This is the first post in a 3-part series covering Meredith Boyter Newlove’s career and examples of her consequential work with the CDC.
Meredith Boyter Newlove is a health communicator specializing in creative data visualization at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. She and her “data viz” colleagues make up one of six specialized creative teams that support all CDC Centers and Emergency Responses including COVID-19, Zika, and Ebola. Meredith earned dual BFAs in Graphic Design and Scientific Illustration (2004) from the University of Georgia and a Master of Science (2008) from the Medical Illustration Graduate Program at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) now Augusta University. Driven by a love of color, design, nature, and people, Meredith considers her work in global public health—surrounded by top-notch creatives and experts in science and communications—her dream job and a true privilege.
An early focus on the intersection of art and science
Art and science have always coexisted in my life. My father, Charles Boyter, MS, is a Certified Medical Illustrator. My twin sister, Elizabeth, and I loved to explore the wonders in his basement studio. His cool art supplies and the X-rays, skeletons, models, cicada shells, bits of a wasp’s nest… were most interesting when we were supposed to be in bed. We would comb through his library of science and medical books, stopping on illustrations by Dr. Frank Netter. Awed by the way bodies are put together, and what can go wrong, we asked a lot of questions. Both Elizabeth and I “developed” almost every ailment in all the body systems in those books! (She has always kept her passion for medicine and is a talented Physician Assistant in Neurology in Atlanta.)
Netter demystified the human machine and gave it magic. His signature colors and textures had me thinking our insides were a rainbow. I wondered, “How did he DO that?” And our own dad was in this club! I watched him inking his bold linework, airbrushing rich colors, and cutting friskets—always so meticulously—then learning and mastering Adobe software with equal dedication. I just couldn’t fathom how he got there. I couldn’t imagine then that I would also visualize science… and in such different ways.
As I started really getting into art in middle school, my dad introduced me to nuances of light, shadow, and perspective, and pointed out the colors hiding in plain sight. It empowered me but also showed me just how much I had to learn. He gave me honest critique (even when I didn’t ask for it!) and taught me the value of hard work toward a goal. He has shown me that “anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
My dad and I are part of a very small club of medical illustration legacies. When I was young, I took for granted my early exposure to his careful craftsmanship and the community of colleagues and clients who passed through our front door. But I see it now as the opportunity that breathed life into my current career path.
My own career path began with design–my anchor. I’m inspired by nature’s flawless color combinations, wabi-sabi, the magic of bioluminescence, and the play of light and shadow. I’m drawn to boldness and dimension and the way things sit on a surface or screen. Commercial illustration, fashion, and advertising have always fascinated me, and I’ve long imagined myself in those industries too, even down to the copywriting. There’s always been this undercurrent of communication—reaching people—and a drive to create moments.
When I began my design career in ‘04, I worked on the UGA campus alongside the seasoned communicators at Georgia Magazine and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The next year, I joined Nucleus Medical Media in Kennesaw, GA to produce printed and digital pharmaceutical promotions and Nucleus health communication products. I worked with wonderful people that included medical illustrators, designers, and my first art director. The patient education products I worked on at Nucleus really lit a fire under me. I enjoyed merging illustrations and design methods into tools targeted for understanding. With kudos to Nucleus, I grew into a designer ready to expand my skills. I was sure I couldn’t possibly choose between illustration and design, but if I worked hard enough, maybe I could do both and reach people more widely with my work.
Graphic designer… and medical illustrator
I applied to the MCG Medical Illustration Graduate Program and, after a rigorous process, was accepted into the Class of ’08. MCG’s outstanding faculty, immersive academic curriculum, and specialized creative training unlocked my potential. As a trained medical illustrator, I gained the new range of capabilities and the depth of experience I needed to move forward.
So, in ‘08, I returned to Nucleus, this time as both a graphic designer and medical illustrator. My first tasks were illustrations and exhibits for the Nucleus medical-legal division. Then, I teamed up with other talents at Nucleus and developed web and mobile app interface elements, motion graphics, and pharmaceutical campaign design products. In addition, as part of the Nucleus medical writing team, I composed action and voiceover scripts to support client products and content for the Nucleus Medical Art Library. In these roles, I learned so much about visual storytelling and the value of team and client relationships. Over time, art direction became my primary focus.
Transitioning to a role that impacts global public health
While I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Nucleus, I longed to work in a role with broader impact. I wanted to be able to make design decisions that affect people’s lives every day. Early public health posters are great examples of the bold decision-making I admire so much. In many cases, it’s simply a headline, a striking image (often a hand-tooled illustration), and a call to action. These posters have always drawn me like a magnet, especially the historic examples I saw while visiting the David J. Sencer CDC Museum years ago. I felt sure that one day I could adapt my work to reach global audiences… and have a direct positive impact on other people’s lives.
My chance at CDC came in 2013! I joined the medical illustration and multimedia team, working with scientists and communicators to create broad-ranging visuals for screen, print, and motion graphics. Our illustrations communicated public health messaging from all corners of the CDC, including several Emergency Responses. Sometimes—as with patient education—we were looking for a gentle approach. Other times, we were after a more attention-grabbing impact. Ideally, we achieved our messaging goals with a thoughtful marriage of visualization and narrative. Through seven and a half years—and almost every imaginable creative challenge—my phenomenal CDC teammates and friends have taught me so much.
Now, I have the opportunity to work as a health communicator in creative data visualization at the CDC. With an extensive drawing background, experience in varied traditional and digital media, and a commitment to accuracy, I try to approach each communication challenge and visualization with both an illustrator’s and a designer’s eye. I’m grateful that my combined graphic design and medical illustration training have armed me with what I need to make the impact I’ve always dreamed of making on global public health.
In our next post, we’ll dive into Meredith’s work at the CDC in more detail. Stay tuned!