Cognition Studio, Inc.

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Didactic Visualization: Striking a Balance Between Accuracy and Wow Factor

August 10, 2012
By David Ehlert
David Ehlert's picture
Fri, 08/10/2012 - 00:00 -- David Ehlert
Copyright 2012, Jared Travnicek. All rights reserved.

When the May/June 2012 issue of Scientific American Mind™ reached our office, a smiling man with puppet-like features inquired "Who's in Control?" This captivating image by Aaron Goodman compelled me to turn to page 22 and begin reading "Finding Free Will", the cover story by Dr. Christof Koch. This article's exploration of free will, chaos, chance, destiny, physics and neurobiology was well reinforced by puppeteer-based images. However, a spot illustration editorializing a "face off" between the acting brain and the deciding mind stopped me in my tracks and serves as the rationale for this post. (Figure 1)

Figure 1. Scientific American Mind May/June 2012 "Finding Free Will", page 26. Photo taken with Instagram.

I'd like to say this illustration caught my eye for its ability to entertain and educate, but that'd be a half-truth. As creative as it was at first glance, it paled by comparison to the reality that the skull's brain was backwards. How could this have made it in Scientific American Mind? While I don't know if there were any repercussions for this mistake, from my experience this image may have misinformed a large readership on very basic anatomy and reflected poorly on this splendid publication, the article, and its author.

Striking the Balance

At Cognition Studio, each biomedical illustration serves as a vehicle for knowledge visualization, communicating and transferring a message between two parties. I will add that in order for any of our illustrations to be considered successful, the visualization must be didactic, that is, it must engage and educate the target audience. If the visualization is accurate but doesn't capture the audience's attention, then the client's goal isn't met. If the visualization evokes interest but is inaccurate, then the audience is being misinformed thereby nullifying the knowledge-transfer all together. Accuracy and wow factor must strike a fine balance to create a win-win situation for the client and the audience.

Referring to the backward brain, my free will guided my team to right this wrong. The following visualization uses the "face off" theme on the imaginary premise that Scientific American Mind had contracted Cognition Studio to create this work. As you can see, everything, especially the brain, is in its right place and I trust the visualization caught your eye as well. (Figure 2)

Figure 2. Everything in its right place. Copyright 2012, Jared Travnicek. All rights reserved.

Who knows, perhaps Scientific American Mind will see this and future image credits of this nature will be from Cognition Studio, Inc. Perhaps this is destiny in the making.