Eye-Test Abstracts

Readers: have you noticed the new trend in graphical abstracts? Seems to me that more and more choose the “coloring book” route. (I’ve written about this a few times at Just Like Cooking, but I’ve decided to up the ante and broaden the discussion audience over here)

When designing talks and posters, most chemists will tell you to use color sparingly, say, to accent a particular functional group, or to draw the eye to a key concept. Many shy away from color schemes that won’t translate well at a distance, such as white-on-black, or black-on-orange…

J. Am. Chem. Soc., ASAP, 2012

Marketers have long understood that human beings respond strongly to primary colors; it’s no secret that Coca-Cola and McDonald’s both advertise with bright red signs. But for organic chemistry? If your reaction or concept truly breaks new ground, won’t people recognize it without all the visual hype?

Angew. Chemie, ASAP, 2012

I’m not entirely sure what’s driving this – desire to have your chemistry noticed on a crowded page? Viewers transitioning to mobile phone apps, where your abstract (presumably) fights for space amongst highly-colored games and ads? ‘Artistic’ sensibilities?

Organometallics ASAP, 2012

Readers, what are your thoughts? Do you color in your reaction schemes? Do you find colored abstracts appealing, or annoying?

Update (04/20/12) – Almost forgot Nature Chem’s coverage of the abstract issue. Thanks, Stu!


  1. Frank Glorius is one of the worst offenders of this, always making his TOC graphics with that sickening shade of yellow in the background with red text. There is something horribly cynical about the whole thing. If you think your chemistry isn’t interesting enough to justify some eye-popping stand-outs, then do something else.

  2. Does this all stem from Nicolau? Is he an offender, or an artist? Do you think he has a graphic designer on staff… or was it an overeager grad student once who left a legacy?

  3. Kenneth Hanson says:

    If you have not yet you should check out and contribute to “Table of Contents, Rolling on the Floor Laughing.”


  4. A quick plug. Remember you can always get your graphical abstract fix at ChemFeeds.

  5. The author guidelines for most journals (JACS, JOC, Angew. etc.) all suggest and encourage the use of color in TOC figures. As a former methods chemist I usually found this difficult with just plain structures, but now I am doing cellular imaging, so it will be much less of a problem. Anyways I don’t really seem the harm in it, why not get a little creative. Similar to how chemist and good writing should not be exclusive, neither should chemist and visual appeal of published artwork.

  6. I think the graphic abstracts look very nice too, as long as it doesn’t go too crazy with the color schemes.

  7. Hey, everyone, thanks for the comments. Just to clarify: I’m all for the use of some color in abstracts, I just don’t think the color should distract away from the idea being communicated. Ideally, it’s also nice to have colors that don’t obscure the structures themselves (as I feel these do).

    That said, the move by several journals (JACS, ACIEE, Tet, Nature Chem, etc) to port their graphical abstracts to multiple platforms (email, mobile apps, websites) is a move in the right direction.

  8. I make my conference posters bright red or fluorescent green. Half of the people say it hurts their eyes. They then read it. Win.

  9. I would have to say that the use of color in abstracts really helps me understand a lot more. It is very helpful, like the author states, to highlight key areas, but some people over do it. In some cases the color, or lack there of makes it harder to pay attention to. The text book for my current chemistry class is horrible in the sense of no color to accentuate anything. I find that time after time all of the black text and white background blends in together.

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