Scientific figures don’t have to be ugly. When I design for scientists, I ask questions until I’ve isolated the ONE message that a reader should grasp from each figure. This could be a route, pattern, trend, process, difference, or distribution. Whatever the message, everything else—every other line, point, shape, color, or label—I try to make secondary. If it’s not helping, it’s hurting.
For example: At the start of my collaboration with David, he sent me a slide featuring an image of cells, chromosomes, and DNA (above, left). The extra labels, realistic shading, and twisting dimensionality muddied its message. What a reader needed to see was that life’s building blocks are a set of nesting parts, so I flattened the anatomy into a step-by-step schematic (above, right).