Workshops (2020/21)

The original Graphic Design for Scientific Figures workshops were presented in-person in January and February 2020. Due to the COVID pandemic, the workshops moved online (via Zoom) in late 2020 and in 2021. All of the training material from the in-person workshops is now available to postgraduate research students of the King’s Health Faculties, via the King’s E-learning and Training Service (KEATS) website.

An introductory video to the workshops, in the form of a conversation between Dr Mattia Veronese and Dr Gill Brown, is available to anyone outside of King’s and can be viewed here. This video explains the ethos behind the workshops, the topics that are covered and what participants can expect to learn.

More details about the workshops and the training materials, including feedback from some of the workshop participants, can be found below.


In-person workshops (January & February 2020)

The Health Science Doctoral Training Centre at King’s College London granted funding for graphic design workshops, which took place in January and February 2020. These workshops were run by Gill Brown and were designed to provide graphic design guidance for scientific visual communication, aimed at doctoral research students and research staff from King’s Health Faculties. Particular emphasis was given to the creation, editing and adapting of conceptual figures for publication and presentation.

The workshops were fully booked, with large waiting lists. An extra session of Workshop 2 was therefore scheduled for 28th February, to accommodate more participants while keeping numbers to ten or less for each session.  In total, 30 participants attended Workshop 1, and 35 participants attended the four sessions of Workshop 2, with members of the IoPPN, the Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine, and the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences all represented.

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Workshop Content

Prior to the workshops, participants were encouraged to provide examples of the kind of conceptual figures they use in their research, and would wish to be able to produce themselves. Participants also provided example journal papers, posters and slides  used in their research. These examples were referred to throughout Workshop 1, to make the discussions as relevant as possible to the work of the participants. Many of the example figures were also re-drawn in Adobe Illustrator by Gill, to be used as example files during the Workshop 2 sessions.

Workshop 1 (Theory)

Workshop 1 consisted of presentation given by Gill, and was split into two sections:

  • Section 1 covered the basics of good graphic design practice, emphasising ‘five tips for good graphic design’ and how they specifically apply to scientific figures, in papers, presentations and posters. A conceptual figure produced in the Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences in 2018 (and discussed in this blog post) was used as a case study, to highlight the effect of applying these five tips. This section concluded with a review of the example figures and posters provided by the participants, and a discussion of their merits, or otherwise, in terms of their graphic design.
  • Section 2 introduced the participants to the concept of visual elements – thinking of the building blocks that make up a figure, rather that regarding a figure as an indivisible whole. Creating elements that can easily be edited and adapted then makes it much more straightforward to create bespoke figures. The use of Adobe Illustrator to create the visual elements, and making full use of the software’s layer functionality, was demonstrated. Examples were shown of editing and combining elements, using some of the example figures provided by the participants. This demonstration was designed to prepare the participants for the hands-on use of the software in Workshop 2, and to encourage them to consider how they could potentially make use of Illustrator in their own research work.

Following the workshop, all participants were provided with a digital pdf handout that summarised the good graphic design practice covered in section 1.

Workshop 2 (Practical)

This workshop was designed to follow on from Workshop 1, but it could also be attended without any experience of Workshop 1, and several participants did that. The aim of the workshop was to provide participants with an introduction to Adobe Illustrator. While acknowledging that it takes much more than a two hour workshop to become an expert user, the participants would get the chance to try out the software for themselves and so understand how they could potentially use it in their own work.

Five days prior to the workshop, participants were sent a link to download a 7-day trial copy of the Adobe Illustrator software. They were also sent ten digital pdf guides, that covered the basic functionality of the software that would be used during the workshop. Participants were strongly encouraged to try the software and look at the guides prior to attending the workshop. They were also encouraged to provide example figures, if they had not already done so for Workshop 1.

A short presentation at the start of the workshop covered the concept of visual elements and layer functionality and showed examples of editing and combining elements in the Illustrator software. Participants were also provided with a digital pdf handout containing tips for using Illustrator for scientific figures. The bulk of the workshop was spent on two hands-on exercises for the participants.

  • In Exercise 1, the participants were provided with an example Adobe Illustrator file that contained an image of a section through a human head (shown in this blog post). The participants were given a list of tasks to perform with this file, that introduced them to the basic functionality in Illustrator.
  • In Exercise 2, the participants were provided with an example jpeg image file (in this case, showing a drawn section through a mouse brain) that they then used as a reference to try drawing in Illustrator. Once again, participants were given a list of tasks to perform, to encourage them to use all of the basic functionality they would need to use when drawing their own figures.

Throughout the exercises, Gill was on-hand to provide help on a one-to-one basis, and to provide demonstrations to individuals or small groups. The participants could also refer to their pdf guides for help.

Once these exercises were completed, participants could use the remainder of the workshop to try drawing their own figures, using reference images they had brought with them. Those Illustrator files that Gill had drawn from examples that participants had provided were given to the relevant participant, so that they could see how the figure could be constructed in Illustrator. Gill also gave advice to participants on how they could construct their figures, and on general good graphic design practice.

– Really helpful course that should be part of every PhD’s curriculum.

– Gill is great – very informative session and it was great to have a perspective from someone who understands both scientific figures and graphic design.

– A very valuable course provided by a very helpful, knowledgeable, approachable and organised course tutor.

– Really helpful hands-on course. Gill was great at helping with questions and demonstrating functions.

– Organising this workshop was such a great idea! I think it fills such an important gap in the training available to PhD students. Without it, it would have taken me forever to get to grips with Adobe Illustrator. Or I could have just stuck with PowerPoint forever …

Some of the feedback from research students who attended the workshops

Online workshops (2020 / 2021)

Two online workshops, led by Gill Brown and covering the material from Workshop 2 (Practice), were held in early December 2020. The sessions were only available to research staff and students of King’s and took place on Tuesday 8th and Friday 11th December, with space for up to 11 participants in each. Both of these sessions were fully-booked and, as there were still approximately 40 people on the waiting list, the intention was to hold further online sessions in May and June 2021.

Four more online workshops were arranged for 21st and 28th May, and for 4th and 11th June, and places were offered to those still on the waiting list. All of the workshops were fully booked and a fifth workshop was held on 18th June to ensure that everyone who had previously been on the waiting list was offered a chance to attend.

Four further online workshops have been arranged for November and December 2021. One theory workshop, for up to 50 participants, will cover good graphic design theory for scientific figures. This will be followed by three practical workshops, for up to 12 participants each, providing hands-on experience of creating and editing figures in Adobe Illustrator software. All of these workshops are now fully booked. It is hoped that in-person workshops can return in 2022, if there is sufficient demand.


Online training materials

Due to the on-going situation with the coronavirus pandemic,  there are currently no plans to repeat the workshops in-person until 2022. However, with significant technical help from the Online Distance Learning division of the IoPPN at King’s, the presentations from both workshops were remotely recorded during April 2020. A video demonstration of the two ‘hands-on’ Adobe Illustrator exercises, performed in Workshop 2, was also remotely recorded during May 2020.

All of these recordings are now available to the doctoral research students and research staff of the King’s College London Health Faculties via a page on the KEATS website. Also available are the pdf guides that were provided to participants during the in-person workshops. These guides were updated in October 2021, to take into account updates in the Adobe Illustrator software.

Screen captures from the KEATS page are included below, and these give more details about the content of the online workshops.