Stitch Fix: Efficient Fashion for the Professoriate

Over the last few months, I’ve had to really up my game in a number of categories, including personal appearance. PhD students and even postdocs pretty much all wear utilitarian, cheap clothing, and when I got a faculty job, I knew my well-worn and overly casual wardrobe wasn’t going to cut it anymore.

I forced myself to do some shopping, all the while cringing at how much time it took to find just one or two items. Let’s face it, the last thing a new junior faculty member has time for is clothes shopping. As the semester progresses–and the weather gets colder in spite of my lack of appropriate layers–this becomes even more true.

So like many of you, I’d heard of this thing called Stitch Fix. When I looked more closely at the details, I figured it was worth a gamble: if even one item worked out for me in a shipment, it would be an improvement over trying to find it myself. And when my first Fix arrived this week, I actually kept three items–a total win!

Here’s why I think Stitch Fix is a great solution for academics:

  1. Academics need to look professional (at least occasionally), but rarely have the interest, patience, fashion sense, or time to go shopping. They usually have enough disposable income to selectively acquire items priced above fast fashion rates. Their time is worth enough to them that it’s easy to make a strong economic argument for outsourcing clothing selection.
  2. There’s an adequately extensive style profile to ensure that you get appropriate items, but it won’t take all day to fill out. You can also send your stylist short notes for each Fix (I told mine that I need some items in school colors, for example).
  3. Internet-and-USPS powered. No trip to stores or malls. No crowds or pressure. Shipping prepaid in both directions. Super efficient!
  4. You try on the clothes at home, under normal lighting, at your leisure (within 3 days of receipt). This is wonderful. It’s a zero-pressure environment and you can make a much more confident purchase decision once you’ve tried pairing items with what’s in your closet already.
  5. They send things you wouldn’t have picked, but which you should try anyway. Since there are only 5 things to try on, you might as well try all of them–and you might even like them! I scored two of those in my first Fix.
  6. The higher per-item cost is completely and utterly worthwhile because #3. I also immediately realized how much I was limiting myself by using price as a first-round filter for what I try on, so this provides a counterbalance.
  7. The style cards are awesome: they show each item you got in a couple of different configurations, to give you ideas on how to wear them. As a result, I pulled out my leather knee boots for the first time in years, and they looked great with my new blouse and skirt! (Note for any librarians in the house: the style cards accumulate into a catalog of your wardrobe!)
  8. There’s a feedback cycle to improve your selections over time and let your stylist know if you need something special for an upcoming event or want to try something new.
  9. Did I mention that it saves a ton of time?

I can think of no better testament than pointing out that they sent a pair of (skinny!) jeans that fit really well on my very first Fix. As any woman knows, the search for good jeans can be a lifelong quest, so having someone I’ve never met send me a pair that fits beautifully? Simply amazing!

If you’re adequately convinced to try Stitch Fix for yourself, please do me a solid in return and use my referral link: http://stitchfix.com/sign_up?referrer_id=4201271

Responding to Reviewers

“Revise and resubmit” is really the best outcome of academic peer review – acceptance for publication as submitted is so rare it may as well not exist, and most papers are genuinely improved through the peer review and revision processes. Generally speaking, an additional document detailing changes must accompany the revised submission, but the conventions for writing these “change logs” are a little opaque because they’re not typically part of the public discussion of the research.

San Antonio Botanical Gardens during CSCW 2013

There are a couple of great examples of change logs from accepted CSCW 2013 papers from Merrie Morris, and I’m offering my own example below as well. It’s no secret that my CSCW 2013 paper was tremendously improved by the revision process. I wrote the initial submission in the two weeks between submitting my final dissertation revisions and graduation. For a multitude of reasons, it wasn’t the ideal timing for such an endeavor, so I’m glad the reviewers saw a diamond in the rough.

My process for making revisions starts with not getting upset about criticism to which I willingly subjected myself – happily, a practice that becomes easier with time and exposure. (If needed, you can substitute “get upset/rant/cry in private, have a glass of wine, cool off, sleep on it, and then come back to it later,” which is a totally valid way to get started on paper revisions too.) Hokey as it sounds, I find it helpful to remind myself to be grateful for the feedback. And that I asked for it.

Then I print out the reviews, underline or highlight the items that need attention, and summarize them in a few words in the margin. Next, I annotate a copy of the paper to identify any passages that are specifically mentioned, and start to figure out where I need to make changes or could implement reviewers’ suggestions. I find these tasks much easier to do on paper, since being able to spread out all the pages around me sometimes helps when working on restructuring and identifying problem points.

