Alaska Professional Communicators Display Design Hints

Hint: If you are a high school student who aspires to winning a trip to the International Science and Engineering Fair, take a look at the display regulations for ISEF here:

The following information was supplied by Alaska Professional Communicators:

Display Design Hints

Note that these hints are about the visual design of your display board, not the scientific content of your project.

 Overall Considerations

A good display is important to your project. The purpose of your display is to grab people’s interest and tell them the story of your project, all in the short time they may spend looking at it. The display should stress the most important ideas, then provide some detail once interest has been stirred. If the display is hard to read, if it is cluttered with less important details, or if there is no logical way to follow the project from idea to conclusion, people may not make the extra effort to understand what you have done. Here are a few ideas to help you design a good display.

 Display Panels
A free-standing display creates an enclosed environment for your project and is ready to go anywhere. It’s not hard to make a 3-panel display that is hinged and free-standing.

Some craft and office supply stores sell pre-made project boards. You may prefer to give it the personal touch by making your own board.

Some good panel materials:

  • Mat board: Available at art supply stores
  • Cardboard: Anywhere you can find it
  • Poster board: Available at variety stores (needs to be reinforced)
  • Duct tape or masking tape: Available at hardware/paint/variety stores. Good for making invisible masking tape “hinges” on the back of your panels to connect three panels together.
  • Latex paint: Good for creating a one-color, nonpatterned background.
  • Construction paper or fade-free craft paper


Your colors should serve a specific purpose. You might use colors to unite certain aspects of your project that belong together. Colors can also convey or reinforce certain ideas. For example, in a heat exchange experiment, red might convey hot and blue cold. A bright color among pale colors, or against black and white, can make something really stand out. An overall color theme can give focus to your display and make it easier to read and more pleasing to look at. (Including your report cover in your color theme is a nice touch, too!)

Too many colors, or colors that don’t go together, will detract from your display. For example, a yellow background with a red border and blue and green type could be garish and hard to read; the blue and green might be too much alike to tell apart easily, and the red and yellow might be too bright for their purpose. Be stingy with your colors; save them for when they are most needed!

 Good Color Combinations

  • Dark or vibrant blue or green with white accents
  • Black with red or white accents
  • Red with black or white accents
  • Black with strong yellow accents

 Panel Layout

A good layout has balance. Pictures don’t have to be the same size or look the same; in fact, that might be boring! Placement is what matters. One large photo or picture can be balanced with two or three small ones. A good picture can be worth 1,000 words, so think about the photos or illustrations you will use to summarize the various aspects of your project.

 Lettering/Font/Headlines/Body Text

The attention-getting headlines should be readable from way down the aisle. The subheads should be readable from across the aisle, and the body text by someone standing next to your display.

Headlines and subheads can be colorful and artistic, as long as they remain clearly readable. Plain headlines and subheads are also very nice, because they look neat and orderly. With headlines and subheads, use your own good judgment (and keep it readable!).

Body text, labels, and captions have more rules. Text in these areas tends to be smaller, so you have to keep it simpler to make it readable. Do not use “fancy” font styles. Text in script, all capitals, or ornate styles can be difficult to read. Avoid patterned printer paper or graphic backdrops directly under text. Do not use white text on a black background. Make the text big enough for a person with average eyesight to see from an arm’s length away. The best combination is plain black text on white paper!

Always keep in mind the main goal of your text, which is to easily communicate the subject and details of your project to the reader.

 Graphs and Pictures

  • Always label the axes on your graphs.
  • Always add captions to your images and photographs.
  • Always give credit where credit is due: To photographers for their pictures, to website URLs for their content or graphics, and to any other outside sources you’ve referenced on your display.

Alaska Professional Communicators Judging Hints (useful for students and judges)

Alaska Professional Communicators Abstract Q&A and Hints

Alaska Professional Communicators Contests

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