Stop the presses! Cartoon abstracts are making academia sexy again.

Brace yourselves, academia is changing at an unprecedented pace! This August Taylor & Francis, one of the major academic publishers and bloodsuckers, decided it would be “fun” to visualise academic research. Check it out here.

In many ways I think it’s cool that the publishers are slowly warming up to the idea of research also being visual, but what Taylor & Francis are doing with their abstracts is silly and almost counterproductive in four ways.

  1. Further widens the gap between visual and verbal by excluding the visual from the main manuscript – this is what Taylor & Francis is signalling by positioning the visual within the confines of the abstract. In other words, it’s great to get the reader excited by luring them in with the visual, and then BOOM! Pages after pages of the same old.
  2. Underestimates the reader’s visual literacy – most of the abstracts so far remind me of picture books meant for toddlers. You have these talking heads acting and saying what the actual text next to them is already describing. Really, Taylor & Francis, really?
  3. The visuals just parrot the text – building on the point above, visual’s power lies in its ability to open up rather than narrow down. Last time I checked one of academia’s main strengths was its ability to make people think and challenge their assumptions. That’s why we teach and do research, right?
  4. The author is seemingly left out of the visualisation process – I haven’t checked this yet, but it seems that the author can submit her manuscript to be visualised, and then someone interning at Taylor & Francis as a graphic designer quickly doodles something after a heavy night of binge drinking and snorting ‘some white powder’ from a butt crack.

How should we move forward from here? All those points I just described above – do the opposite and we’re making progress!

And here’s some proper food for thought from the always magnificent Nick Sousanis: Unflattening.

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