Last week, we looked at the MS PowerPoint Design Tab & Custom Template. This week, we move onto Poster design for students! This will be split into over two weeks and this week, we cover the design aspects for creating anything: posters, flyers, newsletters, etc.

Poster Design

Let’s start off by defining what a poster is:

“A poster is a temporary promotion of an idea, product, or event put up in a public space for mass consumption. Typically, posters are designed to be both eye-catching and informative.”


With this in mind, we look at the four pillars of design:

  • Colour
  • Font
  • Visual Content
  • Layout

Four Pillars of Design


When it comes to designing anything, it’s good to get a colour palette decided upon for the theme of your poster. That may include the colour of titles, subtitles, background content, accents, quotes, bullets, etc.

In terms of colour, there are 24+ million colours but you’ll only need a small palette when designing your poster. How many shades of a particular colour do you think you can see? How many greens can you see below?

Colour Swatch
Colour Swatch
ColourQuick task!

Choose 3 colours from the swatch above which you would consider using for a PowerPoint presentation. Let’s pretend it’s for the background colour, title text and body text of slides. Remember where those colours are in the Swatch.

Stop and think. Do you think the colours you perceive are the same for everyone?

Many people see colours differently. Part of that is perception. Another reason could be sight deficiencies such as colour blindness or low / no vision. If viewing these colours on a screen, the brightness and contrast of your screen settings may also be factor.

The colours you choose for text may not contrast well against the background of your presentation or poster design.

If you use colour to highlight key messages, this is typically red. For those audience members living with colour blindness, the red may not be perceived at all. Therefore, disadvantaging an audience member as the colour of highlight cannot be seen.

What if we converted the colour swatch to black and white?

Colour Swatch converted to Black and White
Colour Swatch converted to Black and White

Why does this matter? Well, find the locations of the colours you chose previously. Do those grey tones differ much? If the greys are the same tone, that means you chose three colours of equal strength. This results in the same or similar tone of grey when the colours are converted to black and white.

The use of colour when colours are the same strength may disadvantage some audience members. It’s better to use dark and light colours to help with contrast.

Colour and contrast

If tones (grey shades) are all the same or similar, that means text and titles may not contrast enough from the background to convey screen content. This would be the same for anything you’re designing. Think about the chosen colours in terms of contrast and what if someone cannot see the colour in the world around them.

Also, consider those living with colour blindness. Red / green is the most common colour blindness, followed by yellow / blue. Avoid using these colour combinations on slides and for highlighting key information. By all means use colour for sighted audience members, but add in symbols or icons for users of screen readers and those with sight issues.

Consider screen readers. Screen readers don’t care about the type of font, the size, colour or emphasis of text. They will only communicate text and text tags to their users. Screen readers won’t see icons but they will read out punctuation symbols. Hence, don’t use colour alone to highlight key information!

Let’s start a revolution in terms of highlighting key text. Use !this is important information! as key text. The punctuation marks will be read out. By all means make it bold for sighted users and the screen reader will pick up the ! for non-sighted users.


Are all fonts equal? Can they all be quickly and easily read?

No. Fancy fonts slow down everybody’s reading skills and makes our brains work overtime. We need to figure out those marks on the page to construct the words, the sentences and then what the sentence means.

What about audience members living with dyslexia? Those fancy fonts are a real pain. Anything slanted (italics) is a no go!

So what fonts should we be using? There’s two categories of fonts. Serif (fancy fonts) and Sans Serif (non-fancy but modern). Let’s think about them as having feet (or not!).

Serif vs Sans Serif
Serif vs Sans Serif

Serif on the left side shows letters with feet (a little plinth for letters to sit on) and some flourishes. This isn’t an overly fancy font but it’s slightly decorative. Many fonts can be highly decorative like calligraphy type fonts with big flourishes, etc.

It takes our brains longer to figure out the markings, letters and words that are written in fancy writing. This slows down our reading and understanding. If you are wanting to read 10+ pages of an article, these are not the fonts you’re looking for!

Now. On the right hand side of the graphic are Sans Serif fonts. You’ve been using them, even if you didn’t know it. Think about: Arial, Helvectica, Tahoma, Calibri, and other font’s which are ‘footloose and fancy free’. They’re curved or rounded fonts. Nice and plain. Easy on the eye. Quick to read.

These fonts improve our reading/scanning skills and provide audiences with an advantage as it allows the brain to speed up. Those living with dyslexia still need text that is not in italics and there’s a few other caveats.

Does spacing matter?

Text (no matter where it’s being used, online / offline, web pages / PowerPoint, etc.) should be:

  • left aligned
  • 1.5 line spacing
  • sized for the purpose it’s intended

There’s a lot more we could say here (like avoid writing in CAPS). However, we’re basing this weeks post on the four pillars of design (posters). The size of text needs to be legible on an A0 poster at 10 feet away from us. There’s no definitive minimum / maximum size but you should be able to comfortably read it with glasses on. Here’s more accessibility and text considerations.

There’s also colour vibration. We’ve not written about this yet and it’s a good topic. We aim to write about this in a future post!

Visual Content

This is something we’ve covered multiple times. Here’s a few links to help you out:

Ultimately, visual items should be good quality, have colour / contrast and ALT Text applied for screen reader users.

In terms of permission to use, consider Copyright and Creative Commons. Can you use it? Should you use it? What do you need to consider?


Choose your layout and align the content.

Before deciding on layout, do you want the poster to be portrait orientation (i.e., tall) or landscape orientation (i.e., wide)? How big does your poster(s) need to be? This can be determined by where and how you will present the content: online or in person.

For example, online posters would be better suited to landscape / wide orientations to better fit screens. Whilst printed posters displayed in person can be either tall or wide depending on how the information could be best displayed.

Scientific posters for conference are typically A0 in size. Once deciding whether it’s going to be tall or wide, decide on the number of columns you need and where images should site. Here’s a few examples for portrait orientated posters (landscape posters can work with more columns):

Example - 3 column poster layout
Example – 3 column poster layout
Example - 4 column poster layout
Example – 4 column poster layout

Visual content can sit within the columns and/or span across two columns for impact.

Then think about the sequence of content. Consider it storytelling where you have a beginning, middle and end. For example, introduction, the information and a conclusion. Do add these sections into your columns so the viewer understands where they are in the story.

Ensure titles / subtitles match consistently, i.e., the same font, colour, size and alignment throughout the poster. Don’t forget to add in acknowledgements.

If you are presenting the poster in person, consider a QR code for audience members with accessibility needs so it can be accessed in the digital space for assistive technology help.

Next time

Thanks for taking the time to stop by and read our blog. We appreciate it.

Next week, we’ll be looking at using MS PowerPoint to create a Poster. As we said, it’s one of the tools that can be used but it’s not the only tool for this task!

Remember, the DigiKnow blog posts are released at noon on a Monday.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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