Graphical Reviews: Illustrating Biochemistry

In 2022, FEBS Letters introduced a new format: Graphical Reviews. These citable items consist of two parts: a poster with self-explanatory illustrations and schematics on the front, and a short text on the reverse. Here, we present this new article series together with experiences of the artists.
Graphical Reviews: Illustrating Biochemistry
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If it’s a long worn-out cliché, it’s only because it’s true: a picture really is worth a thousand words. It was in this spirit that FEBS Letters established ‘Graphical Reviews’ as a new and citable article type in 2022. You can browse all of the Graphical Reviews published in our Graphical Review Gallery.

They cover topics as diverse as circadian rhythms, lipid droplets, autophagy, and much more. Each Review features a series of illustrations and diagrams on the front, laid out in an informative and easy-to-follow manner. They are designed to be printed out as a poster for display in the lab, where it can act as a handy reference and visual aid. The reverse side of the poster presents a short text which summarises the contents of the poster. At the 2023 FEBS Congress in Tours, the journal brought printed copies of the Graphical Reviews as handouts, and we were delighted that our supply did not meet the demand! If you missed out and would like your own poster, it is easy as clicking the link and printing it.

The production of these articles involves close collaboration between the authors, graphic designers, and the journal’s editorial office. The authors present their ideas for the illustrations, and the editorial office then works with a graphic designer to work on this concept and bring it to life. The authors and the editorial office then carefully check the graphic designer’s revisions to ensure that the scientific information presented is accurate. If you are interested in this new format, please check the FEBS Letters Guidelines or get in touch with us at [email protected].

Below, we would like to share the experiences of two of our excellent graphic designers:

Manuela Held (Graphic designer)

“I am a Scientific Illustrator with a background in Molecular Biology and Graphic Design. Within the last year, I had the great opportunity to collaborate on several projects for the Graphical Reviews published by FEBS Letters. I consider the format of graphics as an excellent visual complement to traditional scientific Articles and Reviews.

“With the presence of enormous scientific knowledge – constantly increasing – there is an emerging need to discuss complex science briefly and clearly. The main challenges during graphical development are to catch the audience’s attention immediately, and to transfer a clear message of a complex scientific topic. The goal is to encourage the reader to engage further. Creating these graphics can be very time-consuming, especially for undergraduate or postgraduate students, and requires the authors to really understand and nail down the primary issues of their work, but it is a great chance for scientists to get more attention for their research. Working on the graphics requires the interaction and exchange of ideas between the authors, the publisher, and the graphic designers, which I experience as very fruitful and appropriate. Although Graphical Reviews are not intended to generate in-depth knowledge or provide extensive discussions, they are a great opportunity to get an overall impression of the latest scientific issues.

“I am passionate about visualizing science to give researchers, funders, and the public easier access to current challenges in research. I consider the Graphical Review as a promising platform for achieving this.”

Verstraete et al., FEBS Letters 2023, graphic designer Manuela Held.

Lucia Ciglar (Graphic designer)

“Collaborating on Graphical Reviews with FEBS Letters has been a great privilege and an incredibly enriching journey. These reviews are a true testament to the power of visual communication in science and they underscore the importance of bridging the gap between researchers and the broader community through visually compelling content. I am deeply grateful that FEBS recognizes and champions the significance of visual communication in scientific discourse—a facet often overlooked and undervalued.

“Each Graphical Review presents a unique challenge, blending creativity with scientific rigor. From conceptualizing layouts to fine-tuning visual elements, every step is thoroughly crafted to ensure clarity and coherence. The design process of each review is a dynamic collaboration among the authors, the wonderful editorial team, and myself. In this partnership, my role is to articulate their research narrative as vividly as possible, drawing upon my accumulated experience. This synergy guarantees that the final product not only meets the highest standards of scientific accuracy but also resonates with readers on a visual and conceptual level. 

“Reflecting on my experiences, I am reminded of the profound impact that graphical representation can have in disseminating scientific knowledge. It's not just about creating aesthetically pleasing designs; it's about fostering understanding and sparking curiosity. I am excited about the opportunity to contribute to the editorial piece, sharing insights and celebrating the evolution of Graphical Reviews within FEBS Letters.”

Qureshi and Duss, FEBS Letters 2023, gaphic designer Lucia Ciglar.

Images from Verstraete et al., FEBS Letters 2023, graphic designer Manuela Held; Qureshi and Duss FEBS Letters 2023, graphic designer Lucia Ciglar. 

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