Design Tips: Visual Impact

Color
Using color for visual impact offers many options but you will also need to resist temptation to use every interesting color and artistic tool your software offers. Choose a limited color scheme and stick to it! The Harvard Chan School’s visual identity guide includes a color palette that has been incorporated into the downloadable poster template. Note that designing in PowerPoint requires you to use RGB colors because PowerPoint is meant to be viewed on a screen and not printed, but it is not the best design software for printed materials (CMYK, Pantone, and other color systems can be found in design software such as InDesign). The colors may look different on your screen compared to the printed version.

Charts, Graphs, and Tables
Data visualization using charts, graphs, and tables is an important tool. Use a similar color palette to the rest of your poster. Include appropriate titles, axis labels, captions, and source information. Representing data graphically is one of the most accurate, compact, and rich methods of communicating information. Therefore, if you need your audience to focus on one or two data points within your table, highlight those points visually to guide their attention. For example, you can circle a data point, use a different color, or place a shaded box around it.

Photos
Choose high quality photos for use in your poster to help convey your information more effectively. Exciting and original content that capture a “moment” or illustrate your point is a worthwhile addition. Features should include:

  • High resolution (300 ppi): These photos can be enlarged for the purposes of a poster without becoming blurry, or pixelated. Photos that are found on websites are often a low resolution (72 ppi) to enable quick loading onto a web page, but they will become blurry when enlarged for print.
  • Color and brightness: The color in photos can be edited to enhance the final product and many online resources are available to assist you in improving the quality of your photo.
  • Permission: Make sure you credit the photo source and have needed permissions to use a photo that you find online.
  • Composition: Take the time to crop a photo for greater impact, which is easier to do without sacrificing quality if you are using a high resolution (300 ppi)  image. A close-up image that is well cropped can be more powerful and inviting than the original photo.

Diagrams and Illustrations
Many graphic tools are available to convey your message, such as SmartArt flow charts and diagrams, Clip Art, and infographics. SmartArt and Clip Art are features found in MS Office; SmartArt in particular is easily adapted for a poster. Limit the use of Clip Art to only the most professional examples. Infographics are an important trend in data visualization and a field unto itself. Free design software is available online to create infographics if you are seeking a special look; allow yourself plenty of time to experiment, and keep it simple.