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Anatomy of a Figure: From BioRender Templates to Graphical Abstracts

Description: Jerry Gu (Scientific Creative Lead, BioRender) and Victoria Tokarz (Scientific Design Project Manager, BioRender) dive into the process behind our rigorous scientific template production and share case studies with tips you can use to create your next graphical abstract.

This webinar was recorded at VISUALIZE 2021, a virtual BioRender event dedicated to advancing communication in science.

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Jerry Gu is the scientific creative lead at BioRender where he manages the creative department and its production of scientific visual content for the BioRender platform. His leadership of the amazingly talented creative team who are really in many ways the heart and soul of BioRender is integral to not only the entire team here, but the company overall. Jerry has a background in biochemistry as well as a masters of science in biomedical communication from the University of Toronto.

He is hosting this next session with Victoria Tokarz, our scientific design project manager. Victoria manages the BioRender template production projects and works closely with the scientific design team in the creative department. So really excited for Jerry and Victoria to share this next session. I'll pass it over to you. Awesome. Okay. Hi, everyone. Hope your time at BioRender Visualize 2021 has been fun and informative. My name again is Jerry. Thanks for making it to our talk, anatomy of a figure from background templates to graphical abstracts. So in the next 20 minutes or so, my colleague, Vikki here and I will give a bit of a sneak peek behind closed doors about how we at BioRender make these well-designed figure templates. And hopefully, some insights that you yourself can take home and elevate your own work. A little bit of a dumb intro here, but, you know, again, I'm the scientific creative lead here at BioRender and joining me again is Vikki. I'm the science design project manager here at BioRender, and I'm also working on my PhD right now at the University of Toronto. Cool. Thanks, Vikki. And, yeah, so a quick overview of our talk here. It'll be in 3 parts. First, I'll be taking kind of a brief run through of the what and the why of the BioRender template gallery. Second, Vicki will dive into some of the key tips in making an effective graphical abstract with some examples. And lastly, I'll loop way back to talk a bit more about the how behind our production of BioRender templates.

So what is the BioRender template gallery? 

For any listeners here who might not have had much chance to use our application yet. In a nutshell, it's a basically a repository of these ready-made, fully editable templates of figures, layouts, diagrams, and schematics that you can access in the app search, find what you need, and jump in and modify things, take pieces, and turn them quickly into your own figure. Now the gallery can be accessed in-app, whether you're in your gallery page or adding a figure on your Canvas. There are over a thousand of them to choose from, and we're adding dozens more every month. BioRender has strived to expand our template gallery balancing on a variety of considerations, you know, things like feedback from our user community on what to make more of to really just generally more, I guess, intuitively, expanding coverage of content for our user base. And, of course, to any new key trends in scientific research. So then what are some key attributes or anatomy of typical BioRender templates? Here briefly listed a few of them at a glance. We're going into too much detail now. We're going to discuss some of them in more detail in a bit. But yeah.

So, you know, with this in mind, We'll hand the mic over to Vikki. Awesome. Thanks so much, Jerry. So sometimes the hardest part of making a figure is not really knowing where to start. As a scientist myself, no matter what I'm working on, I always start with a BioRender template either for inspiration or just to use parts of that in my figure. So the templates are great for many reasons, especially for publications, graphical abstracts, grant applications as we just heard about, presentations, posters, and even scicomm. But today, we're going to focus and drill down a little bit into graphical abstracts. And if you're anything like me, the graphical abstract is the last thing that you might think about when you're publishing a paper. So after you've done, like, all the experiments and the data figures are made and the paper has been written, the journal might ask you for a graphical abstract. And even if you don't need a graphical abstract for the journal that you're writing for at the time, including some sort of schematic representation of your findings at the end of your paper is almost the same.

How to make an effective graphical abstract

Alright. So you need a graphical abstract, and you want to create one, but what's the secret to making a really effective graphical abstract? Let's dive into it. So before we break down some of the ingredients that go into creating 1 of these abstracts, I just wanted to pause here to talk a little bit about why creating 1 of these abstracts and doing it really well is worth the extra time. So to start, it's the first thing that somebody else sees. Even though sometimes it's the last thing that we make, And because it's the first thing that somebody else sees, graphical abstracts can help someone decide whether or not to read your paper. If your read folder looks anything like mine, it's too many papers and so little time. So capturing someone's attention with a really good visual at the start can be really important. And then if your graphical abstract encourages more people to read your paper, it'll increase the reach and the impact of your work. Which means that more people inside of your field will see it. And also because visuals increase the accessibility of your paper to people outside of your field. That's an added bonus because these kinds of visuals make complex findings much easier for other people to also understand. So hopefully, I've made a strong case in just a short amount of time, why it's worth spending your time creating an effective graph abstract. But don't worry, I'm not gonna leave you hanging there. So here are 3 key ingredients that you can keep in mind when you're creating your graphical app extract. We're gonna go through each in detail, but they're layout, arrows, and compare and contrast.

