Graphic design for scientific figures
December 18, 2015 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of well-designed scientific figures. As a materials scientist I've encountered many horrendous figures that are difficult to understand and read. I've read about collaborations between graphic design and physical science departments, which yield much more attractive and informative figures, but these examples are few and far between. I'm hoping to apply principles from good graphic design and data visualization to my own work. Are there any resources or websites where I can learn more about this?
posted by Aanidaani to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Quick and dirty:

I have a smidgeon of training in this space and have read books in this space (for recreation) in the past, but cannot recall a specific title. Going on Amazon, a search for "data visualization" or "infographics" comes up with stuff that looks good. Relatedly, a google search turns up the following hits that look promising:

Again, the terms that will help you find this sort of thing online are "data visualization" and "infographics."
posted by Michele in California at 1:48 PM on December 18, 2015

The best way to learn is see what others do and copy it for your problem domain:

Circos (published figures)
• Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information
• Tufte's Visual Display of Quantitative Information
John W. Tukey's collected papers
d3.js Gallery
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:52 PM on December 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

You might be interested in the work of Edward Tufte, who is well regarded in this area.
posted by demiurge at 2:03 PM on December 18, 2015 [8 favorites]

+1 for Tufte, this is basically his whole thing. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, mentioned up thread, is a fantastic place to start.
posted by Itaxpica at 3:12 PM on December 18, 2015

Tufte is good, and he shows a lot of examples of good and bad and is thought provoking. But he is not the end-all-be-all of data visualization.

William Cleveland published some classic books on the subject. His books are more about "here's how you do this" than Tufte's are.

It's getting a bit harder to find this sort of stuff because so often the focus is on general purpose infographics and much less on good examples of scientific visualization.
posted by orangewired at 4:31 PM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tufte is where I got started thinking about this stuff.

Once you've read Tufte and others, I also recommend reading this article about color in data visualization -- it has definitely changed the way I think about colormaps, and has made me unwilling to accept the default colormap for almost any graphing software.

And have a look at ColorBrewer, which despite the example on the website, is not just for maps.
posted by snowmentality at 6:56 AM on December 19, 2015

I am a scientist who upped my figures game with Flowing Data (mentioned above). I learned a lot just from the blog, but eventually bought a subscription and did several of the tutorials.
posted by congen at 9:27 AM on December 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

As well as the above recommendations, have a look at the the Points of view column in Nature Methods.

You might also find the book Visual Strategies helpful.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 2:40 PM on December 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Data Elixir is the data visualization industry's hub right now.

Tufte was seminal and groundbreaking. For nuts and bolts, on-the-ground-work, everything is web-based now.
posted by nedpwolf at 4:05 PM on December 21, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you all for the suggestions; these are a ton of great ideas. Looks like I'll have to do some reading!
posted by Aanidaani at 7:48 PM on December 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

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