Saint Petersburg, RF ︎︎︎ State College, PA ︎︎︎ Ann Arbor, MI ︎︎︎ Hougnton, MI ︎︎︎ Seattle, WA ︎︎︎

Vassilissa is currently working as an adjunct lecturer for the Division of Design and Human Computer Interaction + Design Department for the University of Washington.



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Advancing Visual Design Culture in STEM Lab Groups

︎ University of Washington
     MDes Program
     Master’s Thesis

Tags: Design Research, Research Publication, Scientific Communication, Visual Communication, Design Education

Master’s thesis that centered around analyzing the culture of research laboratories to create educational materials on scientific communication and visual design that are tailored to researchers’ needs. Exhibited at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, WA.

There are pervasive issues in scientific communication. Intervening at the level of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) research laboratory presents opportunities to observe and evaluate the existing visual design and critique cultures of these spaces. This data can be used to inform the creation of designerly tools specific to the needs of scientists. This thesis proposes the creation of custom, intuitive resources for scientists to promote continuous self-learning in visual design and critique.

June 2021

Karen Cheng, Thesis Chair
Kristine Matthews, Thesis Committee

See More
Research Phase
Design Phase
Commentary by Heidi Biggs
Masters Defense Presentation

Researcher’s Toolkit for Visual Design and Critique
This toolkit is a culmination of the insights gathered from a year of data collection. The Researcher’s Toolkit for Visual Design and Critique was created using a mixture of insights from STEM laboratory observations, survey answers and recorded dialogue from a series of two scientific communication workshops run with seven separate research laboratories, and extensive survey answers.

The purpose of this toolkit is to provide resources for scientists going through a visual design process and looking to improve their work without necessitating intervention from a visual designer. While there materials were created from the insights of researchers involved in the workshops, the toolkit is meant to be an easy resource for any interested party to pick up and understand, without needing any previous visual design training.

The Little Book of Visual Design Principles for Scientists
A pocket booklet which covers the basic ideas and foundational concepts of visual design in brief. Ideas dicussed include contrast, hierarchy, proximity, continuation, flow, space, unity, and color. Each principle is described both visually and in text. This booklet is intended to be easy to navigate, enabling researchers to quickly locate and reference the principle of their choice.

The Little Book of Color Theory for Scientists
A pocket booklet containing essential information surrounding color theory, such as the color wheel, color harmony rules, printing conventions, and more. Surprisingly, many scientists found color to be one of the most difficult design aspects to grasp and understand. 

The Little Book of Design Critique for Scientists
A pocket booklet that covers how to start, prepare for, lead, and participate in visual design critiques. This beginner’s guide introduces the basics of visual design critique and provides an overview of how to introduce and cultivate a successful laboratory critique culture.

Engaging in critique can be highly beneficial to STEM laboratories, as it provides the opportunity for researchers to practice and hone visual design skills without necessitating the presence of a designer. 


Downloadable/Printable Content
View and download the printable versions of the Researcher’s Toolkit for Visual Design and Critique here!

For best results, print the Little Books on 11x17” paper. Borderless printing works best, but is not necessary. Please note that the Little Book of Color Theory for Scientists and The Little Book of Design Critique for Scientists are single-sided, while The Little Book of Visual Design Principles for Scientists is double-sided. 

For best results, print the Better Critique Poster on 11x17” paper, borderless when possible. The Figure Design Checklist should be printed on 8.5x11” paper. 

The Little Book of Visual Design Principles for Scientists [Front/Back]
The Little Book of Color Theory for Scientists [Link]
The Little Book of Design Critique for Scientists [Link]
Better Critique Poster [Link]
Figure Design Checklist [Link]

Henry Art Gallery Exhibit
This work was exhibited at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, WA as part of the 2021 MFA + MDes Thesis Show.  

Screenshot from a Scientific Communication Workshop, all of which were held over Zoom due to the pandemic.

Dates of the various Scientific Communication Workshops.

Coding of observational notes from a research laboratory meeting. 

Growing up as a designer in a family of STEM researchers.

Coding of participant comments from pre- and post-workshop surveys.

Toolkit and included materials on display at the Henry Art Gallery.

Installing the exhibit at the Henry Art Gallery.

Selection of slides from Communicating Visually, the first of the Scientific Communication Workshops.

Researcher’s critique comments, which were displayed on the scientific figure section of the exhibit. 

First section of the post-workshop survey.

Hand-cutting velum for the exhibit banner.

Experimenting with materials and cutting techniques for the Researcher’s Toolkit box.