Shiz Aoki (Co-founder & CEO, BioRender) kicked off the BioRender VISUALIZE 2021 event with an opening keynote including some exciting new feature announcements!
This webinar was recorded at VISUALIZE 2021, a virtual BioRender event dedicated to advancing communication in science.
Hey everyone, welcome to BioRender Visualize 2021. Let's do a quick mic check here, hopefully you can all hear me. Great, okay. This event is dedicated to visual science communication. We're floored by the turnout we had, with over 6,000 registrants for this event and thousands more who requested the recording because they might be on the other side of the world or due to time zone restrictions. We also know that there are a lot of events going on right now, it being conference season, so we're honored that you've chosen to take time out of your busy schedule to join us.
We have a ton in store over the next few days. We've got an amazing panel of guest speakers who will share with us how they've found success by incorporating better designs into their day-to-day work. We have workshops on how to make better grant figures and posters, as well as sessions on very tactical and easy-to-use design principles that we hope will inspire you to improve your own figures. We encourage you to participate in the chat. I already see a lot of comments and conversations going on, so that's great. Ask questions, we've got a lot of people overseeing the chat from the BioRender team. You can get to know each other a little bit, and even stop by our Career Booth where we'll actually be going through some great opportunities to come work at BioRender. Shameless plug, but if you're passionate about science communication and want to join our mission to empower the world to learn and communicate science through visuals, check those opportunities out later.
Now, before I dive into some really amazing new features in BioRender, I wanted to kick things off with a little bit of how BioRender came to be because I think not a lot of people know about the backstory. When we started BioRender as a company four years ago, we really had no idea the kind of reception we would get. In fact, personally, I started out as a medical illustrator from Johns Hopkins about 12 years ago, and my main passion was actually being in the OR or the wet lab, working with surgeons and researchers on how to visualize the latest techniques and findings, and create figures that would then go on to teach the next generation of technical audiences. But it wasn't until I started working at National Geographic that I realized the true equalizer that visuals were. They could empower anyone of any demographic to learn something as complex as, say, the layers of mako shark anatomy shown here.
This photo is actually an image that a college roommate sent to me. It's of her two little boys. She said that they were enamored by some of the centerfolds in Nat Geo, and I was honored to play a part in that. So working there, I realized that effective visual communication really enables us to captivate audiences with all levels of knowledge. And when I branched off to start my own studio, I was excited again to work with incredible scientists on groundbreaking research like all of you in the audience. Sometimes images would be rather involved or complex like this, and I quickly realized that there were still so few of us trained medical illustrators in the world. At Johns Hopkins where I trained, there were four to six students a year in the medical illustration program max, and the demand for science visuals is still growing every day.
In fact, I think there are about 30 globally who graduate from accredited schools, so that's an incredible, but small number that I didn't actually appreciate until leaving. So what ended up happening was you'd end up opening up a journal and see images like this that weren't the type that I was used to seeing, created with our studio or my colleagues, but more images like this, made in PowerPoint, Microsoft Paint or sometimes Adobe Illustrator, for those that are more brave-hearted. And some of them looked beautiful, they probably took a very long time to make, but that was just super disheartening. Not only that, it became clear that there was no sort of visual standard to the iconography. Sometimes an antigen-presenting cell was the spiky ball that you see (I don't know if you see my mouse), and sometimes it was a cancer cell, so that made consuming the information a huge cognitive load not just in making the figures but understanding them, so you know, we set in on a journey along with my two co-founders Katya and Ryan. There they are. We wanted to set out to democratize science communication to empower the world to learn and communicate science faster through visuals. Now, those of you who have used BioRender might know it as you see it today. It's a very robust, powerful design tool. There's always room for improvement, but it's something that we've come to be very proud of. We have close to a million BioRender users around the world.
But I wanted to show a V1 of what BioRender used to be. Now, we rarely show this, and I think my co-founders might be cringing right now, but I sort of wanted to show our humble beginnings because, you know, just like science, company building and product building is a very iterative, collaborative process, and it all just starts with an idea. So, you know, this doesn't seem like much, but this was sort of the seedling to what would become BioRender today. And you know, when we showed investors, they didn't immediately see the vision, I would say. But when we showed scientists like yourselves, you know, it was pretty unanimous. I think you all got it right away. There was a major pain point that we thought we might be uniquely qualified to help solve. So, you know, we had a cell. We had the ability to write text. You could underline the text. That was really exciting for me. But, you know, very different from what you see today in the app.
