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I have a collection of unpublished Circos posters and thought these might be a good starting point.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.
Data visualization should be informative and, where possible, tasty.
Stefan Reuscher from Bioscience and Biotechnology Center at Nagoya University celebrates a publication with a Circos cake.
The cake shows an overview of a de-novo assembled genome of a wild rice species Oryza longistaminata.
The presence of constraints in experiments, such as sample size restrictions, awkward blocking or disallowed treatment combinations may make using classical designs very difficult or impossible.
Optimal design is a powerful, general purpose alternative for high quality, statistically grounded designs under nonstandard conditions.
We discuss two types of optimal designs (D-optimal and I-optimal) and show how it can be applied to a scenario with sample size and blocking constraints.
Smucker, B., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2018) Points of significance: Optimal experimental design Nature Methods 15:599–600.
Krzywinski, M., Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Two factor designs. Nature Methods 11:1187–1188.
Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and blocking. Nature Methods 11:699–700.
Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2014) Points of significance: Designing comparative experiments. Nature Methods 11:597–598.
An illustration of the Tree of Life, showing some of the key branches.
The tree is drawn as a DNA double helix, with bases colored to encode ribosomal RNA genes from various organisms on the tree.
All living things on earth descended from a single organism called LUCA (last universal common ancestor) and inherited LUCA’s genetic code for basic biological functions, such as translating DNA and creating proteins. Constant genetic mutations shuffled and altered this inheritance and added new genetic material—a process that created the diversity of life we see today. The “tree of life” organizes all organisms based on the extent of shuffling and alteration between them. The full tree has millions of branches and every living organism has its own place at one of the leaves in the tree. The simplified tree shown here depicts all three kingdoms of life: bacteria, archaebacteria and eukaryota. For some organisms a grey bar shows when they first appeared in the tree in millions of years (Ma). The double helix winding around the tree encodes highly conserved ribosomal RNA genes from various organisms.
Johnson, H.L. (2018) The Whole Earth Cataloguer, Sactown, Jun/Jul, p. 89
An article about keyboard layouts and the history and persistence of QWERTY.
McDonald, T. (2018) Why we can't give up this odd way of typing, BBC, 25 May 2018.
I've previously taken a more fine-art approach to cover design, such for those of Nature, Genome Research and Trends in Genetics. I've used microscopy images to create a cover for PNAS—the one that made biology look like astrophysics—and thought that this is kind of material I'd start with for the MCS cover.