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Mike Morrison didn’t plan to revolutionize science-poster designs. But when he faced a health scare in graduate school, he was determined to find a way to speed up science discovery so that he’d have a better chance of being cured.

To start, Morrison thought about where doctors learn about cutting-edge medicine and technologies for patients: conferences. Professors and students go to these events to share critical research—often, information that could save lives.

Here is the problem that Morrison discovered: Most science posters at these conferences have a cluttered, info-heavy design, so it’s difficult for attendees who walk by to learn from the displays. Why, Morrison wondered, were most scientists using outdated designs to share their valuable knowledge?

Morrison saw an opportunity for improvement. Why not minimize and reorient the text on a poster board to help viewers absorb the information? He created a new poster design to make it easier for conference attendees to learn about studies at a glance. To share this idea, Morrisson used Vyond to create an animated video about how to redesign science posters.

A typical science poster design:

typical science poster

A #betterposter design template from Mike Morrison:

better poster

After the video was shared on YouTube and Twitter, it went viral. Morrison’s minimalist poster design resonated with professors and students, and they shared the video rampantly. Since being published in March, the video has been retweeted 3,200 times and has received nearly 300,000 views. Morrison’s poster design has received so much traction online and in conferences that even NPR and Forbes wrote stories about his video.

Well-versed in both psychology and design, Morrison has many valuable insights to share about using visuals to transfer knowledge. We caught up with him to learn more about how design can impact learning and how he used Vyond to create the viral video.

After you posted the video on Twitter, how did people respond?

Morrison: First, they shared it like crazy. It would hit a new field of science and go viral all over again. Then, one person decided to try the poster design at a conference. That person, the very first #betterposter presenter ever, won his conference’s Best Poster in Show award. Then, lots of people started trying it and posting poster selfies with the hashtag. Many of these people described how the poster design led to a better conference experience.

 

How has your video impacted the scientific community?

M: It started a conversation about how we should design scientific posters. And lots of people are trying it. It seems like 1% to 5% of posters in most scientific conferences are now #betterposters. Even if they don’t use the full design, many people are at least adding a prominent “takeaway statement,” which is a significant improvement.

Talk us through your process for making your Vyond video, from start to finish.

M: First, I created a rough draft of the video in Vyond. It took me only a week or two to get the main scenes laid out—big credit to Vyond’s user experience there. For narration, I mainly used Vyond’s text-to-speech feature as placeholder audio as I was figuring out what I wanted to say.

Then, for the final version, I needed a way to combine my Vyond work (especially the human characters I’d made) with the custom animations I’d done in Adobe After Effects and Illustrator. So I changed all my backgrounds in Vyond to green, like a green screen, downloaded my Vyond video, and then pulled it into Adobe After Effects and replaced the green background with my custom graphics and animations. Just like a green screen in a movie. I also recorded my own voice for narration instead of using the text-to-speech feature using Adobe Audition.

When making the Vyond video, did you apply any of the design principles you use for science posters? If so, how?

M: I tried to respect the cognitive load of the user by minimizing the amount of visual clutter in each frame. I also tried to ‘surprise and delight’ as often as possible. For example, instead of just describing the experience of seeing posters at a conference, I created a simulation for the video to show viewers what it’s like to walk by posters at these events.

I also wanted to emotionally guide viewers through the video. For example, I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the video telling jokes about poster sessions to bring out the emotions people feel towards traditional posters. Then, viewers are ready to hear my solution afterwards.

What tips do you have for others who want to transfer knowledge clearly and easily through a video?

M: Do not spend one second worrying about what your ‘expert’ colleagues think of you. Speak like you would to your closest friends, because that’s how everybody actually thinks. Also, failure isn’t ridicule. Nobody cares. Failure is designing something so couched and cautious and boring that people ignore it and feel nothing when they watch it.

What advice would you give to a beginner making an animated video?

M: Have fun, and make yourself laugh. And then, when you find yourself at all proud of it, show some people. Most people don’t realize that tools like Vyond exist and will think you are more skilled than you actually are, and that your video looks better than you think it does.

What is the single biggest reason why you would recommend Vyond?

M: The tool has an extremely short learning curve. Even if you don’t have any design skills, you can animate a video in five minutes. And if you DO have graphic design and motion graphics skills, you’ll love how quickly you can prototype your videos with Vyond’s large library of props and characters.

Rethinking how scientists communicate with Vyond

With his #betterposter movement, Morrison is making it easier for scientists to build their knowledge at conferences.
His Vyond video has inspired many professors and students to use his clear, minimal poster design at conferences.

And, as Morrison hoped, his poster design is helping medical professionals learn about the latest research in their field. Pulmonologist Dr. George Eapen, for example, recently commended a colleague who used the #betterposter:

 

The positive impact of Morrison’s video and poster design offers an important lesson: Critically thinking about how we share information has the potential to change the world.

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