Illustrated History of Knowledge is a series of ten illustrated timelines that explain how certain inventions and fields of knowledge were developed and have changed our way of living. Several scientists from Brazil and abroad were contacted and asked to produce a preliminary script in which the illustrated material would be later based on. The project was a partnership with Instituto Serrapilheira, an institution with the objective of funding research and science communication initiatives.
Illustrated History of Knowledge had a very good reception with our readers. We received emails congratulating the initiative, and the average time of reading for each timeline, which measures the retention rate, was almost the double than usual.
The project also opened new possibilities for the team to explore the idea of elaborating on the biography of something, not someone, a concept that was later used in other materials (such as the “Biography of Vaccine Producers”, the institutes that produces covid-19 vaccines in Brazil).
Each timeline was developed under a methodology that optimized the process. The first step was to aid the researcher in writing a script for the story on Google Docs, a process that usually took from 14 to 21 days. Following that, the text is edited to work better with the illustrations, along with the production of raw graphics related to the topic (using R and QGIS), a step that took from 5 to 7 days. Subsequently, the research for reference pictures as well as the production of the illustrations on Adobe Illustrator took from 10 to 14 days. Coming next, the technical review of the edited text and illustrations took from 3 to 6 days, and the final reviews frequently took 2 days to finish.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The major challenge in this project was to create a methodology that allowed the production of ten timelines not to interfere with other demands of the team. This certain degree of standardization also facilitated the unification of both visual and written languages, even when dealing with unrelated topics. Another difficult task was to condense stories that trace back millennia into a fast, easily readable material.
What can others learn from this project?
In a field many times known for working overtime, the development of an efficient method to produce each timeline allowed each deadline to be reached within two to three days in advance, without anyone needing to do any extra hour. Structuring the project as a step-by-step process allowed the team to rationalize the time required for each phase. It is a valuable lesson on the importance of planning, using a method strict enough for the team to have a “down to earth” perspective on deadlines, but flexible enough to handle unexpected circumstances.
It was also an important opportunity to develop new strategies on science communication. The direct contact between the scientists and the journalism team opened new possibilities for the whole team to familiarize themselves with the scientific language, as well as stimulating the researchers to consider the importance of an accessible communication with others than their peers.