If you're a researcher, you're also a designer.
Graduate students present their work in posters, slides, graphs, and documents. We are by definition designers, but with little training. Design is not just about making colors pretty — it's about making information clear. We're working on a seminar on design for researchers. Until then, here are some of our favorite resources. They're all available from the CMU libraries ( = CMU Libraries catalog entry), and we're working to get more copies on reserve.
Theory of scientific design
How do you use color and design effectively? Instead of memorizing rules and tips, it's easier to consider some basic ideas and then work out how they apply to our work.
- Trees, Maps & Theorems , by Jean-luc Doumont, starts from first principles, such as "maximize the signal-to-noise ratio," and then applies them to dramatically improve the typical scientific figure. The book's website includes some sample content, including a summary of how to design figures and a checklist for designing slides.
- Edward Tufte is a brilliant curator of examples in the use of color and the smallest effective difference. We recommend Envisioning Information and The Visual Display of Quantitative Information .
- You may have seen the work of Nancy Duarte in her slides for Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth or her TEDx talk. She also wrote Slide:ology , about slide design, and Resonate , about speaking presence and writing.
There are many more great books out there, and we hope to make a more comprehensive reading list in the future.
Choosing color can be overwhelming. Here are some of the free resources we use to generate color palettes.
- Color Matters has a nice primer on color theory and choosing colors.
- Colorbrewer was designed to choose colors that work together for maps, and it's a great place to help with decisions about color. Are your data or ideas sequential? Try different shades of the same color. Do your data diverge? Colorbrewer shows you contrasting colors with a neutral color in between them. Are they qualitatively different? Then you want maximally distinct hues. You can generate a palette between 3 and 12 colors and preview it on a map.
- On the purely intuitive side, Adobe Kuler contains no theory, just 5-color palettes beautifully displayed. A free account allows you to save user-created palettes as favorites.
- i want hue is a powerful tool for generating color palettes that feel optimally distinct. Instead of pulling random colors based on how screens emit light (RGB space), they pull random colors based on how we actually perceive color (CIE color space). This is pretty clever, and they have extensive theory and tutorials. It's also fun to play with and watch the colors spread out into groups. While the site won't tell you how to design with color, it's a great resource for generating many distinct colors.