Wednesday, July 01, 2015

History, Psychology, and Poster Philosophy

In a few days my wife and I head to Angers, France to participate in the meeting of the European Society for the History of the Human Sciences (ESHHS).  She is one of the speakers in a symposium about the recent controversy concerning the identity of Watson’s ‘Little Albert’, while I am presenting a poster that uses Gantt charts to explore the history of the Department of Psychology at the University of Alberta.

I do not participate in many conferences, but these days when I go to a conference I like to present a poster instead of a talk.  The reason: I prefer to have conversations about research; posters facilitate this while talks do not.  But how does one maximize the ability of a poster to initiate conversations?

My answer to this question is to design posters that have as few words as possible – a poster that is almost exclusively a collection of images.  Minimizing the number of words on a poster reduces the likelihood that someone will simply come up to the poster, read it, and move on without talking.  Remove the poster’s words; you force your audience to ask you what the poster is about – which starts a conversation.

My ESHHS contribution, ‘Using Gantt Charts To Explore The History Of A Canadian Psychology Department’, is one that fully reflects my poster philosophy.  It consists of 14 graphs; the only text on the poster is its title and the various graph labels.  Most of the graphs are Gantt charts like the one described in this previous post.  Two of these Gantt charts are gigantic – they provide the timelines for each faculty member, or for each course offering, throughout over a century of the Department’s history – and all of the others are derived from these two major plots.  It is more of an art piece than a typical scientific presentation.  I really like the look of it, I think that it is my most striking poster ever.

If you are interested, an 11 mb version of the whole poster can be viewed as this PDF file.

I like several things about this poster, which has been ‘test driven’ over the last couple of weeks near the main office of my Department.  First, as you get closer and closer to it, you realize that it contains a lot of information.  It really draws you in.  Second, the graphs are unfamiliar – Gantt charts are not typically seen in this field.  As a result, the poster demands questions, such as 'What do these graphs show?'.  On July 7 I will find out how many questions it draws out!