Science is rarely simple. As such, the simplification of science is wrought with difficulty and frequently runs the risk of becoming patronising. Nevertheless the communication of science is absolutely essential for numerous industries and audiences. The growing and voracious public interest in many scientific disciplines such as nuclear power, genetic engineering and particle physics – to name just a few – illustrates this need. This creates a challenge, but where challenges can be found so can opportunity.
One organisation leading the charge in the advancement of science communication is London’s Science Museum. In a recent trip to the museum I was struck by how integral digital mediums have become to the exhibits. From immersive experiences in a digital lecture theatre to responsive games and augmented realities, digital communication is here to stay.
But doing it digital doesn’t automatically mean you’re doing it right. Digital is a tool and as such is only as powerful as its users are skilled. There is an ever- expanding data graveyard for apps that have been downloaded less often than Prince Charles has been married. This should serve as a warning – while digital mediums have the power to engage huge audiences and revolutionise communication they also have the potential to bore.
So what makes a good digital communication initiative?
1. What are you trying to achieve?
This sounds simple, but if you asked a room of people developing an app to tell you what they were trying to achieve you might be surprised by how many different answers you get. This is always the place to start. Discuss it, write it down and remember to refer to it.
2. Who are your audience?
Another obvious one, but too frequently we make assumptions based on our own experiences regarding target audiences. Start from zero, assume you know nothing and get as much data as you can – try and make it good hard quantitative data, treat qualitative data with suspicion and allow your results the mental space to inform your plans – avoid preconceptions!
3. Innovate where appropriate
A successful initiative will often provide something new. It will capture the imagination and in doing so captivate your audience. While innovation is integral, it must not be achieved at the cost of number 1 or 2. Innovation must compliment your stated goal in a manner suited to your audience. If you can’t do that, you may have to accept that innovation may – in this case – not be appropriate.
4. User experience (UX)
Give the user what they want in the most parsimonious and elegant way possible. Few of us have more than a minute’s tolerance for confusing websites. Put yourself in the shoes of your target users. Imagine their progress through your creation and where possible simplify.
There is no golden formula for digital science communication. There are plenty of bad examples and plenty of exceptional examples. Digital mediums are a tool and not an automatic win. However, when used in the right way at the right time digital channels can revolutionise science communication in truly exciting ways. If you are looking for inspiration there is no better place to start than London’s Science Museum.
Science is rarely simple and simplification should be avoided, instead we should aspire to make the complex consumable and in that pursuit digital technology is leading the charge.
Adam, Strategic planner