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Our Science Communications Director, Tyler Ford, also creates written, visual, and social media  content for biotech companies and researchers. As you might imagine, Tyler often makes use of the visual communication strategies he’s learned from our S.P.A.R.K. online course.

Below, we walk through a few of the strategies Tyler applied to the creation of this infographic for Mammoth Biosciences:

The goal of this infographic is to quickly introduce viewers to the research field called “metagenomics.” Researchers in this field isolate DNA sequences from all over the world. Then, they use their computational expertise to determine the kinds of organisms these sequences come from, how they are related, and what cellular parts they encode. All without actually growing the source organisms in a lab!

This field is particularly exciting because many of the DNA sequences discovered encode cellular parts with useful functions. These can advance biological research and its applications in new and exciting ways.

So what are some of the strategies Tyler put to work in this infographic?

S – Serve a sandwich

In our S.P.A.R.K. course, “S” stands for “serve a sandwich.” This means that you can best serve your science content to your audience if it’s sandwiched in context. Like the bread of an edible sandwich, context makes your content easier to grasp, to share, and to carry away. In the graphic above, Tyler serves both a visual and a verbal context sandwich.

First, the main content—the three colored panels of discoveries—are visually sandwiched between images of the globe/DNA and the Mammoth Biosciences logo. The viewer can quickly tell that the discoveries come from DNA isolated from all over the world, and that the work is being done at Mammoth.

In addition, the introductory block of text also serves up a context sandwich by explaining:

  • Context – we have access to DNA sequences from all over the world but don’t know what they do. 
  • Content – Metagenomics allows us to discover the functions of these DNA sequences. 
  • Context – These functions can later be put to use in biotech (e.g. at Mammoth).

A – Access your audience

Whenever you design new science communication content, it’s extremely important to access your audience—the “A” in S.P.A.R.K.. That is, you must approach your audience with their baseline understanding of your topic in mind. Then, you must tailor your content to that level of understanding.

The primary audience for this particular infographic is people who know at least college-level biology. In the first of three panels, Tyler starts off with a common visual metaphor by depicting new CRISPR proteins as tools in a toolbox. This makes the infographic accessible on a basic level to a broad audience. Even if some viewers don’t completely grasp the more technical discoveries in the later panels, they’ll understand the fundamental message of this infographic.

But in the second and third panels, Tyler uses images that may be familiar only to the target audience—a cellular production pathway in the blue panel and a “phage” in the green panel. These depictions are acceptable to use here because they’re compatible with the audience’s baseline understanding of the topic. So it’s OK to use imagery that’s only accessible to those with some in-depth biology training. 

Similarly, Tyler uses some technical jargon (e.g. CRISPR, phage) in the text. It’s reasonable to expect this jargon to be familiar to the target audience. Indeed, this particular audience might even be a little annoyed if he didn’t use such terminology. However, the same language would be inappropriate if the target audience was a broader, less scientifically-educated one.

K – Keep it clear

To avoid confusing viewers, it’s very important to simplify your pictures and remove clutter. That is, you must keep them clear (the “K” in S.P.A.R.K.).

Tyler keeps this infographic clear in a few ways. First, he minimizes his use of color by limiting it to tones of green, orange and blue. An over-abundance of color can overwhelm the viewer, while a limited palette like this one is more than enough to convey the content successfully. Not coincidentally, these are Mammoth’s brand colors, ensuring that this graphic will align well with other images and graphics on the Mammoth website.

Second, Tyler avoids cluttering up the infographic. He keeps the text to a minimum and avoids long sentences. He also uses simple depictions of biological parts and processes. For example, he doesn’t use a biologically accurate depiction of a phage. Instead, he uses a simplified line drawing that gets the concept across without too much detail. Finally, he doesn’t crowd the graphic, leaving plenty of space between the various parts.

Room for improvement – Plan a path

While we think Tyler’s picture is great, as in all things, there is room for improvement. One thing Tyler could do to improve this infographic is to provide more consistency in planning his visual path (The “P” in S.P.A.R.K.).

The majority of the infographic reads from left to right. However, the viewer is initially drawn to the large globe at the top right of the picture. This sets the viewer up to follow a path from right to left.

To avoid this issue, Tyler could simply place the large, attention-grabbing graphic on the left side of the infographic so it’s consistent with the panels below. Indeed, Tyler plans on doing this in the future when he creates infographics with a similar design.

More strategies for successful visual communication in S.P.A.R.K.

We urge you to check out the full S.P.A.R.K. course for many more examples of our visual communication strategies in action.

Finally, Tyler would like to thank Graphics and User Interface Designer, Wu Li, for his help in creating some of the components in the metagenomics infographic. Tyler stresses that, by working with experienced designers like Wu, it’s possible to make better pictures than you could on your own. And, following the S.P.A.R.K. strategies when creating initial mock-ups, makes it much easier to work with designers on the final product.


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