This post explores why research presented as illustrations and infocomics can be an effective communication tool.
We discuss the definition of illustrations and infocomics and show examples from academia.
Are you ready to find out how illustrations and infocomics can be useful for presenting research?
What are illustrations and infocomics?
Before we offer an introductory definition, it is worth mentioning that the reason these two formats are discussed together in this post is because they have similarities in design in that they are more free-flowing, creative and certainly most time-consuming to produce than the types mentioned in previous blogs.
Also, the term is ‘comic’ is clearly used more often. Yet, these are comics conveying research information, hence the name (Thank you, Luke).
My interest in research presented as illustrations and infocomics was sparked when one of our clients prompted us to present ‘3 creative ways in which they could present the findings of their report’.
We put together a visual and interactive presentation (using the Prezi online software) for our client and offered three possibilities: 1) infographics, 2) illustrations and 3) infocomics. So how did we differentiate them in our presentation?
Illustrations and research communication
Illustrations are similar to infographics, but they convey a different style of design. They provide visual explanations of the text and break the rigid structure of the text with more free-flowing visualisations.
Illustrations spark imagination and can transport the reader to the place where the research took place. This can be done by creating digital characters and by telling their story and learnings.
Moreover, illustrations combine bits of text with hand-drawn illustrated elements, adding a pop of colour and design. These design elements differ from infographics because they don’t convey data but illustrate the text. Creating illustrations is time-consuming but the result is unique.
The inspiration behind the creation of illustrations in relation to research came from the European Commission and their project about explaining what pesticides are.
What struck me about this project was the seamless blend between the text and the illustrations. They enhance the text, aid understanding of a complex topic and are appealing. In addition, the illustrations break up the text and enable the digestion of large amounts of information.
Infocomics and research communication
Infocomics combine research information in a comic format and it represents one of the most visual formats of research communication. In an infocomic the ratio of text-to-visuals needs to weigh in favour of the visuals.
For example, in infographics, visual summaries, policy briefs and illustrations the graphics bring the text to life and aid understanding. However, for infocomics the minimal text aids the interpretation of the visuals.
An infocomic has storytelling superpowers because it positions research findings into a narrative. In this sense, an infocomic contains characters and develops a story with a beginning, middle and end. Moreover, infocomics stand out as outputs of research communication because they are rare and often difficult to produce. They require specialist skills to visually interpret the research narrative, with minimal text. This is unlike infographics, visual summaries and policy briefs where the text does most explaining.
The first time I explored the potential of infocomics for research communication was related to the research from psychologists Dr Paul Aleixo and Krystina Sumner at Sheffield Hallam University where they disseminate educational material about the basics of sleep at undergraduate level. Their findings suggest that comics are effective to facilitate understanding and memorisation of complex information.
Another successful example of the use of comics in relation to research refers to Ph.D. student Veronica Berns turning her thesis into a comic format, hence creating a chemistry comic book titled ‘Atomic Size Matters’. Berns articulates complex concepts in an artistic way to non-technical audiences, i.e. her parents.
Last year we had an opportunity to experiment with presenting research as an infocomic.
The research was about social prescribing services and the journey a person can take through the system to get help.
In conclusion, it can be effective to have research presented as illustrations and infocomics. This is because these visual formats are highly creative, engaging and effective mediums to make research more accessible and digestible. They take more time to produce than infographics, visual summaries and policy briefs, but are more impactful.
This post is the last of a 4-blog series on the main visual outputs useful for research communication:
Infographics || Visual Summaries || Policy Briefs || Illustrations and Infocomics
- European Commission, Pesticides Explained, http://ec.europa.eu/assets/sante/food/plants/pesticides/lop/index.html
- Sheffield Hallam University (01 March 2017) Researchers marvel at potential of comics for learning, http://www4.shu.ac.uk/mediacentre/researchers-marvel-potential-comics-learning
- Aleixo, A., Sunmer, K. (2015) Memory for biopsychology material presented in comic book format, Taylor and Francis Online, https://doi.org/10.1080/21504857.2016.1219957
- Parr, A. (21 April 2015) Chemistry Ph.D. Student Turned Her Thesis Into a Comic Book, Mental Floss, http://mentalfloss.com/article/63280/chemistry-phd-student-turned-her-thesis-comic-book