In short, what I learned is that I needed to simplify the poster and let the all personnel email take care of the details.

For this year’s luncheon poster I went a simplistic approach:


This poster reads from top to bottom with all the information lined up. I used green to highlight some key terms in the speaker’s synopsis which in hindsight will need to be reworked as they were a bit too washed out on the final printed version.

After getting the user’s attention about the talk they then have the event details and RSVP details. [2019 me: this was before people knew how to use payment systems like Venmo. All payments were done via cash and checks so those details were left out. In the new posters we provided Venmo username and it is the only payment form we accept.] Exact details like street address and food options were left up to a follow on email to members.

The last line is also a lesson learned: men will not attend an event hosted by a women’s group unless it is explicitly stated. Our feedback surveys continue to receive “I’m glad men were invited” messages from attendees. I thought inviting men would go without saying but I’ll add a simple line at the footer if it gets a few more through the door.

Simplification is a process

Like I said, I had a tendency to want to give all the details and make a specific color or area for them. Which, quite honestly, sucked. BUT as I started going through several iterations I would take a step back and critique, as well as send for feedback to a few friends for honest feedback. The latter is truly important.

For example, here are three versions of a noontime talk:

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First Version – This is my classic design of being overly complex. I thought having a nice background would make it stand out, but due to the speaker’s image and bio, which are more important, the background’s impact is lost.

Second Version – Cleaner but still too many attention grabbers. I thought taking the speech title out of the main image would help give it some impact. Well, it have it too much. I also thought perhaps bringing out the speech synopsis would be worthwhile… not so much said my feedback.

Final Version – Praised for being simple but effective. In the final version,  I honestly just removed the background from the original. Yeap, it was that simple of a fix. Looking back, I’d probably also move the title to below the image and just got with a simple block text.


[2019 me: Initially I wanted this post to go over a few more examples but in short, I’m lazy. Just know that the ones below went through several iterations where I worked out:

  1. Event Details – Simplified to commonly used location names. Avoided details that could be covered in follow up emails.
  2. RSVP Info – Our luncheons require RSVP since we needed to pay the host. It went from URLs, to tiny URLs, and finally to QR codes. Now we just point to our site where there are links to a Google form to capture the information.
  3. Edit Bios – Some of our speakers provided full on biographies. I edited them down to just the high marks that our audience, tech and engineering heavy, would care about.
  4. High Quality Photos – I always asked for speakers to provided high resolution photos. This rarely happened but thankfully most had websites with the exact resolution I needed.]