How to Get Great Science Graphics – Hiring a Visual Science Communicator
Share your science story with the world! Part 2 of 3 in our FAQ series on how to hire a visual science communicator to get great graphics.
I’ve Found a Potential Visual Science Communicator: What do I Need? What Should I Ask?
Your incredible results are about to be published. You know that it’s time to hire a visual science communicator to help a larger audience understand the importance of your science and you’ve found one that wows you. (We’ll refer to visual science communicators as communicators moving forward.) (See Part 1, how to find a visual science communicator). In this post, Part 2 of our series, we’ll look at what you can do to guarantee the illustrations, graphics and animations you’re investing in represent your genius. Set up realistic expectations from the start to optimize your success.
The following guidelines for working with communicators hold true for animators, illustrators, artists and designers. In addition, many of the points apply to working with other communication professionals like writers and branding agencies. Read on to learn what information to provide, or learn, before pencil hits paper.
Help, I Don’t Have Any Science Image Ideas for the Graphics!
Hopefully, you’re excited about having custom science graphics created… but how do you approach a communicator when you don’t know where to start? It’s totally normal and OK if you don’t have a clear picture yet. That’s the job of the communicator, to visualize your ideas.
You can help ensure success by clarifying your goals and gathering references that might be helpful (more on that below). You may be thinking, “Goals? But you just said it’s OK if I don’t know what I want!” It’s OK to visually not know what you want, but here are the three questions you should be able to answer and share with the communicator:
- What Information Needs Sharing? What is the most important take-home message that you want to convey and what details do you want to include?
- Who is the Audience? Who’s attention are you trying to reach? Other scientists? The curious public? Potential investors?
- Where Will Your Graphics be Used? In a journal article, a pitch deck, or a trade booth exhibit? Perhaps the answer is multiple places including social media outreach.
We’ll go into more detail below, but those three pieces of key information help a professional communicator gauge the complexity of a project. For example, creating abstract background art for a website calls for a different depth of knowledge, but also a different skill set, from creating a biochemical mode of action diagram.
What Other Basic Project Information Should You Share to Create Great Graphics for Science?
- Due Date. How soon do you need it? Are you flexible or is it a firm publication date? Every communicator you contact will have varying availability and total project durations. Providing your timeline upfront accomplishes two things: it helps ensure that the communicator is available to complete your project in time, AND it helps establish a good work relationship, by showing that you respect the communicator’s time.
- Short Project Description. Ample reference material is always appreciated, but at a bare minimum expect to provide a few sentence summary of your work.
Defining the Logistics: Budget, Usage, and Schedule for Creating Science Visuals
More logistics…what other information should be determined upfront? It’s always best to talk about these things as soon as possible to make sure everyone agrees on the terms.
- Budget. If you’re new to working with communicators, you might not know where to start. That’s OK! But don’t be surprised if the one you’re working with tells you that they’ll get back to you. It often takes time to consider all the details of your project to accurately price. But the sooner you start the conversation, the sooner you can make sure you are a good fit.
- Usage and Licensing. Where do you expect to have your art used? In investor presentations, a public exhibit, or a printed brochure? If you’re new to working with a communicator, you might not be familiar with the role of copyrights and licensing in pricing. In a nutshell, where do you need to use the artwork? See our post on licensing to learn more.
- Other Circumstances? An often-overlooked project planning aspect is the approval process in your working group. If it’s just you or perhaps one other, edits and project approvals go quickly. If many different people need to approve, it can be really helpful to let the communicator know this upfront. That way more time can be built into the schedule for you to review the art, and the communicator can plan for potentially more revisions. Extra revisions beyond the standard 2-3 may also cost you more, so it’s helpful for everyone to understand.
- Any Add-ons? Do you have a presentation that you need the illustrations inserted into? Or different components as separate files so that you can make the most of your work? Many of these things are easier to know ahead of time, but communicators can always add them on later as well.
References! What Files Can I Prepare to Ensure Great Graphics for Science?
Once you’re feeling confident that this will be a good working relationship, here are some things you can do in preparation to begin work. This will vary by communicator, but generally, the more you can share with them the better. We at SayoStudio are excited to read your primary literature and review figures from past work. Here is a good summary of what resources will be helpful to the communicator you’ve decided to work with:
- Text Description: A 2-4 sentence description of the importance of your work at a level you would describe to another scientist outside your field (a.k.a. academic review article) is very helpful. This isn’t to tell the communicator all the details, but to understand what the key themes are. What are your research aspirations, and what advances will this work potentially lead to (even if you aren’t ready to state in the published article!)?
- Reference Images: They don’t need to be pretty (that’s the communicator’s job), but any relevant figures or PowerPoints will help them understand the process.
- Relevant Articles: Please send your relevant articles! Not only are your paper’s introduction and results important, but details in your methods can often help add graphic textures to really make the visual unique.
- Style: What do you like? Which pieces drew you to this particular communicator? What don’t you like?
What Will Working Together Be Like? I’m Worried Your Interpretation Won’t Jive With My Vision!
Our next article in our FAQ series will look at what you can expect once work gets underway. What are realistic expectations for working together? Until then, you can read more about our SayoStudio process here. If this was helpful, or if there are other aspects you’d like us to cover, please let us know in the comments. Cheers!
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