Open your eyes to effective design

November is Design Month at Come Science With Me – and today I’m asking you to Open Your Eyes…

In my last post, Why should scientists care about design?, I described the big issue that scientists are simply not taught design skills. We are left to pick it up along the way by watching other scientists. But learning design doesn’t work like that. Although we instinctively feel the difference between good and bad design, actually identifying it is not something we are born with.

The first step to improving the effectiveness of your design is to start paying attention to what is and isn’t effective in other people’s designs.

Next time you attend a research presentation take note of the following:
• Can you clearly read all the text and see all the images or is some of it too small?
• Do you find yourself reading the slide and not listening to the speaker?
• Are the slides communicating effectively or are you having to work hard at understanding them?

Take a look at these two slides – which do you prefer? Which do you think would be most effective?


If you attend a poster session at a conference:
• Wander around the room and take note of which posters attract you from a distance. How did they do that?
• Which posters can you comfortably read from a few feet away and which do you need to peer at up close?
• If you find yourself getting bored and moving away from a poster without getting to the main point, ask yourself why it didn’t hold your attention?
• Try to find a poster that is totally out of your field yet invites you to read it and keeps your attention long enough to teach you something new. How did the design help?

Outside of science, start paying attention to advertisements, flyers, and social media posts. Those from large companies that can afford professional designers will tend to be clear and effective while those from small companies and community organisations are often less so.

In future posts, I’ll be talking a lot about the ‘rules’ and principles of effective design but for the moment, I just want you to start paying attention. Start taking note of how design makes you feel and how it communicates.

Have you seen a particularly effective piece of design? Or perhaps one that completely shoots itself in the foot? Let me know in the comments!


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