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Nature Methods: Points of View

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Points of View column in Nature Methods. (Points of View)

Guidelines for Effective Figures

Practical and concise advise on the visual presentation of data for researchers. One topic and one page at a time.

Common Challenges in Figure Design

Andreas Dahlin runs a figure making course at Uppsala University. He was kind to share with me common questions and concerns that his students have when creating figures (emphasis is mine).

I face problems for using the tools in power point to make nice illustration figures, and in addition how one can enhance the resolution of the figures to print it in a high quality mode.

In my opinion, the most difficult thing is how to draw the good-looking pictures and design the structure of slide to make it simple and substantial in content.

I find it difficult to find the right software to draw pictures.

The most difficult thing for me, when I make a figure, is to arrange the parts of the figure in a way they look nice and understandable.

I think the most difficult part is creating the concept, how to make a figure easy and fast to understand but not lacking all essential parts.

Stepping outside of my own knowledge of what the picture presents and viewing it as someone who sees it for the first time. It's easy to assume that some things are self evident and not making them clear enough in the pictures.

Figures that not are plots can also be tricky to get to look nice.

Anytime you have to draw something in paint, gimp, or other image program it requires a lot of work to make it look even slightly better than crap.

The most difficult thing (in general) is to include as much information as possible and display it in a way that is easy to understand. Figures should be intuitive for the reader, which is sometimes difficult to achieve. There might also be technical difficulties in achieving what you've visualized.

I think the most difficult part for me is to highlight the main idea I would like to express.

For me the most difficult part is making 3-D figures. Also while making figures its hard to decide on the good colors to choose for the figure.

In my opinion, the most difficult part when making a figure is don't know which software we can use and how to use.

The most difficult part for me is to start it! Because I am so meticulous and I am a painter, then it is not so easy to make decision about my figures and which one is better and so on, then finally I give up and put just one figure which of course I don't like...

I think it is difficult to put together my ideas to something that is connected and makes it easier for the viewer to understand.

It is so easy to just get an image from internet. I don’t know what is ok to do. There seems to be different rules in different communities.

To come up with a figure that does not simplify the concept too much at the same time as it does not overwhelm the viewer. To get some ideas for this is the reason why I take the course. ;-)

To me, how to make it easy to understand is the difficult part.

I think it is to save it in the correct format: Raster or vector, png or jpg or pdf... especially if I want to make some changes in the future to the figure.

I think is to choose the most appropriate figure that really help to transmit the information we want. Then, how many words can be good enough for been part of the message. At the beginning I used to use too many.

Apart from the difficulty of making the figure clear and easy to understand, the biggest problem I'm having is the captions. How long and detailed description is appropriate, so it neither steals attention from the figure nor leaves out too much important information.

I think the most difficult part is to have high resolution image once we want to save it. My experience is when finish with drawing, the file size sometimes to large for high quality image and if we downgrade it, the image becomes bad.

The most difficult part when i making a figure is the software using part, I'm not good at computer so that part is annoying for me all the time.

I think the most difficult is to find out how to condensate many ideas in one picture without making it difficult to understand.

The most difficult part is the get the image to not look too amateurish that people focus on that instead of the message.

The most difficult part when doing a figure is to let it speak for itself, i.e. to not have long caption text.

To be able to depict all the desirable results on a single figure is sometimes not that easy. It becomes more critical when a figure is to be fitted within a certain size frame. An exact placing of a figure in some text editors often comes along with difficulties.

The most difficult part when making a figure is to make it simple and still be informative.

Depends a lot on the kind of figure, but generally it is to get clarity in the design, such that the idea is conceived easily. This requires some good outline (usually an iterative process).

The most difficult part to make a figure is the need to express abstract concepts into drawings.

The compromise between include detailed information and at the same time be readable (figures in articles)

To compress all information and ideas you have in your head into short and clear message.

I feel the difficulty in choosing a right resolution of the picture and the angle that could visualize all the details. And also choosing right test/label colour, size, font. Another difficulty for me is continuation from one slide to another.

I believe that my biggest problem would be making nice flux charts. Generally the ones I draw look too crude, it does not look beautiful. I have no concern about making an image that can represent an idea, but making a beautiful image makes it more pleasing to the eyes of the people who will read my work.

It is very difficult to make the figure delicate. I am still not get used to put all the small components together to integrate the figure by the vector software, instead of drawing it out directly.

I think the most difficult part is to make the image simple but yet informative.

