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art is science is art

In Silico Flurries: Computing a world of snow. Scientific American. 23 December 2017

visualization + design

Cover image for the human genetics special issue. Trends in Genetics October 2012, 28 (10) (lowres, hires, Trends in Genetics)

Creating the Trends in Genetics October 2012 Cover

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.

The image was published on the cover of Trends in Genetics human genetics special issue (Trends in Genetics October 2012, 28 (10)).

Tools

Circos, Circos tableviewer, Illustrator CS5, and a cup (or two) of Galileo coffee from a Rancilio Epoca.

Other Covers

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.

Journals

Cover of Blood, 2 Aug 2012, 120(5). Figure from Egan, J. B., C. X. Shi, et al. (2012). Whole-genome sequencing of multiple myeloma from diagnosis to plasma cell leukemia reveals genomic initiating events, evolution, and clonal tides. Blood 120(5): 1060-1066. (Blood)
Genomics, Aug 2012, 100(2). Figure from Katapadi, V. K., M. Nambiar, et al. (2012). Potential G-quadruplex formation at breakpoint regions of chromosomal translocations in cancer may explain their fragility. Genomics 100(2): 72-80. (Genomics)
Science Translational Medicine, December 2010, 2(61). Figure from Lo, Y. M., K. C. Chan, et al. (2010). Maternal plasma DNA sequencing reveals the genome-wide genetic and mutational profile of the fetus. Sci Transl Med 2(61): 61ra91 (Science Translational Medicine)

EMBO Journal, May 2009, 28(9). Cover design by Martin Krzywinski. (EMBO)
Nature Biotechnology, November 2009, 27(11). Figure from Cho, B. K., K. Zengler, et al. (2009). The transcription unit architecture of the Escherichia coli genome. Nat Biotechnol 27(11): 1043-1049. (Nature Biotechnology)
Genome Research, April 2008, 18(4). Cover design by Ryan Morin (Genome Research)

American Scientist, September/October 2007. Cover design by Martin Krzywinski — how it was done. (American Scientist)

Books

iGenetics, 3rd ed. by Peter Russell (Benjamin Cummings). Cover design by Martin Krzywinski. (iGenetics)
Building Bioinformatics Solutions with Perl, R and MySQL (Oxford University Press). Cover design by Martin Krzywinski. (Building Bioinformatics Solutions)
Designing Universal Knowledge by Gerlinde Schuller (Lars Müller Publishers) (Designing Universal Knowledge)

Chromosomes — art book of film stills, David Cronenberg. Contribution to book design by Martin Krzywinski. (Chromosomes)

source of design

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.

An old Circos poster. (zoom)
A panel of images generated from the Circos tableviewer. (zoom)

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!"

early comps

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.

First set of comps. (zoom)

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").

refining the design

Everyone liked the combination of bright colors and dark background. This is an approach I favour too, which has worked well on other covers.

Experimenting with an organic look. (zoom)

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.

Refining color palettes. (zoom)

final image elements

The background is created from a matrix of about 1,400 individual Circos images created by the user community using the tableviewer. (zoom)
The main element is a Circos image of a 15 x 15 table, also created with the tableviewer. (zoom)

A watermark made up from elements in a tableviewer image that show aggregate statistics for each row and column. (zoom)
A multi-crop zoom of the main element shown above. This version is colored for punch. (zoom)

Masks showing the locations of smaller vignettes. (zoom)
An 8 x 8 tableviewer image with outlined ribbons. (zoom)

Thoreau quote: Nature and human life are as various as our several constitutions. Who shall say what prospect life offers to another? (zoom)

Background and midground elements. (zoom)
Background and foreground elements. (zoom)

final image

Final image with all the layers. (Trends in Genetics October 2012, 28 (10)) (zoom)
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Optimal experimental design

Tue 31-07-2018
Customize the experiment for the setting instead of adjusting the setting to fit a classical design.

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.

Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Optimal experimental design. (read)

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.

The Whole Earth Cataloguer

Mon 30-07-2018
All the living things.

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.

The circle of life. (read, zoom)

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

Why we can't give up this odd way of typing

Mon 30-07-2018
All fingers report to home row.

An article about keyboard layouts and the history and persistence of QWERTY.

My Carpalx keyboard optimization software is mentioned along with my World's Most Difficult Layout: TNWMLC. True typing hell.

TNWMLC requires seriously flexible digits. It’s 87% more difficult than using a standard Qwerty keyboard, according to Martin Krzywinski, who created it (Credit: Ben Nelms). (read)

McDonald, T. (2018) Why we can't give up this odd way of typing, BBC, 25 May 2018.

Molecular Case Studies Cover

Fri 06-07-2018

The theme of the April issue of Molecular Case Studies is precision oncogenomics. We have three papers in the issue based on work done in our Personalized Oncogenomics Program (POG).

The covers of Molecular Case Studies typically show microscopy images, with some shown in a more abstract fashion. There's also the occasional Circos plot.

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.

Cover design for Apr 2018 issue of Molecular Case Studies. (details)

Happy 2018 $\tau$ Day—Art for everyone

Wed 27-06-2018
You know what day it is. (details)