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Visual Strategies: A Practical Guide to Graphics for Scientists and Engineers

Posted on January 05, 2013 by Blog Design Journal

Any scientist or engineer who communicates research results will immediately recognize this practical handbook as an indispensable tool. The guide sets out clear strategies and offers abundant examples to assist researchers—even those with no previous design training—with creating effective visual graphics for use in multiple contexts, including journal submissions, grant proposals, conference posters, or presentations.

Visual communicator Felice Frankel and systems biologist Angela DePace, along with experts in various fields, demonstrate how small changes can vastly improve the success of a graphic image. They dissect individual graphics, show why some work while others don’t, and suggest specific improvements. The book includes analyses of graphics that have appeared in such journals as Science, Nature, Annual Reviews, Cell, PNAS, and the New England Journal of Medicine, as well as an insightful personal conversation with designer Stefan Sagmeister and narratives by prominent researchers and animators.

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2 to “Visual Strategies: A Practical Guide to Graphics for Scientists and Engineers”

  1. Ursiform says:

    Helpful insight into doing graphics right As anyone who has suffered “death by PowerPoint” knows, graphics can provide the key insight or, most often, lead to utter confusion. This book tries to move technical illustrators toward the former.I really enjoyed the earlier parts of the book, which I think offer practical advice and examples of making technical graphics work. It can be as simple as using color sparingly, or eliminating it entirely. Or aligning key elements in just the right way. Just looking through the examples can spur thoughts about how to make figures more clear.Some of the case studies, unfortunately, impressed me less. They often involve very intricate structures, with graphical solutions that evolved over months. Most of these will not be helpful to average (i.e., well above average) person trying to clearly explain a complex technical point. It’s not that they aren’t impressive. But you don’t learn to paint by having someone put a Raphael in front of you.This book is worth the investment for the early chapters. Don’t worry if some of the case studies leave you lost.I was provided a copy for review by the publisher.

  2. E. Jaksetic says:

    Interesting perspective on how to present scientific data in different graphical forms This lavishly illustrated book provides an interesting perspective on how scientists and engineers can improve their efforts to communicate research results by presenting scientific data in a variety of graphic forms. Rather than simply compare examples of effective and ineffective scientific graphics, the authors offer a conceptual framework for their observations, criticisms, suggestions, and recommendations.The authors contend that:(1) there are two categories of scientific graphics, based on the purpose or objective of the graphics — explanatory graphics (“used to communicate a point or call attention to patterns or concepts” and exploratory graphics (used “to invite the viewer to discover information”); and(2) graphical representations of scientific data can be categorized as three different major types: (a) “those that illustrate form and structure,” (b) “those that illustrate processes over time and space,” and (c) “those that encourage readers to compare and contrast.”The authors support these two basic contentions with explanations, arguments, and examples in the Overview section of the book.In three sections of the book (entitled “Form and Structure,” “Time and Space,” and “Compare and Contrast”), the authors explore each of the three major types of graphic representations by using examples. Then, in the Case Studies section, the authors present brief essays by several researchers who explain how they created and adapted scientific graphics to better communicate complex and potentially confusing data. Finally, in the Interactive Graphics section, the authors show how interactive graphics are being used online to present scientific graphics that engage the readers by allowing them to explore the graphics interactively. The Appendix describes a Web site that the authors use to further explore the themes and ideas of the book, as well as a Further Reading list.The book approaches a challenging subject in an interesting manner that offers the reader much to think about. Although it is definitely a worthwhile book, it should not be considered to be the definitive or final word on the subject of scientific graphics. Readers interested in the subject of how to better communicate scientific data should consider also looking at the following books: Stephen M. Kosslyn, ; Edward R. Tufte, ; Edward R. Tufte, ; Howard Wainer, ; and Dona M. Wong, .

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