ResearchNews

10.20.2021

Professional Graphic Design Services Return to Grants Hub

By Dan Kirkpatrick, Iowa State University Office of the Vice President for Research

After a brief hiatus, graphic design has returned as one of the core service offerings provided by Grants Hub.

Deb Berger (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University)

Deb Berger joined the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Grants Hub team as the new in-house graphic designer this summer, bringing with her more than 30 years of relevant graphic design experience and expertise. Berger earned a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design from Iowa State University, and her skills include branding and logo design, illustration, publication layout and design, and marketing campaign development.

With Berger’s arrival, Grants Hub is again offering free graphic design services to support university faculty and scholars of any discipline in their pursuit of major interdisciplinary sponsored research initiatives.

Designing Impact

The competition for sponsored funding is more intense than ever. Proposals that interest and engage reviewers, and that communicate with brevity and clarity will have an edge over the competition. A professional graphic designer can help research teams deliver these advantages in their proposals by:

  • Simplifying complex concepts for ease of understanding;
  • Grabbing and holding reviewers’ attention;
  • Leveraging colors, fonts, principles of design, and layout to better organize and enhance proposals, which is particularly important with reviewers who skim proposals;
  • Optimizing for accessibility through designs that take into account color blindness and other possible vision impairments;
  • Creating aesthetically pleasing, professionally designed graphics that create positive perceptions about your team’s research; and, ultimately
  • More effectively telling and selling a team’s research story.

“Professional graphic design is a critical component of the Grants Hub mission, which is dedicated to helping Iowa State University researchers win funding and build high-impact interdisciplinary research teams and projects,” said Director of Strategic Initiatives Jane Garrity. “We are excited to fill this position with someone as accomplished as Deb, as well as to once again offer innovative creative services to the campus research community.”

The value that high-quality graphic design can contribute to major research proposals is almost immeasurable. According to Joseph C. and Elizabeth A. Anderlik Professor in Engineering, Baskar Ganapathysubramanian, it is an invaluable tool in crafting a compelling narrative that is easy for reviewers to parse and understand. Ganapathysubramanian serves as the PI for the recently announced AI Institute for Resilient Agriculture (AIIRA), which was awarded a five-year, $20-million grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). During the proposal preparation process, he and his team utilized the Grants Hub’s graphic design services to create an overall schematic approach, as well as figures to display critical information.

“I cannot overemphasize the impact that good graphics – and a good graphic designer – can have on a proposal narrative,” Ganapathysubramanian said. “A graphic designer can help crystallize complex concepts and present them in an easy-to-interpret way, especially if PIs allow them to use their own creativity. This usually helps more than requesting very specific figure ideas or designs.”

Associate professor and Walter W. Wilson Faculty Fellow in Engineering Soumik Sarkar echoed the sentiment, citing the critical role graphic design services played in the COALESCE (COntext-Aware LEarning for Sustainable CybEr-agricultural systems) project, for which he is the PI, that recently won a five-year $7-million award from NSF and USDA-NIFA.

“We have worked with the Grants Hub to craft graphics and figures for numerous proposals,” Sarkar said. “The work on the COALESCE project was particularly beneficial, as it created an overview figure that clearly conveyed our overall idea in a highly effective manner. This proposal had a reverse site visit stage, where we again capitalized on the available graphic design expertise to develop multiple figures — including a logo for the project— that made our presentation look extremely professional.”

Initiating Design Services

Engaging with the Grants Hub graphic design services is a simple process, that starts by submitting a request through the Graphic Design page on the Grants Hub website. When initiating a project, please keep these additional considerations in mind:

  1. Prepare to give the designer a brief overview of the proposal, including key points of emphasis;
  2. Assume the designer won’t be familiar with the complexity of project’s concepts, so be prepared to discuss in terms a general audience can understand;
  3. Be prepared to answer the designer’s questions about colors and the types of illustrations that would be most appropriate for the proposal;
  4. Consider bringing sketches, photos, outlines, web links, or anything else that would help describe what needs to be illustrated;
  5. Submit the graphic design request early in the proposal preparation process so the designer has sufficient time for the project. Be prepared to discuss deadlines so the designer can create an appropriate timeline for deliverables;
  6. Depending on the complexity and scope of the project, the designer will create a mood board with recommended color palette, design style and sketches before moving forward with the first iteration. This is an important step that will help ensure the designer has fully understood the graphic needs of the project, so be prepared to collaborate, critique and offer constructive feedback;
  7. Finally, expect two or three iterations of the desired graphics from the designer.

“I’m here to help Iowa State researchers put their best foot forward in their proposals,” Berger said. “Ultimately, my goal is to design graphics and support the development of proposals that are concise, clean, and cohesive and that help our faculty tell their research stories in ways that are compelling and easily understood by reviewers. A picture is truly worth a thousand words, and perhaps millions of dollars in sponsored funding.”