The Study of Life
For my last quarter as a visual communication design student, we were each to design and create a project entirely of our own choosing. I was very excited about this. I wanted to help students learn complex scientific concepts in a way that made them feel both capable and excited for their own futures.
Among subjects taught in schools, science is one of the most applicable within the job market, but when studying the nitty-gritty details, this perspective of relevance is easy to lose.
The physicality of text books poses problems: their sheer size inhibits them from becoming part of regular routines—like bus rides and coffee shop [stops]—where their content could otherwise be consumed more efficiently and enjoyably. They’re also dense by design: necessarily packing as much as possible into fewer physical pages, resulting in a high text-to-imagery ratio. Illustrations can be overwhelming as they must show everything at once: all their labels and lines, and all steps in sequential diagrams appear simultaneously.
Big words halt comprehension mid-sentence, and stopping to look them up further breaks concentration and loses context.
I started by examining several textbooks. Quickly I realized I was becoming very preoccupied by the photos and diagrams alongside the text-filled pages. The imagery pulled me in, but once it had my attention, I was often distracted by its chaotically arranged elements: labels and lines crowded the white space, while arrows galore attempted to illustrate a sequential biochemical process all in one go.
I wanted the lessons feel as applicable to real life as possible from a student’s perspective. As I curated the content to include, I also developed and collected additional materials that related to actual scientific happenings and practices, beyond the established findings and theories that made up the main lesson. I organized this supplementary information into five categories, including advice about careers in the sciences and articles about the latest discoveries (which could theoretically be switched out for newer findings with software updates to the book).
I searched public databases for images and videos to include, and created illustrations to include alongside the content. The tricky part was getting the pacing down: to avoid having several pages of text with few images, or vice versa.
I wanted to embrace the interactivity afforded from making a book available on-screen. [Beyond videos and slideshows, I looked for ways the reader could control the on-screen behavior to truly interact with the content.] The way cells move with cilia and flagella particularly lent itself to user-controlled interactivity.
After identifying the gestures required by each interactive element, I explored how to style them: I wanted each action to be clear, but also for the icons’ styles to fit together cohesively.