Why should scientists care about design?

November is Design Month at Come Science With Me – and we’re kicking it off by asking WHY?

Ask most scientists what they know about graphic design and they will shrug and say “not much”. And why should they? As scientists, we have to learn a lot of stuff. Our degrees are packed with learning facts about our chosen field and then we must learn the ins and outs of the scientific method and experimental design not to mention analysis, writing and presenting. Graphic design is hardly a priority or even usually on the radar.

But when it comes down to it, we all need to communicate our research and to do so we use elements of graphic design. When we design a scientific poster, create slides for a research presentation, or craft the perfect figure for a paper we are designers. And it is no wonder most scientists (and science students) struggle with this – we have never been taught anything about design. We are somehow expected to just pick it up along the way from other scientists who also haven’t been taught the basic principles. So we all stumble through using poorly designed slides, presenting boring posters and struggling to produce figures to the quality required for publication. And most of the time we don’t even realise it.

To paraphrase the designer John McWade:

“Design is not something people notice. It’s something they feel. And it’s almost never articulated. They can’t tell you they feel this.”

In other words, unless it is truly terrible or absolutely wonderful, your audience will not notice your design. But they will feel it. And subconsciously that feeling will affect they way they view your work.

Another quote from John McWade:

“Design – how things look, is an essential part of how things communicate”

And this is the big reason why scientists should about design. Communication.

We all want to be able to communicate our research effectively, and the good news is that by taking just a little time to learn the basic principles of graphic design, you can greatly improve your research communication, and save yourself a whole lot of time and stress in the process.

All this month on Come Science With Me I’ll be writing about design for scientists – sharing some of the tips I’ve learned and the resources I’ve used. So subscribe now and start taking your science communication to the next level!



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