Creating an effective graphic abstract: Layout

Alright. Let's start with layout. So in general, it's always so hard to fit an entire paper's worth of information in 1 single image. And if you don't pay close attention to the layout, your graphical abstract can become kind of a where's Waldo image. And your viewer is not quite sure where you want them to look. So these are a few of the layouts that we like to use at BioRender. So vertical and horizontal flows are really great for showing stepwise information while cyclical layouts are good for showing processes where the start and the end feed into each other. But no matter what layout you choose, picking one that guides your viewer's eye through your image is absolutely key. And here's what I mean. So this is an example of a complex figure with a lot of information. And the good thing is that everything we need to know about the paper is really nicely illustrated in this image. But as a viewer, when I'm looking at it, I'm not super sure where I'm supposed to start. This is kind of what my eye does when I look at this picture.

So it starts on the left and then it moves towards the right. And then it goes down and it follows the vessel, and then it does this, like, little loop to try to include all of that extra information. And you looking at this right now, your eye might be doing something really different, completely different to what my eye was doing, which underscores why the layout is really important. You wanna design your figures so that there's a clear path through it. So that anyone's eye follows the exact path that you wanted it to. So here's the same figure with a lot of the same illustrations, except it's laid out a little bit differently. So I'm going to give you a second just to take a look at it and see where your eye goes. Alright. Let's have a look. So this is the intended flow through the figure. And hopefully, most of us chose that same path. And if we did, that means that the layout is effective.

Creating an effective graphic abstract: Arrows

So the next key ingredient after layout is arrows. And it kinda sounds like a no brainer because arrows are in almost every figure. But they're really often overlooked as important parts of the figure. And depending on the arrow style that you choose, they can communicate totally different things. So let's look at the first 2 arrows for example. So they look quite similar, but they indicate different concepts and they do so quite subtly. So the first one has an arrowhead on the end, but then the second one is for inhibition and it has a line on that. So while the line is commonly used to indicate inhibition, The arrow actually indicates advancement forward in a pathway or something, for example. And you can get so sophisticated in your use of arrows showcased by just a couple of the examples on this slide here, but by no means limited to just these examples. And 1 of my personal favorites is the tapered tail arrow here in the second row and that one's great because it can be used to show changes like changes in size for example. This is what strategic arrow use looks like in a figure. So putting all of that together, strategic arrow use can also really help you out a lot with tip number 1, which was layout. Because it'll show your viewer exactly where to look. So in both of these images, just following the arrows tells the complete story of the figure, and it makes it so easy to understand.

Creating an effective graphic abstract:Compare and Contrast

Okay. So now you've got layouts and you've got arrows down. And let's talk about this last ingredient. Compare and contrast. And I saved this one for last because it's so important. So oftentimes, we want to convince a reader about what's new about our paper. And how it might apply or fit into what's already known in the literature. And the trick here when you're designing a figure that has this kind of story is to make it really easy for a viewer to quickly determine what's known and what's new. And there's no easier way to do that than a compare and contrast style. So let's take a look at this example here on the slide. So it's super easy to see what's the same and what's different on the left and on the right. And the reason for that is because the key players are in the exact same positions on both sides. So when something does change position, It's because it's actually changing. And that makes it really easy for your viewer to quickly pull out which part of your findings are novel. So they spend less time viewing the image before they actually understand what's going on, which in the previous talk we learned is super important for reviewers who are really busy. And which also makes them more likely to understand your findings or your grant.

Alright. So we went through a little bit, maybe quickly, 3 key important ingredients of a graphical abstract. Layout, arrows, and compare and contrast.

How we create templates at BioRender

But we're not quite done sharing all of our secrets though. So we're going to tell you a little bit about how our designers put together these ingredients and even more ingredients to make BioRender templates. So the template gallery as you learned earlier has over a thousand templates and they're created by our science design team. So these are pictures. These are pictures of a few of us. So Sally, Michelle, Samira, and myself, We all work really hard to create these templates that everybody can use. And all of us have a scientific background. Most of us are currently working on our PhDs. But now I'm going to hand it over to Jerry, and he's going to tell you exactly how we make the templates.