During or after that step, I create a new word processing document with a table and fill it in with terse interpretations of the comments, as you’ll see in the example below. In the process, I sort and group the various points of critique so that I’m only responding to each point once. This also ensures that I’m responding at the right level, e.g., “structural problems” rather than a more specific indicator of structural problems.

The actual columns of the table can vary a little, depending on the context – for example, a table accompanying a 30-page journal manuscript revision in which passages are referenced by line number would naturally include a column with the affected line numbers to make it easier for the reviewer to find and evaluate the updated text. In the example below, I made such substantial changes to the paper’s structure that there was no sense in getting specific about section number, paragraph, and sentence.

As a reviewer, I’m all for process efficiency; I strongly prefer concise documentation of revisions. At that stage, my job is to evaluate whether my concerns have been addressed, and the documentation of changes should make that easier for me, rather than making me wade through unnecessary detail. Likewise, as an author, I consider it a problem with my writing if I need to include a lengthy explanation of why I’ve revised the text, as opposed to the text explaining itself. That heuristic holds under most circumstances, unless the change defies expectations in some fashion, or runs counter to a reviewer’s comment — which is fine when warranted, and the response to reviewers is the right place to make that argument.

Therefore, the response to reviewers is primarily about guiding the reviewer to the changes you’ve made in response to their feedback, as well as highlighting any other substantive changes and any points of polite disagreement. In a response to reviewers, the persuasive style of CHI rebuttals, the closest parallel practice with which many CSCW authors have experience, seems inappropriate to me because the authors are no longer in a position of persuading me that they can make appropriate revisions, but are instead demonstrating that they have done so. Ergo, I expect (their/my) revisions to stand up to scrutiny without additional argumentation.

Finally, once all my changes are made and my table is filled in, I provide a summary of the changes, which includes any other substantive changes that were not specifically requested by the reviewers, and note my appreciation for the AC/AE and reviewers’ efforts. A jaded soul might see that as an attempt at flattering the judges, but it’s not. I think that when the sentiment is genuine, expressing gratitude is good practice. In my note below, I really meant it when I said I was impressed by the reviewers’ depth of knowledge. No one but true experts could have given such incisive feedback and their insights really did make the paper much better.

——————————

Dear AC & Reviewers,

Thank you for your detailed reviews on this submission. The thoroughness and depth of understanding that is evident in these reviews is truly impressive.

To briefly summarize the revisions:

  • The paper was almost completely rewritten and the title changed accordingly.
  • The focus and research question for the paper are now clearly articulated in the motivations section.
  • The research question makes the thematic points raised by reviewers the central focus.
  • The analytical framework is discussed in more depth in the methods section, replacing less useful analysis process details, and is followed up at the close of the discussion section.
  • The case comparison goes into greater depth, starting with discussion of case selection.
  • The case descriptions and comparison have been completely restructured.
  • The discussion now includes an implications section that clarifies the findings and applicability to practice.

Below are detailed the responses to the primary points raised in the reviews; I hope these changes meet with your approval. Regardless of the final decision, the work has unquestionably benefited from your attention and suggestions, for which I am deeply appreciative.

