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Our Research

Designs that Cell is interested in research projects surrounding visual communication strategies. We are currently investigating these strategies through the implementation of infographics in a variety of settings including science communication, healthcare, and education. 


Nersesian, S., Vitkin, N., Grantham, S., Bourgaize, S. (2020). Illustrating your research: design basics for junior clinicians and scientists. BMJ 370: m2254.


Nersesian, S., Carter, E., Boudreau, J. (2020). Deadly Coronaviruses. Infographic. 

download high-quality printable documents here (70MB).

Ongoing projects

A Double-Edged Sword: The role of social media in both the prevention and perpetuation of vaccine hesitancy

Dominique Daniels, Patrick Lameront, Sarah Nersesian

In 2019, vaccine hesitancy was named one of the Top 10 Global Health Issues by the World Health Organization (WHO). Vaccine hesitancy refers to the refusal or delay of vaccination against vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) despite the safety and availability of vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy exists on a spectrum ranging from a complete refusal of vaccination to delayed acceptance and can occur for a variety of complex reasons including socioeconomic factors, exposure to misinformation, and distrust in the health care system caused by the systemic inequalities in medical care. Declining vaccination rates throughout the past decade have led to outbreaks of VPDs, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our need for updated tools to communicate about the safety and efficacy of vaccination and prevent the spread of vaccine hesitancy. The goal of this research is to explore the use of social media as a tool to communicate about vaccination, as well as the ways in which social media perpetuates vaccine hesitancy.
Through a scoping review article, this research aims to examine the ways in which social media both perpetuates the spread of vaccine hesitancy and can be used by science communicators and health care providers to reduce and prevent the spread of vaccine hesitancy. The findings of the latter research objective will inform the creation of a social media toolkit to assist effective communication about vaccines and VPDs on social media. 

Using Visual Communication in Alcohol Misuse Treatment

Shan Grewal, Naomi Robson, Natasha Vitkin, Sarah Nersesian, Rick Csiernik

Alcohol treatment programs support individuals struggling with alcohol misuse. The Relapse Prevention model, used in many treatment programs, is a longstanding theory addressing abstinence maintenance for patients on the recovery path. However, a significant communication barrier in addiction education is the poor educational backgrounds and health literacy of many treatment patients. A prevailing solution to overcome educational and literacy barriers in healthcare is visual communication. Providing health information visually to patients with poor educational backgrounds has shown to benefit material comprehension. The present study explores visual communication in a new health context—alcohol misuse treatment.

An evidence-based visual handout was specifically designed to teach Relapse Prevention in alcohol misuse treatment programs. Distinct design features allow the visual to transcend potential educational barriers: only actionable ideas from the Relapse Prevention model relevant to patients are presented; illustrations minimize cognitive load on viewers; text is efficiently used to avoid misinterpretations of pictures; headings and arrows guide attention; and careful colour choice improves readability. These findings provide recommendations to produce more addiction treatment educational materials. A future project will empirically assess the effectiveness of the visual in improving comprehension of Relapse Prevention amongst patients of alcohol treatment programs in Ontario.


Examining the effects of infographics in medication adherence using an iron supplementation example

Abdullah Chanzu, Molly Wells, Natasha Vitkin, Sarah Nersesian

Iron deficiency and its consequential illnesses affect a large number of pregnant women worldwide and can lead to maternal and fetal morbidity and death. Iron supplementation can be used as a treatment, though it can be challenging to modulate patients’ adherence to medication-taking regimens. Visual science communication methods have shown to improve adherence levels in many studies, so I was interested in taking the opportunity to research these approaches in the context of iron supplementation for pregnant women.

I am currently conducting a literature review on the use of infographics to improve medication adherence among pregnant women with iron deficiency. Overall results have shown to be in favour of the use of pictograms/infographics as a tool to improve medication adherence. Over the course of the project, I have gathered evidence-based guidelines for producing a meaningful infographic, and have worked with Molly Wells, a junior illustrator, to translate these guidelines into a tangible result. This infographic offers the potential of being used for educational purposes in clinical settings and other environments.

In the future, I hope to use my findings from this summer as a basis for pilot testing the evidence-based infographic we have created this summer, with live study participants.

Creation, Distribution, and Analysis of Targeted Infographics for Use in Undergraduate Organic Chemistry Instruction

Genevieve O'Keefe, Anupreet Kharbanda, Natasha Vitkin, Sarah Nersesian, Kathy-Sarah Focsaneanu

Infographics have previously been proven to be effective science communication tools but, studies on their use in organic chemistry education are minimal, if not obsolete. This summer, my goal was to pilot a study on the development of educational infographics based on first-and second-year organic chemistry material at the University of Ottawa. Students who have previously taken these courses were asked to select various design elements that they found to be best suited for the targeted audience. In the classroom, these infographics also aim to increase interest in the course material, hopefully increasing student retention in STEM and, more specifically organic chemistry. These student-developed infographics will be employed in a sequential study on the impact of their use on interest, comprehension and retention in first-and second-year organic chemistry. I will be presenting my results from the pilot study as well as the justification behind my project and subsequent study.

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