And you know, the three of us started out squatting in a free co-working space four years ago, as I mentioned, out of the University of Toronto. We put up a banner and we got to work. And I really wanted to point this out today because BioRender would not be where it is today without the floods of requests and feedback and emails and support from all of you all over the world. And you know, that came in through Twitter, email. You gave us all the inspiration and courage to keep going and improving the platform every day. Here was a tweet that was sent out by someone out in the Bay area, and we were kind of excited that people even gave us a time of day.
And you know, fast forward, we're close to about 80 people strong at BioRender today, many of whom are actually here in the audience. We're remote first. We do have quite a bit of a nicer office than this now, but you know, this is where it all started. And BioRender consecutively got better and better. This is sort of, I guess, maybe V3 or V4, like they say. If you're not embarrassed by your first version, then you've probably launched too late. And then, you know, it got better still. Here's the next version.
And over the last four years, every single one of us at BioRender has been dedicated to helping you all make your lives easier and really help the world communicate science, by democratizing the power of effective visuals and design. That's really at the core of what we do and why we do what we do every day.
So, at Nat Geo, we drew about 20 figures a year when I ran the studio. We drew about maybe 100, 200 at most. You know, that was our capacity, really. And I'm proud to share that scientists are now empowered to be able to make 400,000 plus figures every single month within BioRender. So, just that number alone, we're really proud of. It means that we've sort of unlocked the ability to give you all the power back into your hands to make diagrams and figures, to really boost communication and help learning and education. That's millions of hours saved, you know, that otherwise you would have spent pulling away again, making figures in PowerPoint and Illustrator and other means.
Now, the fun part. I wanted to share a few even more exciting upgrades that BioRender has gone through in the past weeks, including just yesterday. Our product and development team have been working very hard to showcase to you today a few really cool features, and I get to do the fun part of showing you all.
First thing is real-time collaboration. So now, you can synchronously and asynchronously collaborate on the exact same file with multiple colleagues. You can start a figure, pass it off, have someone else finish it. You can leave comments on precise areas of the figure that you want to edit. And I actually can't do it justice without showing you in the app, so let me just give you a quick 30-second demo of it. Hopefully, you can still see my screen. Yeah, I got the thumbs up. All right, sorry for showing my messy screen here, but you can actually show comments, which is super cool, and hide comments. This is actually a figure that was bravely volunteered by one of you in the audience, I believe, today. We're actually going to be going through a figure makeover session.
Tomorrow, you can join the webinar where we'll show you how we went from this to this. Some of it was actually collaboration, so these comments were made by our designers in-house. They went through the figure and added their comments. These little check marks mean that the comment is resolved, so the figure comment has been looked at and taken into account. I'm sure some of you in the audience are guilty of printing out a figure, taking a Sharpie and adding a comment, then scanning it back in and putting it in an email. This will hopefully eliminate that and really speed up your design process. It's really a powerful tool, as you can see here. These are all of the collaborators on the file, so again, I don't have to be here live as they're making those edits, but it's really exciting that they can leave edits. You can actually create versions of this image too. If I duplicate it, you can kind of go in, make changes, and you can have V1, V2, V3 right in one file. So a really exciting real-time collaboration feature there.
