Design Principles for Data Presentation

This tutorial is for scientists looking to improve their data figures and visualizations.  In our approach, we’ve broken down the design process into a series of practical and functional units. By doing so, we hope to help you make sense of visual design process and to show you how you can apply these principles to solve common visual problems and challenges in data presentation. By the end of the tutorial, you’ll have the tools and strategies that will allow you to design clear and strong figures that will better communicate your data.

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand cognitive design as an intersection of visual design and cognitive science.
  • Learn the three variables of cognitive design.
  • Understand how these variables can change the scope of your design.
  • Learn to focus your designs by identifying your communication objectives.
  • Learn the five key elements of design.
  • Understand how the elements can change the aesthetic nature and legibility of your designs.
  • Learn the five key principles of design.
  • Understand how the principles can affect the interpretation and communication of your designs.
  • Learn common design software used in creating data figures and visualizations.
  • Learn different formatting requirements for print versus digital media.

Advanced iBook Widget Design with Maya nDynamics

This behind-the-scenes look at how we created the Herbivore Carnivore Dentition Widget for the iBook, E. O. Wilson’s Life on Earth, will demonstrate the principles of creating dynamic simulations using Maya nDynamics. You’ll learn how to apply nParticle fluid dynamics and nConstraints through a gelatin-like meat simulation, as well as the utility of nCloth and nRigid colliders, through a leaf-clipping simulation. You’ll understand how food mastication can be simulated using keyframed animation, nParticles and instancing. Alongside these technical step-by-step explanations, we explain the motivation behind the design of these simplified models that represent food and teeth, as well as how these animations can be further improved. Finally, we explain how all of these assets can be combined using Keynote and iBooks Author to create an interactive widget for an iBook.


  • Understand the use of simplified models to represent more complex objects.
  • Learn how to use a combination of nDynamics techniques (nParticle fluid simulations, constraints, nCloth, nRigid colliders, and nParticle instancing) to create simulations of dynamic objects.
  • Learn how to use Keynote and iBooks Author to create an interactive widget for an iBook.

Storyboarding for Scientific Animation

This tutorial series will get you going with your first storyboard for scientific animation. We will cover the basics including: film and story structure, the function of shot types, the role of the camera, and the dynamics of lighting. Along the way, we will apply these topics to the storyboard. We’ll show you how to turn blank canvases into fully drawn panels that will communicate the production needs of your scientific stories.


  • Understand basic animated story structure
  • Draw and compose basic shot types
  • Draw character action and movement
  • Understand how cameras affect composition and framing
  • Draw camera action and movement
  • Apply colors and use them as visual cues
  • Understand basic lighting
  • Apply basic shading to colors
  • Understand the purpose of supporting graphics
  • Export images and create final documentation