Turn a table from a scientific article into a popsci graphic

#HowTo #SciComm #PopSci

How do you turn a figure prepared for a scientific article into a stylish, professional looking graphic suitable for scicomm activities? Whether it’s for a blog post, a graphic to send to a journalist or just something to share on social media, here’s how to convert figures created for peer-to-peer comms into something you can share with anyone.

If you have access to Adobe Illustrator, then it’s pretty straightforward. Just copy and paste any chart or table directly into a document and edit every aspect of it as you wish. But, if like me you don’t fancy paying a monthly subscription to Adobe or the learning curve needed to do even simple tasks in Illustrator, then there are other options.

In the next few blog posts I’ll review a number of cheaper, even free, alternatives that might meet your needs.


Figma is a free to use, browser-based design software. Intended as a webdesign and prototyping tool, it also functions as a graphic design tool. You need to sign up for a free account and then you’re up and running. You can also invite other registered Figma users to collaborate on your files and projects.

Paying a monthly fee unlocks additional features on an individual account, student or organisation accounts. But you can still collaborate and export files with a free account.

Compared to Illustrator, the learning curve is pretty small. You are limited to exporting files as .png, .jpeg, .pdf and .svg, but this should be sufficient for most uses.

Working example: Sea-level rise in Denmark

Let’s take a table of data from the following scientific article, looking at local sea-level rise projected at three Danish cities by the end of the century.

The table summarises how much sea level might rise at each of the three cities under two different emission pathways. In one scenario, global greenhouse gas emissions may be reduced enough to limit global heating at approx. two degrees. In the other, emissions continue to increase at their present day trajectory, possibly resulting in around four degrees global heating.

Using a vector map of Denmark by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay and the values from table 1 in Colgan et al. (2019), I created the following graphics in around 30 mins in Figma. All of the graphics below are based on an original image by graphic designer Ane Damgaard Asmussen from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland for this press release that accompanied the publication of Colgan et al’s scientific article.

A ‘how to’ tutorial will follow, but for now here are the results:

Sea level rise Denmark 2 degrees
Sea level rise Denmark 2 degrees
Sea level rise Denmark 4 degrees
Sea level rise Denmark 4 degrees

And using Juxtapose by Knight Lab it is possible to create something a little more interesting for a blog or online news coverage:

Potential sea-level rise at three Danish cities under two different climate change scenarios as per the Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Fifth Assessment Report by the IPCC. (Credit: Cath Jex)

Next up: A step by step tutorial for these graphics in Figma and an alternative software, Affinity Designer, to follow soon.


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