Learn design skills with Before & After Magazine

November is Design Month at Come Science With Me – and today I’m going to introduce you to my favourite place for non-designers to learn design skills.

I know what you are thinking. You’re a scientist. You have experiments to do, grant proposals to write, students to teach, countless other demands on your time. You can’t possibly learn to be a graphic designer as well. Don’t people do whole degrees in design? Well, yes, they do. And if you want to be a professional graphic designer then one of those degrees might help. But like it or not, you already are a graphic designer. You design scientific posters, research presentations, lecture slides, and figures for your publications. The question should not be: do I want to learn graphic design? It should be: do I want to present my work effectively and efficiently?

Today I want to introduce you to the resource that really taught me the most about graphic design. It’s an online magazine called Before & After. Their website says:

“Because our modern world has made designers of us all (ready or not), Before & After is dedicated to making graphic design understandable, useful and even fun for everyone.”

And that, in essence, is why I find them so useful. The magazine clearly shows, in small bite-size chunks, the difference between good and bad graphic design. It does this by doing a makeover of a design – first pointing out why it doesn’t work and then explaining how to fix it. For a non-designer, this is an incredibly effective way of understanding design concepts.

Before & After Magazine is not aimed at scientists. In fact, none of its makeovers to date have had a scientific theme as far as I know. Often they show makeovers of business cards or logo designs or advertising material. But that doesn’t matter. The same principles apply and can be adapted to our needs.

Now before you go running off to subscribe, I have some bad news for you. The magazine itself is no longer being produced. However, you can still buy back copies and PDFs of all their articles (either as bundles or individually) from their site. They also have a few PDF articles available to download for free and these describe some fundamental design concepts that everyone should know so I highly recommend taking a look.

The good news is that John McWade, the designer behind the magazine, hasn’t gone away. He now runs several courses on Lynda.com including “Graphic Design Tips & Tricks Weekly” which is pretty much like a video version of Before & After Magazine. If you have a Lynda.com subscription, or if, like me, you are lucky enough to be able to access an institutional subscription, go check him out. And if not, then stay tuned to this blog – I don’t pretend to be anywhere close to the designer that John McWade is, but I have had quite a bit of practice in applying his teachings to scientific communication and I’ll be sharing that here.

By the way, this is not a sponsored post, I’m not getting anything out of this. I just want to share a resource that has really changed the way I use design in science for the better.

So tell me – do you know of any other great resources for non-designers out there? Leave me a comment!

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