On Book Making

Hi, I’m Sarah, a design trainee from Australia who has been on the EMBL design team for 7 months now. For the past few months i’ve been working on the EMBL Teenager activity book. This book is just one example of the variety of projects the design team takes on.

Creating something from scratch, especially when you barely remember anything about the topic for the book, requires quite a bit of research. The first step I had to do to ensure everything would make sense and not turn science into full-blown science-fiction, included a trip into the world of “Molecular Biology for Dummies”. Making notes and watching explainer videos one after the other on repeat (I’m still not convinced I fully understand translation), I was eventually able to figure out a way to merge this factual information with story telling. The world of DNA is complex and choosing what to omit and put in was a process in itself.

After the DNA research phase, I proceeded to explore the visual side of things and compile a mood board for the direction I aimed to go in. Focusing on specific imagery and a minimal colour palette, I wanted to capture the target demographics (teens ages 1-16) attention. Style plays a big role in this, I wanted to create something that was cute and edgy at the same time, something not too complex to draw within time constraints and also not too naïve looking.

I usually create some very quick thumbnail sketches of the layouts to see the flow of the story.

Then I make the first draft of the pages in pencil with very rough sketches of the panels, speech bubbles and characters.

The second draft involves more refined pencil drawings that are ready to go over in pen/ink.

Usually when you go straight from scanner to screen the image will not be as dark or crisp as you would like. Touch ups in Photoshop, playing around with contrast levels and transparencies ensures a cleaner image.

Meshing activities within the story whilst trying to remain relevant became quite a challenge. Especially as I didn’t want the story to become one big long explanation of every single process from DNA > Protein. When I realised that there needed to be more information involved I decided it would be best to keep these as infographic based activities.

Something that separates comics from other mediums is the inclusion of text and image together. This relationship between the two, much like graphic design, opens up a whole new world of how a story can be told. In linguistics it has been shown that readers read comics in a way that is different to that of reading a text based novel. Comics have remained popular among adolescences due to this distinction, especially for those that dislike reading. The order and direction that panels are read are dependant on different factors including layout, size and shape. In creating these layouts I wanted to combine traditional methods of visual storytelling with more experimental ones. I felt that having square panels on every single page can become a tad stagnant.

Visual story telling can be an incredibly helpful learning tool across all disciplines whether that be science, art, literature or whatever really. It evades the verbose and allows for experimentation. I hope to continue creating more stories and narrative driven design in the future!





Science and Design


Roberto Aarnio/EMBL

Hello! I’m Roberto, a graphic design intern from Finland who is about to complete his six-month internship at EMBL Heidelberg. I started at EMBL in August 2018.

As a graphic design intern at EMBL, I worked in the Strategy and Communications department. I have had the pleasure to work with a very talented and diverse team of individuals who come from all corners of the world.

My work focused on producing designs in a wide range of media for internal communications at EMBL. This included conference materials, stickers and many other things. I have also had the pleasure to work on a couple of more unusual projects like a drawing book for kindergarten-aged children or filming an interview with an artist, Tai Shan Schierenberg.

During my six months at EMBL, I have found it interesting to be able to see and be part of the way science and design can be integrated together. Science is certainly a field which has not yet been fully transformed by design, in my opinion – unlike other fields, like the tech industry for example. As I see it, science seems to be an area that is even more demanding, with its uniqueness and the broad range of topics covered.

A designer’s challenge when combining science and design lies in being able to make designs that are both stylish and understandable. Another challenge that a designer faces is dealing with the sometimes very complicated and specific information involved, and deciding what is relevant for visual storytelling and what is not. And a key consideration for designers: what can we actually discard, so that we do not lose vital information in the bigger picture. If the way we present science is to be truly contemporary, I think science needs to take each leap forward together with design.

Update on our typeface choice: IBM Plex

Earlier last year I documented how we approached selecting a new typeface for EMBL. We’ve come pretty far with testing and would like to thank our digital team as well as the web development team at EMBL-EBI for their feedback.

During the intense testing phase, we realised that Fira had some limits in terms of its sustainable digital applications and font expansions. At the same time IBM Plex had its ‘big bang’, holding all the promise the company had communicated.

IBM Plex was designed by Mike Abbink at IBM in collaboration with Bold Monday. It conveys the story well from a tech-driven, machine look-and-feel to a humanistic touch and user-friendly application.

Following our design principles (user-centric, simple, sustainable) we started testing IBM Plex Sans and IBM Plex Mono. In sum, this typeface meets all our needs:

  • Open source, no licence complications
  • Good legibility
  • Screen optimised
  • Available on Google Docs
  • Large range of handsets
  • Many widths, all have italic styles
  • Monospaced variant
  • Wide variety of glyphs

With the strong belief that the main goal of our corporate design is to make our templates functional, easy to use, quick to understand and at the same time serving the EMBL brand, the decision was quickly made. All our current prototypes have IBM Plex implemented, alongside the new colour scheme and graphical elements.

As IBM Plex is not yet incorporated in Microsoft Office Suite, we’re now testing a fall-back font for PowerPoint presentations, Excel sheets and Word documents. You can be sure we’ll keep you posted!

Design Burst // September 2018

“Show, don’t tell” has been one of our principles since the first sprint. So we’re going to share some of the 80 or so production requests that we handle every month. All of the visuals below were created in September 2018 based on design requests from various stakeholders from across EMBL. Continue reading “Design Burst // September 2018”

Adhering to our principles in latest corporate design sprint

Joint blog post by Ed Dadswell and Tabea Rauscher

Our latest Corporate Design sprint was intended to bring us closer to our goal: develop prototypes and examples of how the EMBL master brand could be implemented across products.

The kick-off meeting made it clear that we should keep our design principles in mind, especially the keep it simple idea. Simple in terms of structure, simple in terms of process, and simple in terms of making the content accessible and targeted to our audiences. Continue reading “Adhering to our principles in latest corporate design sprint”