Visual Design in Scholarly Communication

An IAP 2024 class to help you make pretty figures, tables, and visualizations for your research.


Visual design is a crucial element in various forms of scientific communication, ranging from papers, slides, to even videos. While there is an increasing need for researchers to produce high-quality visuals, it remains to be a time-consuming and sometimes very challenging task. Despite the significant role they play, there is a noticeable lack of formal education dedicated to this aspect. This subject aims to cover several key topics about visual designs in scholarly communication. Throughout this subject, you will learn:

  1. basics and principles for visual design in scholarly communication
  2. techniques for creating high-quality figures/tables/visualizations


This class is taught by Shannon Shen and Lucas Torroba Hennigen. We also feature a guest lecture by Prof. Andrew Head from UPenn.

Please join our class Slack for the latest updates and engage in our discussions. And feel free to e-mail us directly if you have any questions or need any special accommodations!


End of Class Note

Thank you very much for participating our class during IAP 2024! We hope the class might provide you with some inspirations and helpful techniques for presenting your research or work in the future.

We are in the process of finalizing the lecture notes (with a lot of extra content), and please stay tuned. (PS: there won’t be a video for the last class, but we will share the slides and notes.)

We would love to hear from your feedback for our class – feel free to drop you thoughts or suggestions in our feedback form. Thank you!

Jan 9
🎬   Recording 📑   Slides
This unit covers fundamental topics about designing visuals. We discuss why do we make visuals, what constitutes a good visual, and the process of making visuals. We study how to improve the design of visualization of the Anscombe’s quartet, as well as inspect the design process of some figures in recent papers like PaperMage.
Jan 11
🎬   Recording 📑   Slides
The lecture focuses on specific techniques for creating figures. We attempted to draw analogies between figure making and coding – what is the “algorithm”, “programming language”, and “IDE/tooling” in the context of making figures? It is followed by a live demo of making three figures, showcasing concrete techniques for using Figma to make the visuals.
Jan 16 & 18
🎬   Recording 📑   Slides
In this session, we cover how to present math and equations in research papers, focusing on both general strategies about how to convey math and typesetting tips with LaTeX.

🎬   Recording Guest Lecture
Prof. Andrew Head from UPenn gives a talk about visual design and scientific formulas, focusing on how to augment the presentation of math. This talk covers some of his latest research including Math Augmentation and FFL: A Language and Live Runtime for Styling and Labeling Typeset Math Formulas.
Jan 25
Slides & Animation
🎬   Recording 📑   Slides
This current session covers techniques on animation design in slides. In the future, we will add discussions how to translate results in papers to a slide/presentation format and the principles of making slides for talk, as well as techniques for presenting complex results.
Jan 30
This lecture will cover some other miscellaneous aspects of visual design like typesetting techniques and how LLM/GenAI can be helpful in creating visualizations.

Going further

If you enjoy this sort of content, we think you’d also be interested in the 6/11.C35/85 course being taught this Spring. We also recommend the following books:

  1. The Visual Display of Quantitive Information by Edward Tufte
  2. Visual Explanations by Edward Tufte
  3. Visualization Analysis and Design by Tamara Munzner
  4. Design Principles for Visual Communication by Maneesh Agrawala et al.