Reviewer Issue Revisions
AC No clear research question/s A research question is stated toward the end of page 2.
AC, R1, R3 Findings are “obvious” The focus of the work is reframed as addressing obvious assumptions that only apply to a limited subset of citizen science projects, and the findings – while potentially still somewhat obvious – provide a more useful perspective.
AC, R2 Conclusions not strong/useful A section addressing implications was added to the discussion.
AC Improve comparisons between cases Substantial additional comparison was developed around a more focused set of topics suggested by the reviewers.
AC Structural problems The entire paper was restructured.
R1 Weak title The title was revised to more accurately describe the work.
R1 Does not make case for CSCW interest Several potential points of interest for CSCW are articulated at the end of page 1.
R1 Needs stronger analytic frame & extended analysis The analytic framework is described in further detail in the methods section, and followed up in the discussion. In addition, a section on case selection criteria sets up the relevance of these cases for the research question within this framework.
R1 Quotes do not add value Most of this content was removed; new quotes are included to support new content.
R1, R3 Answer the “so what?” question & clarify contributions to CSCW The value of the work and implications are more clearly articulated. While these implications could eminently be seen as common sense, in practice there is little evidence that they are given adequate consideration.
R1 Include case study names in abstract Rewritten abstract includes project names.
R1 Describe personally rewarding outputs in eBird These are described very briefly in passing, but with the revised focus are less important to the analysis.
R2 Compare organizational & institutional differences Including these highly relevant contrasts was a major point of revision. A new case selection criteria section helps demonstrate the importance of these factors, with a table clarifying these contrasts. The effects of organizational and institutional influences are discussed throughout the paper.
R2 Highlight how lessons learned can apply to practice The implications section translates findings into recommendations for strategically addressing key issues. Although these are not a bulleted list of prescriptive strategies, the reminder they provide is currently overlooked in practice.
R2 Comparison to FLOSS is weak This discussion was eliminated.
R2 Typos & grammatical errors These errors were corrected; hopefully new ones were not introduced in the revision process (apologies if so!)
R3 Motivation section does not cite related work Although the rewritten motivation section includes relatively few citations, they are more clearly relevant. For some topics, there is relatively little research (in this domain) to cite.
R3 Motivation section does not discuss debated issues The paper now focuses primarily on issues of participation and data quality.
R3 Consistency in case description structure The case descriptions are split into multiple topics, within which each case discussed. The structure of case descriptions and order of presentation is consistent throughout.
R3 Include key conclusions about each case with descriptions The final sentence of the initial descriptions for each case summarizes important characteristics. I believe the restructuring and refocusing of these revisions should address this concern.
R3 Does not tie back to theoretical framework used for analysis The Implications section specifically relates the findings back to the analytical framework, now discussed in greater detail in the methods section.
R3 No discussion of data quality issues This is now one of the primary topics of the paper and is discussed extensively. In addition, I humbly disagree that expert review is unusual in citizen science (although the way it was conducted in Mountain Watch is undoubtedly unique). Expert data review has been shown to be one of the most common data validation techniques in citizen science.
R3 No discussion of recruitment issues This topic is now one of the primary topics of the paper and is discussed extensively.
R3 Introduce sites before methods The case selection criteria section precedes the methods and includes overview descriptions of the cases. They are also given a very brief mention in the motivation section. More detailed description as relevant to the research focus follows the methods section.
R3 Do not assume familiarity with example projects References to projects other than the cases are greatly reduced and include a brief description of the project’s focus.
R3 Tie discussion to data and highlight new findings While relatively few quotes are included in the rewritten discussion section, the analysis hopefully demonstrates the depth of the empirical foundation for the analysis. The findings are clarified in the Implications section.
R3 Conclusions inconsistent with other research, not tied to case studies, or both To the best of my knowledge, the refocused analysis and resultant findings are no longer inconsistent with any prior work.

 

The Amazing Free Tidy Cats Standing Desk!

I wanted to try out a standing desk, but wasn’t sure how to put together a trial model. Inspired by the Standdesk 2000, I was too lazy and cheap to go out and buy stuff committed to creating a free standing desk out of reused and at-hand materials.

I started with a Lack-style table from our garage, but my 27″ iMac was too much machine for it. The “table” sagged visibly under my 21-lb baby. The handiest objects of similar size and better sturdiness that happened to be available were some empty Tidy Cats litter buckets. I pulled out my trusty yardstick, and indeed, the bucket heights were within an inch of the ideal positions for my body-to-desk ratio.

Fully assembled Tidy Cats standing desk.

The Amazing Free Tidy Cats standing desk!

So why not just use a couple of buckets? It took only a few minutes to assemble an entire standing desk – for free! As a bonus, it comes in an attractive yellow and red color scheme, complete with images of scampering kittens!

Parts:

  • 2 empty 27-lb Tidy Cats litter buckets with lids
  • 1 empty 35-lb Tidy Cats litter bucket with lid
  • 1 piece of 1/4″ plywood, approximately 7″-9″ deep, around 24″ length
  • 2-3 cord clips (optional)
  • 2 medium binder clips (optional)
  • flexible wrist wrest (optional; strongly recommended)

Procedure:

27" iMac rests nicely on a Tidy Cats bucket.

My 27″ iMac rests nicely on an upside-down Tidy Cats bucket.

