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.

Photoshop for Scientific Visualization

This tutorial series explores beginner and intermediate-level Photoshop tools. For our beginner-level Photoshoppers, the chapters take you step-by-step through three mini-projects. We start with basic document creation, and move onwards to more and more advanced tools as we progress through the projects. We’ve also kept the course modular for our intermediate-level Photoshoppers. Chapters cover a single function, tool, or aspect of a tool, making it easier to jump in and out of the topics you need to explore. In this course, we will cover a wide variety of common, as well as not-so-common, tools and features that will help improve and expedite your storyboarding, illustration, and design needs.


  • Learn to set-up new documents
  • Learn to edit document settings
  • Understand the difference between CMYK and RGB
  • Learn to create text, painted layers, and vector shapes
  • Learn to create different brushes to create lines, textures, and color
  • Learn to manipulate and save paths and vector shapes
  • Learn how to manipulate visibility and editability of layers and objects
  • Learn different color and image adjustment tools
  • Understand difference between different color blending modes
  • Learn to use actions and layer comps
  • Understand how content and file types affect file size

Modeling & Rendering Organic Structures in ZBrush & Photoshop: Branching Coral

Pixologic’s ZBrush and Adobe Photoshop are a popular combination for creating digital illustration. This tutorial is a step by step demonstration of how to create a compelling illustration of a coral colony. Starting from generating a 3D model of a coral polyp, you’ll learn how to build increasingly complex organic structures. You’ll see how the speed of your digital sculpting workflow can be increased by creating custom insert mesh brushes. You’ll learn how to texture, light, and render ZBrush models and how to build a Photohsop composite from render passes generated in ZBrush. This tutorial will inspire you to develop your own illustration process by learning intermediate to advanced ZBrush techniques and Photoshop techniques.


  • Develop an appreciation for coral approaches to modeling branching organic structures
  • Learn how to create a coral polyp model using ZSpheres
  • Understand the uses of insert mesh brushes
  • Learn how to quickly construct complex organic structures
  • Learn how to establish a composition in ZBrush
  • Learn how to paint textures on to a model
  • Learn how to render passes from ZBrush for use in an Adobe Photoshop composite
  • Learn how to create a digital painting in Photoshop from ZBrush renders

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