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

Making Figures: Designing Professional and Effective Figures for Publication

We are scientists. We are highly trained investigators who dive into new experiments 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 design our figures to highlight our main points, be easily understandable, and look professional. In the first session, we will discuss figure design generally and then apply these principles to designing graphs. In the second and third sessions, students will apply figure-design concepts to a graph and create an artistic diagram in Illustrator, thus learning the basics of the popular design program Illustrator. The class will be a mix of lectures and workshops, with plenty of examples and opportunities for hands-on learning. Students who wish to receive credit for completing this course must register on the nanocourse website, attend all three sessions of the course, and complete two brief assignments.

Nanocourse Director: Fred Winston
Instructor: Christina Usher, Researcher and Illustrator, McCarrroll Lab, Harvard Medical School
Curriculum Fellow: Taralyn Tan (Taralyn_tan@hms.harvard.edu)
Session Dates and Times
Session 1 – Lectures (open to everyone – no registration required)
Date: Wednesday, April 19 (2:00 pm – 5:00 pm)
Location: TMEC 328
Part 1: 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. Color theory
          b. Visual weight
Part 2: 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.
Session 2 – Illustrator Workshop Day 1 (open to registered students only)
Date: Friday, April 21 (2:00pm– 4:00 pm)
Location: TMEC 328
Outline: Learn how to use Illustrator to edit a graph
Session 3 - Illustrator Workshop Day 2 (open to registered students only)
Date: Monday, April 24 (2:00pm – 4:00 pm)
Location: TMEC 328
Part 1: Review and present assignments
Part 2: How to make diagrams in Illustrator

Class Assignments:

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.

Part 2: Prior to the first Illustrator workshop, 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) ASAP so that we can work with you to find a solution.

Part 3: Using the techniques discussed in the first Illustrator workshop, edit your ‘bad graph’ so that it is less confusing and write a brief summary of the changes you made and why you chose to make them. Come to the third class prepared to present your ‘bad graph’ and improved version to the class.