  1. Optionally remove the handles from each bucket. The handle on the 35-lb bucket must be cut off, but you can maneuver the handles off the 27-lb buckets without a knife. If you leave them on, they could be used as an anchor for various cords, but they take up too much desk space for my taste.
  2. Turn 35-lb bucket upside down, lid on, and position at back center of desk.
  3. Place iMac on up-ended bucket; the front lip of the bucket base is perfect for lining up with the base of the computer stand.
  4. Turn the two 27-lb buckets upside down, lid on, and put them together width-wise in front of the big bucket.
  5. Optionally use cord keeper clips to hold the two buckets together (see photo at left below).
  6. Place plywood on top of buckets, evenly centered horizontally across the two buckets.
  7. Optionally, install medium-sized binder clips at the center of each of the buckets’ back edge to make a no-fuss backstop for your keyboard. There is a little lip into which the clip fits perfectly. Snap the back lever down, and leave the front one up.
  8. Place keyboard and mouse/trackpad on plywood. Align the keyboard’s G and H keys with the center of the monitor; your specific positioning of the two-bucket keyboard stand will depend on your peripherals.
  9. Optionally, cover any gap between the plywood and the front edge of the buckets with a wrist rest. This is highly recommended. If your plywood actually covers the entire bucket bottoms, unlike mine (we had a 7″ wide piece handy; why bother with more than one cut to get an 8″ wide piece?) then you might get away without a wrist rest. Either way, you’ll probably want to rasp/sand/pad the front edge of the plywood. Unless you like splinters in your wrists, that is.
  10. Stand up and enjoy!
Keyboard shelf finished off with a piece of plywood and wrist rest. Binder clips were a later refinement.

Keyboard shelf with a piece of plywood and wrist rest.

Keyboard stand/shelf made from two Tidy Cats buckets, plus a piece of plywood.

Keyboard shelf made from two Tidy Cats buckets and scrap plywood. Binder clips were a later refinement.

Case Study Writing Strategies

This is a tale of the two approaches I took to writing up case study research based on fieldwork and qualitative coding.

When I started writing up my dissertation case studies, I really had no idea how to do it. I’d read plenty of case studies but never tried to emulate them. I did, however, have a handy-dandy theoretical framework that needed to be worked into the findings.

I had three cases to report and more than enough data. Multiple case studies are typically used for comparative purposes, meaning that not only does this research design require writing up the individual cases, but also a cross-case comparison. I ended up writing four chapters to cover all of that material, with about 184 pages for the three cases and around 50 pages for the cross-case comparison.

I started off by writing up the case that had the most data – might as well get the big one out of the way, right? I wish I’d taken the reverse approach so that I would have saved some work when I found that my first try at writing up a case fell flat!

Method 1: Theoretical Framework Laundry List

I was told to be thorough in my dissertation writing. That may have been a mistake on my advisor’s part, as the final document was over 400 pages long, but I was determined to be as methodical and thorough as I could.

I started off by structuring my case description by the theoretical framework that I had developed. I went through every code in my framework and pulled out illustrative quotes that I organized under each heading, and then wrote up what I found for each concept in the framework. Even with rich and interesting empirical data to draw upon, however, it was deadly dull. It turned into a horrific laundry list in which readers became lost, much like one of those freaky hedge mazes you see in horror movies. It was ponderous and really soporific.

Repeating that two more times for the cases? No way. It was extremely slow and laborious writing, jerky and discordant, and there was no way I could meet my writing deadlines with that strategy. Fortunately, my writing group set me straight and offered suggestions of alternative structures. I listened, as one should when others are kind enough to read through drafts of heavy academic material and give thoughtful comment thereupon. Then I started over.

Method 2: Semi-Structured Thematic Template

I started over by cutting the chapter into strips and then physically coding and rearranging them into themes. Suddenly, there was a story and a flow to the material!

The first draft of the case study, cut into shreds and reassembled into a new structure.

It was done in a day. I remembered (just in time) to mark each strip of paper with the page number from which the material originated so that I could find it in the digital document to cut and paste. The process of cutting, pasting, and smoothing over transitions took another couple of days. I had every theoretical concept covered, and the material took on a much more palatable and interesting shape.

As I wrote the next two cases up, I started again with quotes, retrieving them systematically and writing up notes on the insights gleaned from them. Next, I organized them thematically rather than by conceptual framework constructs. It was easy to write the material that connected the quotes into a (mostly) coherent story, and much more interesting as the writing process generated more insights. I actually had fun with a lot of that writing!

