I led the Design for Science Workshop today at Colorado State University. There were six participants—two people could not make it last minute—which ended up being a good number to facilitate active discussion and enhanced my ability to spend time with each participant. My goal was to make these researchers more aware of the value of design and narrative as a tool when communicating their science, especially when communicating with non-scientists.
The poster design session was an eye-opener for many. Taking their audiences into considering, and the use of design as a communication tool was often overlooked. The redesigned posters were a huge improvement, and when we surveyed random students on the campus which designs they through best communicated the science, each time the new poster was picked.
One participant was extremely interested in launching his own Experiment (the science kickstarter) to attempt to crowdfund a project. Through the case studies we discussed, he had truly latched onto the value of video and narrative to non-scientists. He understood it must be well polished and contain a narrative if it is to help achieve funding goals.
Another participant told me I should talk to the Head of the Soil and Crop Science Department to see if they would be interested in paying me to give the workshop to all undergraduate and graduate researchers in the department as part of an outreach course. While I think it’s a bit premature for that, I was flattered and I am definitely considering the possibility of selling the workshop after it has been polished and refined through multiple iterations.
The printed design book proved to be really useful because I had to omit some topics in the presentation due to lack of time. Four hours flew by and I felt like I had so much more I could discuss with them.
One topic I discovered to be particularly difficult to address was the use of narrative when communicating science. I am not an expect in narrative by any means, but I was only able to bring awareness to the need for narrative. I think some participants wanted a cookie-cutter solution how to make their research into a narrative. I had to explain how subjective narrative is, and how it has to be adapted to each of their own particular needs, and to the needs of the audience. I was able to provide some useful suggestions on how to introduce conflict into their respective scientific story, to generate empathy from their audience, and they responded well to those ideas. I believe that even if they aren’t great storytellers, their attempts to introduce a narrative into their science is a massive step in the right direction: they will only improve with each attempt.