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Graphics such as this one have been shared widely on social media.

V. Altounian/Science

COVID: a visual library

As COVID-19 spread, Science’s journals began publishing a nonstop stream of research papers. Many explained critically important aspects of the disease and effects on human health. As senior scientific illustrator, I faced increased demands for rapidly created visuals that accurately conveyed information on new COVID developments.

a library of graphic elements including the coronavirus, receptors, various types of cells, and an alveolusScience

Science’s COVID library contains the virus itself, its components, various cell receptors, cells, and our protagonist, the alveolus. The simple shared style allows elements to be easily reused and combined.

Many COVID visuals depicted the same elements, such as the virus, receptors, or blood cells. To keep pace with the demand, I began saving and reusing these. Seeing this, Creative Director Beth Rakouskas suggested that I organize my COVID graphics into a library and create them all using a consistent visual style. Having this graphics library lets us spend more time working out accurate details with editors and authors rather than stressing about redrawing an alveolus.

The common visual style also helped viewers recognize and identify with the Science brand of accurate visuals, whether they were seeing them in Science or outside the journal in social media. As the pandemic continues, public demand has soared for accurate and up-to-date graphics explaining the effects of this devastating disease. Science’s COVID graphics have been viewed nearly a quarter-million times on our social media accounts.

Our library continues evolving as research reveals new findings. Here are some examples of how the graphics are used in different ways, helping keep both Science’s readers and the public well informed about the disease and its effects.

A three panel diagram showing disease progression of COVID-19 in the upper respiratory tract and then in the lungs.V. Altounian/Science

The graphic from the Perspective article “How does SARS-CoV-2 cause COVID-19?” has been liked by more than 3500 users on Instagram.

V. Altounian/Science

These graphics illustrating the SARS-CoV-2 life cycle were published 2 months apart. Reusing elements allowed rapid creation of the newer graphic (right) while maintaining Science’s visual style. On the left, “Race to find COVID-19 treatments accelerates.” On the right, “Rapid repurposing of drugs for COVID-19.”

A diagram showing JAK kinase inhibitors involvement in viral infection.A. Kitterman/Science Immunology

The COVID library is used across the Science family of journals. Here, a Science Immunology graphic depicts how JAK kinase inhibitors are investigated as a way of managing cytokine storm in patients with severe COVID-19.

Two diagrams where the alveolus graphic element is the main focus.V. Altounian/Science

Blood vessel injury, left, may spur the disease’s fatal second phase. Interferon responses seen in viral pneumonias, right, focus on the alveolus.

Table using graphical elements from the COVID libraryN. Desai/Science

Here, versatile library graphics combine to create an illustrated table showing how fast cheap tests could enable a safer reopening.

Anatomical drawing of a person with blurbs explaining how SARS-CoV-2 affects each organ.V. Altounian/Science

This large graphic communicated a lot of information about how the virus has potential to affect organs beyond the lungs. It was the first time that gross anatomy made its way into the picture and is a style-setter for how to do so. The unfussy style and modular design allowed for easier handling in our interactive version.

A person lying exhausted on a couch with organs and corresponding long term symptoms listed.V. Altounian/Science

Here, anatomy was illustrated to explain ongoing symptoms after a person has cleared the virus. While no library elements were used, we wanted it to act as a sequel to “An Invader’s Impact.”

An upper respiratory tract, blood vessel, and processes in between.V. Altounian/Science

This graphic, from “Aging immunity may exacerbate COVID-19,” was produced almost entirely from library elements.

A flow chart showing immune cells and IL-6 signaling and their downstream effects.V. Altounian/Science

The library is extremely useful for creating flow charts or signaling diagrams such as this graphic on cytokine release syndrome in severe COVID-19.

Val Altounian is a Senior Scientific Illustrator at Science.