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And whatever I do will become forever what I've done.Wislawa Szymborskadon't rehearsemore quotes

data: informative

Scientific graphical abstracts — design guidelines

data visualization + science communication
scientific poster design guidelines
Practical design guidelines for scientific posters and layouts on a large canvas.
Visit the Poster Hospital to see redesigns of real-world posters.
scientific graphical abstract design guidelines
Practical design guidelines for graphical abstracts and small figures.
Visit the Graphical Abstract Hospital to see redesigns of real-world abstracts.
Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Essentials of Data Visualization. An 8-part video mini-series on how to think about drawing data. In collaboration with University of Sydney.

Essentials of Data Visualization — 8-part miniseries

Thinking about drawing data and communicating science

This video series focuses on relevant and practical concepts in scientific data visualization. Our aim is to make you think more clearly about visual presentation and to make you a better communicator.

Each video in the series presents fundamental ideas and is designed to provide constraints and guidance to your thoughts about communicating your data. The purpose of scientific data visualization is not merely to inform but also to answer and generate hypotheses.

Though few firm rules exist when it comes to how to achieve clarity—whatever the communication medium—we must meet core requirements such as consistency, redundancy and appropriate mapping between relevant and salience. We present these essential topics using biological data as examples. But if you're not a biologist, don't worry. Instead, think about the data structure rather than meaning and you'll be fine.

Each video is about 15 minutes long and comes with a slide deck of the images used in the video, exercise and suggested solutions.

Download all course materials.

1. Data Encoding

Make it easy to answer relevant questions.
When you think of data visualization, the first ideas that come to mind are a scatter plot, or a bar char, a box plot or a network diagram. These are all data encodings—methods that relate data values to the positions, sizes and shapes of the lines or symbols that appear on the screen or in a figure. There are many data encodings—which do you choose?
watch | PDF slides

2. Shapes and Symbols

Intuitively encode role and relevance.
Shapes and glyphs are really important. They make up the heart of a lot of data plots. Your default should be the circle. If you need different shapes, try to map the classes as intuitively as possible onto the shapes. Use less prominent symbols for data that are less relevant (such as reference data included for context).
watch | PDF slides

3. Color

Use it for emphasis and visual separation.
Color is one of the most exciting ways in which you can completely screw over your visualization. What can start off as a great diagram can be absolutely ruined by a lack of color judgment. When using color, ask yourself—do I need it? Try to work around it using grey tones from Brewer palettes. If you succeed, you’re in a perfect place to use spot color, sparingly, for emphasis.
watch | PDF slides

4. Uncertainty

Don't make errors in error bars.
Knowing the limits of your knowledge is very important. In biology, it’s important to be able to sample the extent of biological variation. And so being able to show this and other forms of variation in measurements or any computed values in visualizations is very important—it addresses reproducibility and your capacity to make statistical inference. Often this is done with error bars. Ironically, there’s a lot of error associated with the use of and interpretation of error bars.
watch | PDF slides

5. Design

Organize and clarify.
Design plays a large role in data visualization. Think of design as choreography for the page. In our context it’s not merely driven by aesthetic, but function. Although there’s always room for aesthetic—gently applied—and I really encourage you to find your own and continue to refine it. But always remember, be understood before being articulate. Be legible before being attractive! Your goal here isn’t to make inroads on the global stage of aesthetic studies. Become a good visual explainer. It’s harder … and more worth doing.
watch | PDF slides

6. Nothing

No data, no ink.
Data-to-ink ratio, taken to the extreme: if there is no data to show, no ink should be used. The idea of “no data to show” may correspond to a variety of scenarios. There may be sincerely no data to show—no values were collected. Or, there are no significant changes to see. Where possible, you should use empty space to indicate lack of data or lack of change in data. You should never be distracted by something that isn’t relevant and empty space is not distracting—it really just provides contrast to adjacent elements, which presumably correspond to actual data or actionable data.
watch | PDF slides

7. Labels

Respect type and use it to establish hierarchy.
Open up a journal or your favourite text book. Find a figure. There’s probably some labels in there. Maybe it’s a multi-panel figure and the labels are the titles. Maybe there are some callouts that tell you what the parts are. If it’s a plot there are probably axis labels and tick labels and maybe a legend with some labels. There’s usually several informational layers in the image, each with their own labels. These labels should reflect that these layers are different. They should also reflect the relative importance of these layers.
watch | PDF slides

8. Process

Creating a visualization for Scientific American Graphic Science: from start to finish.
Let’s now look at the process of designing a visualization from scratch—from the encoding all the way to design. This was a graphic I did for the June 2015 issue of Scientific American. It appeared on the Graphic Science page.
watch | PDF slides


news + thoughts

Music for the Moon: Flunk's 'Down Here / Moon Above'

Sat 29-05-2021

The Sanctuary Project is a Lunar vault of science and art. It includes two fully sequenced human genomes, sequenced and assembled by us at Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre.

The first disc includes a song composed by Flunk for the (eventual) trip to the Moon.

But how do you send sound to space? I describe the inspiration, process and art behind the work.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
The song 'Down Here / Moon Above' from Flunk's new album History of Everything Ever is our song for space. It appears on the Sanctuary genome discs, which aim to send two fully sequenced human genomes to the Moon. (more)

Browse the genome discs.

Happy 2021 `\pi` Day—
A forest of digits

Sun 14-03-2021

Celebrate `\pi` Day (March 14th) and finally see the digits through the forest.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
The 26th tree in the digit forest of `\pi`. Why is there a flower on the ground?. (details)

This year is full of botanical whimsy. A Lindenmayer system forest – deterministic but always changing. Feel free to stop and pick the flowers from the ground.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
The first 46 digits of `\pi` in 8 trees. There are so many more. (details)

And things can get crazy in the forest.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
A forest of the digits of '\pi`, by ecosystem. (details)

Check out art from previous years: 2013 `\pi` Day and 2014 `\pi` Day, 2015 `\pi` Day, 2016 `\pi` Day, 2017 `\pi` Day, 2018 `\pi` Day and 2019 `\pi` Day.

Testing for rare conditions

Sun 30-05-2021

All that glitters is not gold. —W. Shakespeare

The sensitivity and specificity of a test do not necessarily correspond to its error rate. This becomes critically important when testing for a rare condition — a test with 99% sensitivity and specificity has an even chance of being wrong when the condition prevalence is 1%.

We discuss the positive predictive value (PPV) and how practices such as screen can increase it.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Testing for rare conditions. (read)

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2021) Points of significance: Testing for rare conditions. Nature Methods 18:224–225.

Standardization fallacy

Tue 09-02-2021

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty! —D. Adams

A popular notion about experiments is that it's good to keep variability in subjects low to limit the influence of confounding factors. This is called standardization.

Unfortunately, although standardization increases power, it can induce unrealistically low variability and lead to results that do not generalize to the population of interest. And, in fact, may be irreproducible.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Standardization fallacy. (read)

Not paying attention to these details and thinking (or hoping) that standardization is always good is the "standardization fallacy". In this column, we look at how standardization can be balanced with heterogenization to avoid this thorny issue.

Voelkl, B., Würbel, H., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2021) Points of significance: Standardization fallacy. Nature Methods 18:5–6.

Graphical Abstract Design Guidelines

Fri 13-11-2020

Clear, concise, legible and compelling.

Making a scientific graphical abstract? Refer to my practical design guidelines and redesign examples to improve organization, design and clarity of your graphical abstracts.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Graphical Abstract Design Guidelines — Clear, concise, legible and compelling.