Online Program

Getting the point across: The use of design in communicating scientific findings

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 11:30 a.m. - 11:50 a.m.

Sarah Simon, MS, VCU Center on Society and Health, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Advancing a culture of health requires buy-in not only from public health professionals and policymakers, but also from a variety of audiences with a stake in a “Health-in-all-Policies” approach, including the public. Products must be designed to cut through the clutter of daily life and communicate key messages clearly and quickly. Thoughtful, well-executed messaging and design are crucial. The VCU Center on Society and Health was commissioned to develop simple, visually appealing maps featuring neighborhood life expectancy (LE) values in 20 U.S. cities and rural areas. Noting the reaction to the 2013 release of five similar maps, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recognized that the striking contrasts portrayed in the maps are powerful tools for motivating conversation and action around public health. Their impact derives not only from the dramatic LE differences seen across small distances, but presenting the data in a design that tells the story at a glance. This type of simplistic, impactful design requires decisions and consultations, both internally and with local stakeholders, to answer questions that can shape the product. For example, a map intended to convey a clear message cannot have the cluttered visual density that researchers expect; parsimony of content is paramount. Keeping distractions to a minimum, which landmarks must appear on the map to orient readers? If LE values for only certain locations should be displayed to preserve white space, which neighborhoods should be featured, and by what recognizable names should they be labeled? What colors, fonts, and layouts work best? Being true to the science remains important, and such rigor requires decisions about placement of LE values (e.g., in centroids) and outlining of boundaries to avoid misinterpretation. Transparency makes it important to make documentation of data sources and methods accessible while keeping the public-facing maps simple.

Learning Areas:

Communication and informatics
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Explain the importance of thoughtful design in effectively communicating findings to general audiences Discuss challenges in maintaining both scientific validity and understandability of findings Identify key design and communication tactics to improve usefulness and appeal of products

Keyword(s): Communication, Policy/Policy Development

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I currently serve as the Director of Research Translation and Communication at the Center on Society and Health – a role I have been fulfilling for over two years. In this role, I serve as the lead strategist and coordinator of communication and outreach efforts related to public health/social determinants research conducted at the Center.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.