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# design: curious

Scientific graphical abstracts — design guidelines

# Visual Design Principles—Communicating Effectively

This talk happened on Thursday, Mar 21st 2013 at VIZBI 2013 at the Broad Institute in Boston.

How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things, with no interconnection. An artist is emotional, they think, and uses only his intuition; he sees all at once and has no need of reason. A scientist is cold, they think, and uses only his reason; he argues carefully step by step, and needs no imagination. That is all wrong. The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers. —Isaac Asimov (The Roving Mind)

For more visualization and design resources, see my VIZBI 2012 tutorials, Nature Methods Points of View column, and rant about colors.

Do not allow encoding or other design choices to hijaack your message. Each element on the page must meaningfully contribute to your figure.

## presentation video

The video will be posted at vizbi.org.

## presentation slides

Slides are available as PDF and keynote (zipped).

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A poet is, after all, a sort of scientist, but engaged in a qualitative science in which nothing is measurable. He lives with data that cannot be numbered, and his experiments can be done only once. The information in a poem is, by definition, not reproducible. He becomes an equivalent of scientist, in the act of examining and sorting the things popping in [to his head], finding the marks of remote similarity, points of distant relationship, tiny irregularities that indicate that this one is really the same as that one over there only more important. Gauging the fit, he can meticulously place pieces of the universe together, in geometric configurations that are as beautiful and balanced as crystals. —Lewis Thomas (The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher)

## breakout session—making good figures

Sketch notes by the inimitable Francis Rowland from our breakout group. The question was: what do you need to make good figures? (PDF)

## small, medium and big data visualization

If you're asking how to visualize big data, first make sure you're doing a good job on small and medium data. Each scale requires good design.

Do not expect to use one way
to tell many stories

Also consider that there is a very large number of combinations of data sets, hypotheses and possible patterns. Because of this, you cannot expect to use one way to tell many stories. There is no Holy Grail of big data visualization. But there are many good questions to ask and practices to follow that make up a process which can help you get there.

Medium data visualization. This is what happens when you show the data (a strategy that works for small data), instead of explaining it. Yup, we need to work on this too. (A) Qi X et al. J Biotech 144:43 (2012) (Saturation-Mutagenesis in Two Positions Distant from Active Site of a Klebsiella pneumoniae Glycerol Dehydratase Identifies Some Highly Active Mutants) (B) Alekseyev, M.A. et al. Genome Res 19:943 (2009) (Breakpoint graphs and ancestral genome reconstructions)
Big data visualization. Yes, data sets are growing but are visual and cognitive abilities are not. There are many data sets, each requiring its own approach. You cannot use one way to tell many stories. Lewis SN et al. PLoS ONE 6:e27175 (2011) (Prediction of Disease and Phenotype Associations from Genome-Wide Association Studies)

# 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.

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.

The first 46 digits of $\pi$ in 8 trees. There are so many more. (details)

And things can get crazy in the forest.

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.

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.

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.

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