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Drawing from science

When process becomes product – repacking science communication

From atomic structure to DNA helix. Constructing #MyBase, a community artwork. Featured design and personal reflection by @cure4PFS. Kate Patterson, Author provided

I like deadlines. They punctuate my projects.

Deadlines and deliverables force me to package my projects into consumable chunks, into a ‘product’ that is necessary for sharing and showing my work and also for reaching my desired audience.

Most of the time I find myself working towards the end goal of creating something visual for someone else to see. Drafts are discarded and design decisions are made quietly and efficiently until, finally a shiny, ‘presentable’ product emerges.

DNA Template - an early concept model for #MyBase that I rejected due to it appearing less organic than I would like. The final model utilises atoms represented as spheres. Kate Patterson

Tell more stories about process

It’s with great sadness and regret that some of the most interesting stories that come from the process of creating, rather than from the creation itself are never told. By focusing only on the end goal, it’s easy to fly past some of the most interesting stories that are embedded in the creative process.

I have always been attracted to ‘behind the scenes’ or ‘the making of’ productions. I love documentaries that show the insides of factories. I am quite fond of chocolate coated biscuits, but I’m more interested in how they are made. What systems exist to ensure they stack perfectly, such that the imprint of the next chocolate biscuit is not visible? What happens to those few biscuits that get rejected at the quality control step?

It’s clear that understanding the process seems to enhance the product. The material difference is that, to me, the biscuit actually tastes better.

The process art movement developed momentum in the mid 1960s

As a concept, process as product is not new. Process art was an art movement that arose in the mid 1960s with an emphasis on the process and act of artistic creation rather than the actual finished work that comes out of it. The Guggenheim Museum and Tate Modern showcase key process art practitioners.

Testing the projection map of 2D design onto the 3D DNA base model using Autodesk Maya. Kate Patterson

When process becomes product

How could this approach be applied to visual science communication? What are some ways to capture and share ‘process’ as a way to communicate science in new ways?

Scientific concepts and ideas can be woven into the subject matter while critical thinking and design decisions that occur in pursuit of the end goal are the focus. As with the process art movement, the literature that supports this approach to creation is a critical component of the product.

The wildly popular minute physics, with over 3.5M subscribers on YouTube approached this concept with a behind the scenes video. An ‘explainer’ of how the videos are made, putting a face to the familiar voice and making the ‘maker’ more visible.

Going behind the scenes of a science YouTube video.

Documenting the process of constructing #MyBase

One such project I am working on, that is (naturally) still in progress, is the construction of a genomics-inspired community artwork.

The artwork, #MyBase is a virtual 3D DNA molecule with a unique design projected on to each base. These gorgeous designs were created by the audience at Genome Gazing, an event I co-produced with Bronwyn Terrill at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, supported by Inspiring Australia, Sydney Science Festival as part of National Science Week 2016.

The motivation for the #MyBase community artwork came through an attempt alter the traditional dynamic of a lecture style event by extending the reach beyond the on-site event.

#MyBase template. Kate Patterson

Each person in the audience was given a template in which to create a genomics-inspired design. Some of those volunteered their social media details so they can be notified on the progress of the artwork. They can also participate in an ongoing conversation about their designs, and how they relate to genomics and related concepts.

As a natural platform for documenting the creation of a community artwork, we established a Facebook page to publicly document the process of the 3D DNA build and eventual fly-through, designed to showcase the contributions from the community.

Some of the gorgeous #MyBase designs contributed by the audience at Genome Gazing. Kate Patterson

This is just one of a plethora of approaches where process becomes product. It is a philosophical approach to creating, but I wonder, in the context of communicating science, who are the audiences most interested in this approach? Are the audiences different to those more inspired by the product? Do they engage more / learn more, can learning objectives be embedded in a way that makes it more memorable?

While ruminating on these questions, you can follow the project here.

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