Weekly update 67

Post date: Nov 6, 2015 4:12:50 PM

We had an interesting lab meeting this week. Alex Orellana came in from the UW Design Lab to help us think about the design of our academic figures, illustrations, and diagrams. We covered a lot of stuff I have heard and practice, e.g. number and types of fonts, whitespace, contrast, symmetry, etc.

There were also some things that I hadnt heard about before. For example, Alex suggested that we try projecting and sketching by hand to create interesting line-art (using illustrations of animals as an example), then scan those into a computer and convert to vector graphics. It's an interesting concept. I would have tried to use software to do the whole process, but he pointed out the software renderings usually look... artificial.

One point that came up a few times in our discussion was the standard lack of emphasis on design in scientific illustrations. Because journals have tight restrictions on the use of space, we often try to pack as much information in a tiny figure as we can. And to some extent that's necessary. But in the examples that Alex showed us, when juxtaposed against our own figures, is that modern design simplifies to the extreme, conveying only a couple types of information in a larger figure rather than packing it all in. I think the result is that the most relevant messages we want to convey are done so more strongly and immediately. It's an important consideration. Journals are more and more moving toward short, concise, general audience formats. The explosion of scientific articles we're expected to peruse also means we have less time to spend on each one. So if we want our articles to keep up with the times, we have to design the graphics to be punchy and convey core messages quickly.