CB 399: Making Figures: Designing Professional and Effective Figures for Publication Spring 2016

Making Figures: Designing Professional and Effective Figures for Publication

Lecturer: Dr. Christina Usher, Researcher and Illustrator, McCarroll Lab, Harvard Medical School
Course Director: Dr. Fred Winston
Curriculum Fellow:   Emily Gleason, emily_gleason@hms.harvard.edu

We are scientists. We are highly trained investigators who dive into new hypotheses and datasets with zeal, yet the figures of the resulting papers often lack the thought and diligence with which we approached the science. In this nanocourse, we will learn how to effectively portray our science through figures. Specifically, we will learn how to design our figures to make them highlight our main points, be easily understandable, and look professional. In the first session of the course, we will discuss figure design generally and then apply these principles to designing graphs in the second session of the course. In the third session of the course, registered students will apply figure design concepts to redesigning a graph in Illustrator. Registered students will learn the basics of Illustrator through this process. The class will be a mix of lectures and workshops, with plenty of examples and opportunities for hands-on learning.

Day 1 (No registration required) – 2 hours

Date: Tuesday, April 19th, 2016. 10am -12pm
Location: TMEC 227
How to tell your science through pictures.
1. The difference between using graphs to explore your data and using them to present it.
2. Picking which figures go into your main paper and which do not.
3. Redesigning the main figures to best convey your main points.
           a.Deciding exactly what point you’re making.
           b.Designing a figure that best displays that point.
           c.Fine-tuning the figure by adding context and adjusting aesthetics, so the point can be understood quickly.
                 i.    Color theory
                 ii.    Visual weight
Slides and handouts from day 1 posted below! 

Day 2 (No registration required)– 2 hours
Date: Thursday, April 21st, 2016. 10am – 12pm
Location: TMEC 227
Applying the general principles of figure construction to graphs.
1. Choosing the right graph to convey the main point.
            a. Having a third or fourth variable conveyed through colors, volumes, and point shapes.
2. Making the graph easily understandable through.
             a. Annotation
             b. Standard conventions
             c. Color and point shape selection
3. How to make the graph aesthetic and look professional.
Slides and handouts from day 2 posted below. 

Day 3: Illustrator Workshop (registered students only) – 2 hours
Date:    Tuesday, April 26th, 2016. 10am -12pm
Location: TMEC 144
Learn how to use Illustrator to edit a graph

Part 1: Identify a published graph that you find confusing. To avoid embarrassing anyone in the class, please avoid papers that have Harvard authors. Briefly, in half a page or less, explain what the graph was supposed to convey and why you found it confusing. Please use the principles and language introduced in the first lecture in your explanation. Email your graph and explanation to Christina (Christina_Usher@hms.harvard.edu) and Emily (emily_gleason@hms.harvard.edu) no later than Noon on Wednesday, April 20th.  Please submit your assignment in either .doc, .docx, or .pdf format with your last name included in the file name. Christina and Emily will select several graphs to use as examples at the beginning of the second lecture.

Part 2: After the second lecture, using the same graph you selected from part 1, write a brief (half a page or less) explanation of how you would make the graph better. Please use the principles of graph design discussed during the second lecture in your answer. Drawings and diagrams are welcome. Please email the second part of your assignment to Christina (Christina_Usher@hms.harvard.edu) and Emily (emily_gleason@hms.harvard.edu) no later than 9am on Monday, April 25th.  Please submit your assignment in either .doc, .docx, or .pdf format with your last name included in the file name.

Part 3: Prior to the Illustrator workshop on Tuesday, April 26th, ensure that you have Illustrator installed on your laptop. If you do not own a copy of this software, a free trial version can be downloaded here: https://creative.adobe.com/products/download/illustrator. If you cannot use this version for some reason (for example, you have already used up your free trial), please contact Christina (Christina_Usher@hms.harvard.edu) and Emily (emily_gleason@hms.harvard.edu) ASAP so that we can work with you to find a solution. 

DROP DEADLINE: Tuesday, April 12, 2016