I structured each case study chapter to start with sections providing the history and organizational setting of the case, an overview of the technologies and participation processes, and then continued from there with the thematic sections. At the end of each chapter, I included a summary with the main themes from each case and linked the highlights back to the research questions and constructs therein.

The overly-structured approach to writing a case study was painful and frustrating, but going with my intuition (while remaining steadfastly systematic) produced better results much faster. It also reduced repetition from linking concepts together and made those relationships much clearer. I expect every researcher will have to figure out an individual writing strategy, but it’s valuable to remember that the first approach may not be the best, and taking a different tack does not mean throwing out all the work you’ve already done.

The strategy for constructing the case comparison chapter, however, was a different matter entirely and a story for another day.

Award-Winning Poster Design

Since winning a best poster award at the 2011 iConference, I’ve had several requests for guidance on how to design a good poster. It should be obvious that the content comes first, and that’s something with which I can’t help. Assuming the content is solid and the poster abstract is accepted, the poster design process that I’ve been using lately seems to yield better results in less time – at least, compared to the way I used to do it! I believe this process would be useful for many people, so I’m sharing it because part of managing your workload effectively is developing strategies for handling complex tasks that can take an inordinate amount of time.

As far as tools go, I recommend using what works for you. Some people use Adobe products like InDesign, Illustrator, or Photoshop; of these, InDesign is actually the best suited for the purpose. Unless you have extra time to learn your way around the software, however, use what’s familiar. I’ve heard that a lot of people design posters in Powerpoint. I personally would never do this, but I completely understand why others might.

I used to use InDesign, but it became much too difficult to use after CS2. My tool of choice lately is OmniGraffle: it provides a lot of the same awesome layout capabilities of fancier tools but is easier to use, has a great interface, fantastic diagramming functionality, and access to a wide variety of stencils from Graffletopia, which comes in handy when creating posters. No matter what you use, set up a 1/2″ border around the edge since large format printers can’t print all the way to the edge, and save your custom size document as a template (e.g., 36×48-poster-template.ppt) to make it easier next time.

My colleague Jaime Snyder gave a presentation on poster design last semester in our PhD seminar. This process is based on her tutorial and recommendations. Conceptually, it’s based around congruence of content hierarchy and visual hierarchy, which is to say, the focus of the poster content should also be the focus of the visual design.

This approach makes the design more cohesive and it can be faster as well. I’ve included time estimates for approximately how much time I spend on each step. It maxes out at about 10 hours for a poster, which might sound like a lot, but that’s actually a lot less time than I used to spend! If you tend to take too much time on any of these details, set a timer – you don’t need to spend all week to turn out a great poster.

1. Decide upon the ONE point you want to communicate with the poster.  (1 minute + 10 minutes)

What’s the essence of the work? This is the main thing to highlight with layout. Nothing else should overshadow it. Come on, you know this!

1.a. Make a short list of visual props that help make this point, like graphics, diagrams, example data, etc. I try to use images from my fieldwork whenever possible, and I do my own stock photography a lot of the time, mostly because I like to, I have the skills, and I get exactly what I want. You can get images from Flickr (my favorite source for stock) and many other sources, but be a good soul and make sure they’re CC-licensed.

For print quality purposes, if you’re using screenshots, resize from 72 dpi to between 200-300 dpi, but make sure the total file size does not exceed the original file size. The same goes for resizing any other images. You can take bits out, but you can’t put more in without losing quality. (5 minutes)

1.b. Make a short list of the other details needed to link it all together – a few content items I always include are listed below. (5 minutes)

2. Pick a font family, serif OR sans serif – usually one shouldn’t mix them. No diagonal text. (10 minutes)

Font families are much easier than choosing separate fonts for each purpose, and they look better. They match perfectly, and provide a wide variety of expressiveness along with cohesion. If you care about these things, the most vehemently hated font seems to be Comic Sans, so you might want to avoid that one. Choose text sizes and styles from your selected font family for: title, headers, subheaders, body text, graphs/charts, captions. You might not need all of them.

Use no more than two (maybe three) text colors; only one or two of the font styles should be in an accent color. I usually use my accent colors in the title and headers or subheaders, but never for the body text. Minimum font size should be 36 pt – and I usually have to readjust my font sizes upward when I actually lay it out digitally, so usually that equates to a series of font styles at sizes 96, 72, 54, 48, and 36.

