The Re-Imagined Journal Article

As the old saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”.

But it’s inevitable, we do! Good book design goes a long way…it can catch the eye of a curious consumer, serve as a point of discussion or intrigue, stimulate the senses (through touch, visuals, etc.), may ultimately drive sales, and says a lot about the personality of that book and it’s author(s).

Throughout my academic career, I’ve had the opportunity to sift through hundreds of journals and journal articles, particularly in conducting public health systematic reviews. Being a health promoter and researcher, I’ve found myself reading lengthy articles discussing important but (what I consider to be) heavy topics such as social theory and abstract concepts such as empowerment. I tend to have a greater affinity for the biological sciences rather than the social sciences because of my training and the way my mind works, so sometimes this type of reading can be a bit draining albeit stimulating. I think what can contribute to this sense of fatigue may be in part the article’s content, but also the design of the articles themselves. Generally, articles tend to follow the same formula after a while, which can become somewhat repetitious: They lack images (less accommodating to those who best learn from mediums other than text), consist of dense black and white text, and organize the title, abstract, body, and references into standardized sections and columns.

No doubt, there are publishing constraints that make these standard layouts necessary but I wonder what would happen if we (as researchers) had the creative freedom to play with these designs a bit more? While the dominant designs/layouts for journal articles are probably very thoughtfully designed and are important to have for time, efficiency, space, and consistency, I know my senses could benefit from a little more colour, visuals, diversity and vibrancy every now and then.

So with this in mind, I decided to test out some alternative layouts for a journal article that I was a co-author on, “Designing health innovation networks using complexity science and systems thinking: the CoNEKTR model“. I actually do think that the layout of the article is quite elegant in itself, but I wanted to play around with it just for fun and re-imagine it in different ways. The designs I came up with may not be particularly ‘beautiful’ per se, but I just wanted to have fun and see how this might change the way I perceive the article.

The first is the image at the top of this post. This is what I call the movie-poster inspired article layout. In fact, I stumbled upon the poster for the movie Vantage Point (which I have never actually seen) and decided to try this out. Makes a good cover page perhaps? Designing this and the other layouts made me realize how much content is typically included in just the first page of an article! It was a challenge to include it all so I minimized text in all cases.

The next image is below. Thanks to this post I learned how to create transparent text. The background image is a bit fuzzy (my fault) but I wanted to give this version a very clean and earthy look. The original photo can be found on Flickr.

The image below is a bit louder but I have managed to include the full abstract of the article. Thanks to this tip I learned how to create the black highlight for the text.

Finally, there is this layout I came up with. It was originally black and white and then I got bored and added colour. This one was fun to make because I played with a lot of the fonts. Maybe not fully readable or attractive but it’s nice to change it up every now and then.

And last but not least, you can check out a screenshot of the original paper to see what the layout looks like. Like I said before, I actually think it’s quite beautiful and organized nicely. I should also mention that the paper is a pretty fantastic read and I highly recommend it if you’re wondering how design can blend into health promotion practice and participatory engagement 🙂

7 thoughts on “The Re-Imagined Journal Article

  1. Your comments remind me of an impactful statement I still vividly recall from a conference I was at a few years ago. David Booth, professor emeritus at OISE and a renowned promoter of early literacy — especially engaging boys in ‘non-traditional’ reading — stated that “all reports should be beautiful.” Make people want to pick them up and engage with them, he said. Don’t make it a chore.

    That resonated with me and I’ve striven to make my reports as beautiful and meaningful as I can, whenever I have had the latitude to do so. I think it’s a difference that makes a difference.

    So if you’re starting a movement to vitalize journal articles and professional reports, count me in!

    1. Hi Kevin, Thanks so much for sharing that quote and for the thoughtful post! It’s funny how academia doesn’t always seem to consider the graphic design elements of publication…and this is the very currency of the field! I think of this all the time particularly when it comes to knowledge exchange and trying to get research out to the general public. As both a producer and consumer, I appreciate it when the effort is made to make something clear, beautiful, and understandable — this is especially helpful when I have no understanding of the field. I think you’re right, “it’s a difference that makes a difference”.

  2. Andrea, You are really on to something here. Over the last 10-15 years we’ve seen this emergence of the concept of “knowledge translation” or the push to take what we know and integrate more fully into what we do. This got me really excited when it first came out and in spite of learning that the idea had actually been around for a long time before I was hopeful that a new era of communication and public engagement had begun.

    In truth, we are better at engaging the “end user” (whomever that is) better than ever, but are far away from where we could be and your post reminds us of that. You’ve done a very elegant job of refinishing the CoNEKTR article and made it attractive, something people would want to read even if they were not interested in the subject matter. Other fields do this, why shouldn’t we.

    Thanks for your art and contribution and perhaps the editors might take your compliments and your advancement on their work to the next stage and make a journal that a much wider audience wants to read by incorporating design into the text.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Cameron. It makes me wonder how much more ‘impact’ and knowledge sharing could take place if we all took a little design into consideration. I imagine that even making baby steps through design as a start could make all the difference.

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