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Scientific graphical abstracts — design guidelines


Fonts + Design

Snellen Optotype Font with Upper and Lowercase characters

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
SnellenMK optotype font. Uppercase, lowercase and symbols to test your eyes. (zoom)
Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
SnellenMK optotype font. Uppercase, lowercase and symbols to test your eyes. (zoom)

In the process of designing my Snellen Eye Chart typographical posters, I came across the Snellen font by Andrew Howlett. I wasn't happy with all the letters, so I made attempts at giving the font an update. I call this redesign "Snellen MK", to avoid conflict with Howlett's "Snellen".

Not being a font designer, I will likely get myself into trouble.

snellen chart posters

While making my Snellen chart series, I entered the rabbit hole of optotype fonts ... and I can't get out!


Typographical posters of how the world works in the style of Snellen eye charts
 / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca buy artwork
A technically accurate Snellen chart using four genetic bases A T G C rendered as optotypes. The chart begins with the start codon ATG and ends in the stop codon TGA, which appears only once in the chart. Print at 16 in × 24 in. ( BUY ARTWORK )

Typographical posters of how the world works in the style of Snellen eye charts
 / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca buy artwork
A technically accurate Snellen chart using the nautical flag alphabet rendered as optotypes. Print at 16 in × 24 in. ( BUY ARTWORK )

The charts don't necessarily use the latest version of my Snellen font design, which fluctuates as my mood about some of the letters changes.

optotype fonts

The optotype requirement is that letters be designed on a 5 × 5 grid, and have constant stroke width. This means that both lower and upper case letters need to share the grid and stroke. To stay compatible with the eyechart paradigm, letters should be as obvious as possible.

Lorrie Frear's article What are Optotypes? Eye Charts in Focus is a great read about optotypes and eye charts.

Snellen Optotype Letter Design

uppercase

The uppercase letter design uses Herman Snellen's original chart as inspiration.

I have modified the design by Andrew Howlett (see below) for some letters. All the changes are relatively minor: more serifs and consistent stroke width for bars on R and K.

lowercase

The lowercase characters should be considered experimental.

The progress of my redesign is shown below. I would greatly appreciate feedback and suggestions!

Download SnellenMK Optotype Font

The distribution contains both Andrew's version and my redesign.

v7.002 11-Jul-2019 — Download SnellenMK optotype font

version v7.002 11-Jul-2019

Tidied all letter forms with Fontlab 6.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Snellen optotype font (version v7.002 11-Jul-2019) that includes both upper and lower case characters, along with most punctuation and some symbols. Based on design by Andrew Howlett. (zoom, download SnellenMK optotype font)

version 7 — 6 Feb 2017

Fixed g and e. Thanks to Makeesha Fisher for suggestions.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Snellen optotype font (mk.v.7). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters as well as digits and symbols. (zoom, download SnellenMK optotype font)

version 6 — 5 Feb 2017

Adjusted serifs on f, j, l, o, t to extend the full width of the grid. Added a lot more symbols.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Snellen optotype font (mk.v.6). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters as well as digits and symbols. (zoom, download SnellenMK optotype font)

version 5 — 4 Feb 2017

Added lowercase, digits and symbols.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Snellen optotype font (mk.v.5). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters as well as digits and symbols. (zoom, download SnellenMK optotype font)

version 4 — 23 Feb 2017

Adding digits.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
SnellenMK optotype font (mk.v.4). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters as well as digits. (zoom)

version 3 — 22 Feb 2017

I'm exploring the lowercase characters. I don't know what I want to do with them. Make this into a more standard font in which lowercase letters are smaller, so that letters can fit their roles clearly when text is set in sentence case, or fill out the full optotype grid.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
SnellenMK optotype font (mk.v.3). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters. (zoom)

version 2 — 22 Feb 2017

Flushed out some inconsistencies in the uppercase characters. Added serifs to more letters.

Now all the letters occuppy the full 5 × 5 grid, including the I, whose serifs were widened to allow this. While this new uppercase I isn't as pretty as the old one, it makes the entire typeface more consistent to its optotype roots.

Still struggling with the G. In the original version, the descending stroke was cut off in the middle of a grid, which I didn't like.

The S has been fixed—thanks to Elanor Lutz for feedback.

I've color coded the characters slightly differently, drawing attention to ones that I feel need more thought.

The lowercase characters aren't color coded (yet) because ... most of them need help. Primarily, I'm vacillating between making them fill the full size of the 5 × 5 square, just like the uppercase characters, and keeping them confined to a 4 × 4 square, which incurs loss of legibility. If I make the letters the same size, it will be impossible to distinguish lowercase and uppercase characters some cases (e.g. c, i). Perhaps this is desired?

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
SnellenMK optotype font (mk.v.2). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters. (zoom)

version 1 — 22 Feb 2017

First attempt at lowercase characters.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
SnellenMK optotype font (mk.v.1). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters. (zoom, download font)

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news + thoughts

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 mkweb.bcgsc.ca
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 mkweb.bcgsc.ca
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 mkweb.bcgsc.ca
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

Tue 16-03-2021

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 mkweb.bcgsc.ca
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

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 mkweb.bcgsc.ca
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 mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Graphical Abstract Design Guidelines — Clear, concise, legible and compelling.

"This data might give you a migrane"

Tue 06-10-2020

An in-depth look at my process of reacting to a bad figure — how I design a poster and tell data stories.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
A poster of high BMI and obesity prevalence for 185 countries.