Lately, I've been making a lot of square things round. So when Rhiannon Macrae, the Editor of Trends in Genetics, requested a Circos-like cover image for the human genetics special edition of the journal, I started drawing circles.
Circos has appeared on covers of journals and books. Some of the images were designed by me and others were drawn from papers published in the issue.
I have a collection of unpublished Circos posters and thought these might be a good starting point. Rhiannon and I narrowed the choice down to the black-and-white design that showed sequenced organisms. We also liked the complex style of a panel of hundreds of Circos images generated with the tableviewer.
The idea would be that the foreground would be more artistic and stylized, while the background was more technical and complex. I have thousands of images available from the tableviewer (e.g. huge 15,129 image matrix).
Rhiannon also wanted to include the quote by Henry David Thoreau, "Nature and human life are as various as our several constitutions. Who shall say what prospect life offers to another?" This reminded me of a similar but more tragic line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, "How many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be acted over in states unborn and accents yet unknown!"
In the early comps we played around with the idea of using non-genomics elements in the image, such as coins. We thought that we could use the variety of color and shape of the coins to communicate the idea of genetic diversity. However, after wrestling with how to do this effectively the concept was scrapped — the idea of using coins felt both arcane and arbitrary.
I decided to go with a warm brown color scheme. It's not a color I use a lot of, which makes me think that I should try to do more with it.
Deep brown provides great contrast for saturated colors, though I had to be careful not to make the image look too kitchy with an excess of colour variation. In some of the early comps shown above, two or more different color palettes were used (e.g. grey/red/blue and false color) and this lowered to overall visual cohesion of the image.
It's always a good idea to add variety to design. After all, without any variety we'd be left with a blank page. Ok, so variety is good, but too much variety is very bad, and can make you wish for that blank page again. Think about this: one kind of variety already provides variety! A variety of variety (I run the risk of recursing myself ad infinitum) can not only compete for attention but resonate destructively (that's design-speak for "turn into visual mush").
Everyone liked the combination of bright colors and dark background. This is an approach I favour too, which has worked well on other covers.
Briefly I experimented with various brush and pencil filters to give the image a more hand-drawn and organic look. Most of the illustrations I generate are very digital — blocks of solid colors and high-contrast shapes — and I thought a departure from this look could work in this case. However, like with the coins, this path didn't produce anything productive.
For specialists, visualizations should expose detail to allow for exploration and inspiration. For enthusiasts, they should provide context, integrate facts and inform. For the layperson, they should capture the essence of the topic, narrate a story and deligt.
Wired's Brandon Keim wrote up a short article about me and some of my work—Circle of Life: The Beautiful New Way to Visualize Biological Data.
Experimental designs that lack power cannot reliably detect real effects. Power of statistical tests is largely unappreciated and many underpowered studies continue to be published.
This month, Naomi and I explain what power is, how it relates to Type I and Type II errors and sample size. By understanding the relationship between these quantities you can design a study that has both low false positive rate and high power.
Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2013) Points of Significance: Power and Sample Size Nature Methods 12:1139-1140.
20 Tips for Interpreting Scientific Claims is a wonderful comment in Nature warning us about the limits of evidence.
Sutherland WJ, Spiegelhalter D & Burgman M (2013) Policy: Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims. Nature 503:335–337.
Have you wondered how statistical tests work? Why does everyone want such a small P value?
This month, Naomi and I explain how significance is measured in statistics and remind you that it does not imply biological significance. You'll also learn why the t-distribution is so important and why its shape is similar to that of a normal distribution, but not quite.
Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2013) Points of Significance: Significance, P values and t-tests Nature Methods 11:1041-1042.
Your slides are not your presentation. They are a representation of your presentation.
Effective presentations require that you have a clear narrative—control detail and emphasis to deliver your message. Engage the audience early. Don't dump on them.
Effective slides are visual cues. Show only what you can't easily say. Text should acts as emphasis. Don't read.