The next really exciting feature that I wanted to highlight is the notion of shared folders. This is really exciting for me because I know this has been a little bit of a pain point for some of you in having to collaborate on multiple figures. Maybe you belong to multiple teams, you don't always work with the same people all the time, you might have collaborators for one manuscript and a set of collaborators for another. This will really empower you to be able to create pseudo multiple teams in a sense. If you think of a folder as a team in and of itself, name the folder, you know, Lab One, Lab Two, Manuscript One, and then invite very specific people to those folders. Not only that, within those folders, you can have real-time collaborative files. Lots of opportunities to collaborate with collaborators, and you can actually restrict permissions to be view only, so maybe you want to send it to an editor and you don't want them to really muck up your designs, you can actually just give them view only permissions. Lots of really exciting levels there you can play with. So that's shared folders. Again, I'm not going to do it justice without showing you know it in real time here, so you're going to have your own folders along the top here and then shared with me at the bottom. It's really exciting that it sort of split up now, so it's easy for you to see the difference there. And this folder, I can open up my share permissions and see who all are collaborating on that folder, which means everybody here now has access to all the files in that folder. So really exciting, I can have as many shared folders as I like. It's a pretty complex thing to build, so really big kudos out to the engineering product team for this. It's sort of a matrix of math that I can't comprehend, but definitely check it out and it should be live, I think after today's talk if not now, so go ahead and try it out yourself. Really excited to hear your feedback on that.
The next thing I wanted to highlight is something that I'll just use the app directly to demo here.
And that's the notion of connector lines. You might think you know what a connector line is. I'm sorry, I'm looking over here because my monitor is here so I need to see it, but connector lines are something that we actually had a lot of requests for. So I don't know if you've ever been in this position where you've had to create a box, maybe connect the two, and have them move directly with the arrow itself. I think a couple of other apps allow for this to create flow diagrams, even pathways. Now, with BioRender, you can actually connect the line directly to the object and so those lines, I think pretty much any line in BioRender now will stick to virtually any object.
So you can see here, I've now connected these two boxes and they are going to move together no matter where I place it. In fact, I think they've gone ahead and outdone themselves where you can actually point to any place on the object. So you can see here, some pretty fancy math happening. You can also get pretty fancy and connect branched lines like this. So, some really neat things that you could do. You could get pretty fancy, of course, with flow diagrams. You don't have to now adjust the line every time you move it. It's going to be connected so that's going to save you a lot of time. Again, we're going to give you all back time in your day so hopefully that will help.
And then you know some other fancy stuff happening here mathematically that I will not begin to pretend to understand but just these sort of curves and lines that it sort of holds true to is really cool when you start creating complex pathways like this. I'm sure you've all been in this situation before where you know things have to nudge around a little bit. It's not going to be perfect the first time you place it but look how easy it is when you know I have to make those minor adjustments like so. So go ahead and try that out, basically any line I think in the app except for these circular ones can be made into a connector line so go ahead and try that out, hopefully that speeds up your illustration process. The last thing you could do is pretty fancy. These sort of we call zooms or call outs in the medical illustration world where you know you create these sort of faded lines. So if you have maybe a body of text that you want to move into your figure, you know you'll want to move that around. So again, a lot of applications for connector lines.
The next cool feature that we actually launched, I believe a month or so ago, but many of you may not have known about yet, and that's the ability to upload your own pdb. I don't know who in the room here uses the protein data bank or structural you know crystallized proteins but this is a really neat feature that we've recently launched so what you can do is actually upload your very own pdb files. I'm going to go ahead and add one that I've grabbed from the protein database earlier, give it a name, load the protein and what it's going to do is it's going to kind of create a beautiful palette of colors that our artists have selected and you can choose different shading styles and all of that, rotate it, create an icon and there you go, beautiful custom icon that you've uploaded yourself. Then you can use Primal and all of that to edit the original pdb file and then bring in that customized pdb into BioRender. This is sort of a fancy trick I wanted to leave you with. You could do some pretty cool things to BioRender here by layering proteins like so. Some pretty powerful stuff there, that's customized pdb upload.
Finally, I wanted to show something really neat based on feedback we got about being able to customize your own figures. I know we're trying to sort of standardize the way science is visualized and really help you all speed up the drawing and illustration process but along the way, you also wanted to give you your own flair and perhaps your own branding if you're part of a team or a company that has a certain maybe hex code that you have to abide by or if you just have favorite colors. BioRender used to not have that so this is kind of meta, maybe I'll present actually by the way it is also meta because I'm using BioRender slides to present about slides but you can actually present directly in BioRender which is really cool.
So here I am, I'm now in BioRender presenting about BioRender. This is what it used to look like. I don't know if you know again the BioRender advocates in the room used to use colors this way. So you'd select a cell and our illustrators actually made these one by one, all of these colors, they toiled away and created a perfect shade of green, perfect shade of red.
