I think all academics (and all graduate students) should have formal instruction in:
- writing skills
- graphic design
After all, publishing papers and giving slide talks is all about communicating results. You all know how frustrating it is to fight your way through a published manuscript, trying your best to understand what the authors are trying to say… or sitting through a talk where even the speaker is fighting with his/her slides instead of the slides helping the speaker make his/her point.
I really like the following excerpt:
One of the biggest mistakes typical business people make with documents is going out of their way to seemingly use every centimeter of space on a page, filling it up with text, boxes, clip art, charts, footers, etc. Space, often called “white space,” is good. Embrace it. Use it. Often, the more space you don’t use on a page, the clearer your message becomes.
Sound familiar? Research grant applications, anyone?
Slides also suffer from this – I’m almost fed up enough that the next time I see someone click the next slide in a talk, and it’s literally a giant block of text, which they read aloud, I am going to get up and leave. (see this page of suggestions for slide presentations)
When we open up a new MS Turd document, or powerpoint presentation, we are faced with a zillion choices – what font? what size? italic? bold? both? colour? etc etc. The fundamental thing I take away from reading about graphic design and its importance, is that every choice we make must be based on a well thought out design strategy (or plan if you like that word better). If you are just selecting things at random or by “default” your work will suffer.
This is one reason I like LaTeX so much – it separates (mostly) content from design, and makes the design choices for you… based on well thought out design strategy.
Apple seems to have made some efforts to populate their newest iWork applications (Keynote for presentations, Pages for word processing & page layout) with “defaults” and especially Pages templates and Keynote themes that (I presume) are built by people with design backgrounds.
I think many scientists would say that design doesn’t matter … or that they don’t have time to worry about it … or that the priority should be content.
Think about it this way however: if good design (whether in a talk or in a grant proposal) will help facilitate getting your message across, and will also put the reader in a positive, relaxed, happy frame of mind, then shouldn’t you take advantage of this?
Good design will not compensate for a crappy message, especially in science … but crappy design will absolutely put up road-blocks for your audience.