I find it very difficult to make an original clarity picture in a particular format after dimensioning it according to the requirement.

Some times it is difficult to limit the size (Bytes) of the picture when going for high clarity remake.

Making the figure as informative as you want while keeping it simple enough to grasp quickly.

For me, the more difficult part is to create a figure that contains or tells all the information that I want to transmit, but keeping the figure simple, clean and not overloaded.

The most difficult for me is make it easily to be understood meanwhile containing the essential information.

The most difficult thing when developing a figure is ... to remove the bloat but keep the message. (Besides the very most difficult: finding out what I want to tell.)

For me the most difficult part is to choose colors with right contrast and to make it more attractive and catchy.

news + thoughts

Unentangling complex plots

Fri 10-07-2015

The Points of Significance column is on vacation this month.

Meanwhile, we're showing you how to manage small multiple plots in the Points of View column Unentangling Complex Plots.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of View column: Unentangling complex plots. (download, more about Points of View)

Data in small multiples can vary in range, noise level and trend. Gregor McInerny and myself show you how you can deal with this by cropped and scaling the multiples to a different range to emphasize relative changes while preserving the context of the full data range to show absolute changes.

McInerny, G. & Krzywinski, M. (2015) Points of View: Unentangling complex plots. Nature Methods 12:591.

...more about the Points of View column

Fixing Jurassic World science visualizations

Fri 10-07-2015

The Jurassic World Creation Lab webpage shows you how one might create a dinosaur from a sample of DNA. First extract, sequence, assemble and fill in the gaps in the DNA and then incubate in an egg and wait.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
We can't get dinosaur genomics right, but we can get it less wrong. (a) Corn genome used in Jurassic World Creation Lab website. Image is from the Science publication B73 Maize Genome: Complexity, Diversity, and Dynamics. Photo and composite by Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment. (b) Random data on 8 chromosomes from chicken genome resized to triceratops genome size (3.2 Gb). Image by Martin Krzywinski. (c) Actual genome data for lizard genome, UCSC anoCar2.0, May 2010. Image by Martin Krzywinski. Triceratops outline in (b,c) from wikipedia.

With enough time, you'll grow your own brand new dinosaur. Or a stalk of corn ... with more teeth.

What went wrong? Let me explain.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Corn World: Teeth on the Cob.

Printing Genomes

Tue 07-07-2015

You've seen bound volumes of printouts of the human reference genome. But what if at the Genome Sciences Center we wanted to print everything we sequence today?

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Curiously, printing is 44 times as expensive as sequencing. (details)

Gene Volume Control

Thu 11-06-2015

I was commissioned by Scientific American to create an information graphic based on Figure 9 in the landmark Nature Integrative analysis of 111 reference human epigenomes paper.

The original figure details the relationships between more than 100 sequenced epigenomes and genetic traits, including disease like Crohn's and Alzheimer's. These relationships were shown as a heatmap in which the epigenome-trait cell depicted the P value associated with tissue-specific H3K4me1 epigenetic modification in regions of the genome associated with the trait.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Figure 9 from Integrative analysis of 111 reference human epigenomes (Nature (2015) 518 317–330). (details)

As much as I distrust network diagrams, in this case this was the right way to show the data. The network was meticulously laid out by hand to draw attention to the layered groups of diseases of traits.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Network diagram redesign of the heatmap for a select set of traits. Only relationships with –log P > 3.9 are displayed. Appears on Graphic Science page in June 2015 issue of Scientific American. (details)

This was my second information graphic for the Graphic Science page. Last year, I illustrated the extent of differences in the gene sequence of humans, Denisovans, chimps and gorillas.

Sampling distributions and the bootstrap

Thu 11-06-2015

The bootstrap is a computational method that simulates new sample from observed data. These simulated samples can be used to determine how estimates from replicate experiments might be distributed and answer questions about precision and bias.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Sampling distributions and the bootstrap. (read)

We discuss both parametric and non-parametric bootstrap. In the former, observed data are fit to a model and then new samples are drawn using the model. In the latter, no model assumption is made and simulated samples are drawn with replacement from the observed data.

Kulesa, A., Krzywinski, M., Blainey, P. & Altman, N (2015) Points of Significance: Sampling distributions and the bootstrap Nature Methods 12:477-478.

Background reading

Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2013) Points of Significance: Importance of being uncertain. Nature Methods 10:809-810.

...more about the Points of Significance column