Um, but you know, we had to upload all of those. It would sometimes cover up the cell, as you can see here. Not only that, it was kind of useless at the end of the day if you had any sort of color vision deficiencies. It would be totally blown out because the shades were very close. Also, there's no indication of which color you've actually used last. That's feedback we got. You also don't know what color is what. We've had a lot of BioRender users write in and say, "Hey, I use red instead of green by accident because I don't know what color I'm using." So, we took that into account.
Another thing we got feedback on is sometimes I don't know if anyone in the audience here has work where they stain the membrane of a cell. That was not possible with our previous icon sets. So, we got to work, we did some brainstorming, did a little bit of exploring of how we could actually sort of exploit these icons to do that. And I'm very excited to show you today that we have a lot of more advanced capabilities in the app. So, as you can see here, I've selected this cell. There's no longer this drop-down along the top, it's actually become a properties panel on the left-hand side. That's new in and of itself. We're going to add a lot of cool enhancements here, so look out for that. We've got a lot more real estate to work with now.
We can select obviously the presets that used to exist, but now you can actually select any color under the rainbow for virtually every single icon in BioRender. So, this dendrite cell, if your heart chooses to have it to be a red, very unique shade of red, if you have the hex code, you can go ahead and change it to that. You could take it a step further and change the nucleus. Sometimes you want the nucleus to be a little bit darker or lighter. You can actually do that as well. If you want the nucleus to be lighter or remove it completely, you can do that. Another really neat thing is, from what we've heard, sometimes membrane degradation has to be very visible, maybe during apoptosis. So, what you can now do is actually create a border that's sort of dashed to make it look like maybe the membrane's compromised. That's really neat. You can almost treat it like a line, a dashed line. Change the border of stroke, you can make it glow. Some of you might be doing work where you actually have translucencies or glows to your cells and proteins, so that's possible as well. And then again, any color under the rainbow you can select. Something, if I wanted to have it more of like a glowing green, you could do that. So, lots of possibilities there. I hope you can test it out, let us know your thoughts, but we think this is a huge improvement to really empowering you all to really select any color under the rainbow for your needs. Let's see here, what else could I show? Any uploaded object into BioRender can also be edited. So, here's this BioRender logo. Sometimes I need a white version of the logo though, so I can make that white, and you can see here that it is not a BioRender native icon. It's something that I uploaded, but it actually now has a different color applied. For some reason, if I want to make the color of my histo histology slide different, you can do that as well. So, some photo editing abilities are in there, and then, of course, again, any object. This is an uploaded PNG. Any object that I upload, I can actually change the color of, so some really powerful capabilities there with custom color icons. Lastly, I'll just finish off with some of our glassware. I know a lot of you working in the lab sometimes need different colored liquid, so here again, you're showing layers of the icon. Perhaps you want it to be a little bit of a lighter shade. You know all the things that I showed previously are now also capable within the app. So, I don't know if you have ever had something like this where the liquid is glowing, but that's possible. Maybe the beaker you're using in your lab is of a different color, so you can actually change the beaker color as well. Lots of opportunities there, so definitely test it out. We'd love to hear your thoughts and I'm super excited to have this launch. I believe today should be available to everybody. Again, some of these features are available through subscriptions in BioRender, but you can actually try any of the features out on a free trial. So go ahead and try that out. There's no risk really in trying it out that way, and let us know your thoughts.
Okay, so I think, I think that's everything that I am allowed to show. Now, I'm gonna pause there. There's probably a lot more that I would love to demo. I could talk all day about how excited I am about these new features. Keep it relatively high level. Actually, in the subsequent sessions, we're going to go through how to incorporate these and other amazing BioRender features into your day-to-day. So be sure to join those workshops and sessions. Also, I wanted to pause and give you a huge round of applause to, of course, engineers, designers, and the marketing team here at BioRender to make this event and these amazing features possible. It all came together so smoothly. Great, I'm gonna head back to my slide deck here, and um, I, you know, hope you enjoy the rest of the conference. I'm actually going to be joining you all now in the audience. We'll be hanging out in the chats together. I've been looking forward to hearing from the rest of these speakers.