3. Pick a palette. Use a color wheel if you need a reference for picking complementary colors. (15 – 20 minutes)

You should have a primary/main, a neutral, a background (lightest), and an accent (brightest). Sometimes you can have a couple accents, but they shouldn’t overwhelm. Light text on a dark background OR dark text on a light background – there’s no acceptable in-between. Be cautious with gradients.

For my iConference poster, I chose colors from the eBird interface so that the screenshots would blend well into the composition. For a poster that I presented in Sanibel, FL, I chose colors that remind me of Florida – peach, teal, lime, and orange – which might sound riotous but actually worked beautifully.

4. Pick a grid. (5 – 10 minutes)

Sketching helps and is fun, too. I use an oversized artist’s sketch book. You can use three equally-sized horizontal or vertical bars, a 2×2 or 3×3 grid, a title strip with a 3×2 grid beneath it, etc. When you put together the layout, you will align content within the grid and on the intersection points of the grid (see the rule of thirds).

5. Lay out poster elements on the grid using grayscale blocks, i.e., with pencil! (1 hour)

No images, no text, no detail. Just blocks. The darker the gray, the more important the content. Pay attention to balance, alignment, etc. Think about how your layout leads the eye around the space, and how the “order” of the content aligns with that visual flow. Don’t forget that you can use geometric shapes, arrows, drop shadows (all in the same direction) and bounding boxes to call attention to content. I think this part is a lot of fun.

Sketch for a Poster Layout

6. Match the labels of your content to the elements in the sketch, and then translate to digital. (2 – 3 hours)

Sometimes as you lay out the elements on the screen, you find that some part of the concept doesn’t work as well as you imagined. For example, my original design for the eBird poster had headers for the center section alternating at top on the left for “Birding” and at bottom on the right for “eBirding.” That doesn’t work well for visual flow, so in the final poster, the headers were on top for both sides of the center panel.

7. Get some colleagues to critique your layout. Listen to them. No matter how much you love your diagonal text, gradients, and dense paragraphs full of citations, if they say it needs to go, take them seriously! (30 minute discussion)

8. Revise the layout. Just until it’s good enough – don’t fiddle around with it all day. (1 – 3 hours)

Besides these steps, there are a couple of other things that I do consistently, no matter what my other layout choices are. You basically can’t go wrong when you:

  • Put the title at the top in the biggest font size that you can fit – you want people to see this loud and clear.
  • Put the author names with affiliations and email addresses directly below the title, in header-sized font – no point in hiding from your own work!
  • Put acknowledgements in fairly small text along the bottom  – this won’t hurt your funder’s feelings.

Here are a few additional rules of thumb that I apply to selecting poster content:

  • Always include a research question, background and/or motivation section (any lit review goes here), methods summary, and next steps or future work. Usually my focus for the poster is primarily on the stuff I find most interesting: analysis, discussion, case descriptions, etc. Not citations.
  • Once you’ve chosen the text you want to use, cut it by at least 50% because you have too much. Seriously. Don’t be the person who pastes the entire text of the extended abstract on a big piece of paper. That’s not designing a poster. That’s pasting your abstract on a big piece of paper. It’s bad.
  • Don’t go too far in the other direction, with no substantive textual content at all. It may look pretty, but if you have to refresh your beverage or duck out to the restroom during a poster session, the poster should stand on its own.
  • Don’t copy verbatim from your paper or abstract, with the exception of research questions or hypotheses – which might still need paraphrasing if they’re long and convoluted – and quotes. People love quotes!
  • Include no more than 3 sentences in any given block of text, and keep them short.
  • Take advantage of bulleted/numbered lists. Use phrases rather than complete sentences for list items.
  • You should be able to read almost everything easily from 10 feet away. If you print your poster out on a sheet of notebook paper, all the text should be readable without a magnifying glass.
  • Remember that the poster is a conversation starter, not the full detail you put in your abstract, but it needs to have all the basic pieces so that it can be relatively self-explanatory.

All of these rules and heuristics can be bent or broken, but do so carefully!

For those without a background in design, a nice reference for visual design is The Non-Designer’s Design Book because it covers all the basics in a really digestible format. It’s well worth the minor investment if you design posters more often than once in a lifetime. I also like colorindex for color palette ideas, and some of the other books in that series by Jim Krause are really nice for design ideas.

Update: Gosh, wouldn’t it be helpful if I included the finished poster so you could see what I got out of this process?

The finished poster – a full-res version can be downloaded here.