Welcome to Pictures of Numbers

By Mike Dickison 01/02/2013

I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to write about scientific data presentation here at New Zealand Sciblogs—I hope these weekly posts will be as useful for you as your comments and feedback will be for me.

What is Pictures of Numbers?

I’m interested in the practicalities of visually communicating scientific data. Years of academic training favours people who are good with words and numbers, until verbal and math skills become the default means of solving problems. But pictures, and visual thinking in general, can be powerful tools both for doing science and, especially, for communicating it. There used to be whole professions of artists, designers, and publishers who worked alongside researchers translating numbers into pictures, but scientists are increasingly having to do this (along with everything else) themselves. To help with this I have a website, also called Pictures of Numbers, and I’m working on a book which will be a practical, useful guide for busy researchers, covering things they can do right now to make their data more understandable. This blog, and the comments you make, will help determine what eventually ends up in the book.

What will this blog cover?

Most books and sites on this subject tend to be either too abstract and theoretical, or too specialised and technical. I’ll be posting reviews of the most useful books under Reading. To show what doesn’t work, and how to improve it, there will be Makeovers of published graphics; feel free to send me examples, both good and bad, and I’ll have a crack at making them better. I’ll also post general design Tips as well as some more detailed step-by-step How To guides for particular techniques, like editing a graph in Illustrator or choosing the right image resolution. Email me any questions or topics you’d like to see covered and I’ll try to fit them in.

Who am I anyway, and why should you listen to me?

I got interested in visual communication when I started out in exhibition development at the National Museum (now Te Papa), and eventually ended up teaching design and typography at polytech. But I missed working with scientists, so went back to school and did a PhD in the evolution of giant flightless birds at Duke University, in North Carolina. To help pay the rent as a grad student I ran workshops in IT and design; when I got back to New Zealand worked as an information designer, and taught in the Learning Skills Centre at the University of Canterbury. Now I freelance as Adzebill Design. Having a background in both science and graphic design is fairly unusual, I find, and it certainly helps when I’m trying to figure out what story the data is trying to tell.

Enjoy Pictures of Numbers!