Merging Science and Art: Innovative and Appealing Websites

Relaying scientific information to the non-scientist public is a crucial part of ecology and science, in general. The internet has provided researchers with the means to connect directly to the public via twitter, blogs, websites, etc. Unfortunately, I don’t think we take advantage of these tools to their fullest extent. Most lab homepages follow a standard formart: home page, lab personnel, research descriptions, publications, etc. These webpages, in general, are pretty basic. Boxes with text, some links, maybe a photo gallery.  I’ve browsed many of these websites for various reasons. Some of the websites are well-designed but rather boring. Some are super informative, but poorly designed. Some researchers take the approach of putting everything they can think of online and leave it to the reader to sift through tons of text and information. I see very few websites that break the mold of traditional website design and try to do something visually appealing and informative. Something that would capture the attention of non-scientists and conveys important information without being unnecessarily dense.

My website certainly was no exception. My first iteration was abysmal, it looked like one of those old geocities websites that I had designed in fifth grade. My second iteration was an improvement, but not particularly innovative or appealing. I realized that we can and must do better. I got it in mind to redesign my website to make a researcher homepage that was completely innovative. For inspiration, I looked at websites for artists, photographers, and painters. After all, I think science and art have much in common. Both seek (or should seek) the most visually appealing way to convey as much information as possible as simply as possible. Photographers, for example, can capture the essence of war or culture in a single photo. Their websites are designed to capture the attention and imagination of the viewer without being overwhelming.

I set out to redesign my website in this context. I realized that to do everything I wanted to do, I had to learn HTML and CSS (two languages which I will never fully understand, there’s only room for so many languages in my head). I chose a minimalist theme that is (I think) visually appealing, interactive, and informative. The end result is here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m still not sold on slideshows for conveying research, but I think it’s better than blocks of text with a few pictures. I’d love to make full videos, but I just don’t have the time for that. Plus, I’d need to find a narrator. I’m no David Attenborough. I do, however, think my new website is a step in the right direction for finding more creative, artistic, and minimalist ways to convey our information that might capture the attention of passer-bys.

I’m not suggesting that every researcher needs to learn HTML. In fact, one of my favorite websites if Jennifer Thaler’s, at Cornell. I believe this website was made with through an online webdesign service. While it still follows the traditional format, it is creative, semi-interactive, and informative. Another one of my favorites is www.gapminder.org. I love the interactive data graphing tool that allows anyone to make any graph they want. This, of course, requires an extraordinary amount of data (which I don’t have) and incredible programming skills (which I can’t do). But I do think it is innovative, which is probably why it was a TED talk.

I think that its time researchers fully embrace the power of the web in 2013 and find creative ways to move beyond the standard data display and home page formats. My website is certainly not the solution, but I think its a good first step for trying. It still follows the standard home page-about-research format, but there may just be no way around that for now. Not without devoting serious resources to it.

Next up: Prezi as a tool for innovative and creative presentations.

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