Designing Science

By Megan Smith

As a designer, you’re often asked to use your skills on just about anything. Design is everywhere – it’s in the Instagram posts from your favorite clothing store, the packaging design of your favorite frozen aisle item, the signage directing you to your hometown on the interstate, and even this website—but you knew this already. At the U, graphic design majors take a wide range of classes to prepare us for these scenarios. We learn web design, packaging, and branding, to name a few areas, but classes can’t always prepare us for the fields we design for.

For example, there’s little preparation or skill-building experiences for those interested in science writing/design. Developing the skill set to  work for and communicate with scientists is difficult through school work alone.

Building these professional skills is  the goal the BioTechnology Institute’s Science Communications Lab (SCL) . At SCL, we combine learning experiences with client engagement. By working directly with scientists, designers have a chance to get the science right and communicate it accurately. Plus, as an agency with a learning component, we have the flexibility to consult with our clients as needed.

I personally find this aspect of SCL is really unique and special compared to what is currently offered for design interns. I’ve built close connections to the scientists I’ve worked with, and it’s completely normal for me to send a quick email with questions or set up a meeting if I want feedback on my progress or need some more copy.

I recently had the chance to work with one of our program mentors, Estelle Smith, on an infographic of her research about science communications. The infographic I created for her focuses how science research reaches the general public and what pain points exist between scientists and communicators during the process. One thing I loved about this project was how it spoke so well to the work we do at SCL.

One of Estelle’s pain points for scientists and communicators was Communicating Methods of research, It’s a difficult topic for the scientist to explain, and for the communicator to understand. It’s hard to share science in simple terms. Information can get lost, words can be misconstrued, and if not communicated accurately, the public doesn’t understand the information. I think that because of the way SCL is set up, we can help ease this pain point on both sides. With direct connections, collaborative processes, and consistent feedback built into our process, we’re able to create interesting and insightful science media. At the same time, scientists have a chance to share their thoughts directly with us, and make sure what we’re creating accurately represents their work.

I value this aspect of SCL so much because it’s such a rarity in the communications field. The work we create is really special, and you can tell we care about what we do just by looking at it or reading it. While we’re a new program and we’re still learning some of the ropes, I think we already have a model for other programs to start looking up to.

Don’t believe me? Follow along with our blog and learn more about our work as the program progresses.

Megan is a senior Graphic Design student from Omaha, Nebraska. She’s worked at the Science Communications Lab as a Graphic Design Intern since January of 2017. She’s also involved in The Wake (the campus magazine) as a graphic designer, the CDes mentorship program, Bohemian Press (the University’s printing club), and GDSA (Graphic Design Student Association). Her interest areas in her major include experience design, art direction, print design, photography, and illustration. She hopes to one day own her own firm (or if that doesn’t pan out, her own bookstore).

Feature Image Courtesy of Mikaela Armstrong

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