Thank you, Vikki. Really great insights and tips there. So, yeah, jumping into, you know, sharing a bit about how we make templates here. Really, the very first stage of our template production comes down to rigorous content research. Now depending on if our aim for a particular set of templates is to provide certain points for, you know, educators or maybe to empower researchers to in cutting edge experiments. Would make a decision to consult, you know, you know, foundational textbooks for instance, or maybe opt for publications and preprints. Or in some cases directly with an expert. But the goal here is generally the same, which is for us to scope out a plan of exactly what template topics to tackle and the best references to draw upon to ensure scientific accuracy and level of detail and expertise.

Now in stage 2, one of our in-house science designers would own a set of template topics, starting with creating a set of rough sketches. Now these sketches we do can be either traditional, you know, just with traditional media as you see on the left or directly in the app as you see on the right. Different designers prefer different approaches here. But the common goal is to quickly lay down the main flow of the story. Again, you know, harkening back to what we mentioned earlier about layout in the flow and replacing the main players into the figure. We keep no polish, no distracting details. It's super rough, so it's really easy to quickly revise or scrap.

Stage 3 is where the very same science designer would take the rough sketch and illustrate a first template draft. They don't need to worry anymore about overall layouts or placements of things and instead they're now laser focused on applying all their design principles and expertise, playing all the stops, and generating a clean template draft. Things like alignment, color choice, spacing, contrast, visual consistency are all applied here.

Now Stage 4 sees the science designer bring their first template draft into our internal BioRender review process. This is an especially rigorous process, but it's also incredibly rewarding and collaborative. The goal here is to get the team's help and turn a really solid first draft into an amazing final product. We make great use of BioRender’s newer features here actually as well. So starting with live sharing the first draft in BioRender using our real time collaboration feature and having the team review the template drafts together in real time in the app. Review the designers as well as the primary designer would also utilize BioRender's live commenting feature to the log areas to revise and address them easily, which is toggle comment mode pretty easily in BioRender actually by hitting the c key on our keyboard. And clicking anywhere on the Canvas to quickly leave a comment. A small tip there actually. And then lastly, using BioRender’s multi canvas slides feature, which I think was alluded to earlier also by Francesca. The primary science designer would take all the comments, revise the draft, iterate, and have a new slide ready with the latest draft for the next round of live reviews. Okay. So round and round, we go with the reviews. But eventually, we come to stage 5 where there is no more design feedback left. It's all good. We then, at this point, check all the details in the lens of ease of use. So should the text box be wide or narrow for ease of use? Should those cytokine dots be grouped as a binary group or kept ungrouped for eventual ease of use, and the list goes on. And, you know, once that's all done, then comes a really exciting part. Stage 6 sees us publishing the completed template into the live application gallery. You can then search and find the template and use it to help speed up your own figure work.

You think that might be the end of it, but our job, of course, doesn't end there still. The final and ongoing Stage 7 for us is to update and maintain the growing template gallery. Now it can be things like, you know, new browser features that we need to update templates for, for instance, you know, the connector lines, which were implemented very recently. We're still in the process of updating our templates for that. Or it can be in terms of, you know, just maintaining content accuracy from new discoveries. Here, I'd like to speak on behalf of the entire creative team here at BioRender to give a big shout out to all of you our passionate user community. Who never cease to amaze us with your constant feedback to help us keep our templates as well as icons accurate and top notch.

Yeah. So with that, that more or less concludes our talk here back to Vikki who will help wrap things up here.

Awesome, Jerry. Thanks for taking us through a deep dive on all the behind the scenes work that goes into creating a template. So we hope that you enjoyed this behind the scenes look. At all the ingredients that make a great graphical abstract, and then how we use those same ingredients to make templates that BioRender. And if you haven't yet, you should check out our template library after the talk because we add new templates every day. And just a little quick note before we sign off here, We do have 2 concurrent sessions after this 1, so they're going to run at the same time. And if you want to dive a little bit deeper into figure design, then you should join Shiz and I in our figure makeover session here on the main stage. But if you're interested in career opportunities at BioRender, then check out that session instead.

Due to continuous improvements in BioRender, the application may appear slightly different in some of our videos.
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