From the cartoon schematics of cells that decorate the walls of introductory science classrooms to the succinct infographics that accompany scientific manuscripts, visual representations facilitate learning and allow budding and experienced scientists alike to engage with new concepts. At The Scientist, senior graphic designer Ashleigh Campsall creates eye-catching visual elements to facilitate science communication and engage readers. Her scientific illustrations help take The Scientist’s short form and long form stories to the next level.

However, it’s important to remember that I can make something that visually looks very nice, but if it doesn’t effectively deliver the message to the reader, then it doesn’t add anything. If it works, then people understand it, and they resonate with it. 

 —Ashleigh Campsall, The Scientist

Q | How did you become interested in graphic design?

While growing up, I always knew that I loved art. One day when I was around seven years old, I joined my friend on a visit to her parents’ office. They were graphic designers, and I remember walking through the studio amazed that they got paid to make art on the computer. I even had the chance to doodle on the computer. I left thinking, “This is what I want to do.” Years later, I had the opportunity to intern at their magazine during the last semester of my graphic design program. 

Q | What is your design education background?

After high school, I enrolled in a one-year Art Fundamental program at Georgian College that allowed me to sample different avenues in the art world, including traditional drawing and painting, photography, printmaking, and graphic design. I loved the graphic design course and decided to enroll in a three-year advanced program. 

Before joining The Scientist in 2019, I led a diverse portfolio of design projects in branding and advertising. When I saw that The Scientist was hiring, it felt like serendipity! Although I specialized in graphic design, I have always loved the life sciences. At the magazine, there are endless learning opportunities on both fronts. Now, I collaborate with the editorial and creative services teams to generate graphics that help our readers digest complicated topics.

          Sketch on the left and final drawing to the right, of a toad with mushrooms growing from its back.
For an Inktober 2023 prompt, Ashleigh drew mushrooms growing from a toad’s back as a play on toadstool mushrooms.

Q | How do you approach a new scientific illustration project?

When an illustration project first hits my desk, I start by researching the story to see what kind of scientific imagery is involved. I look for inspiration in the story draft, but I also explore how others in the field approach the topic. I love this stage of the project because I’m always learning about new and fascinating discoveries in the life sciences, such as how scientists are developing cancer vaccines or how bacteria maintain cooperative communities

This is also the most challenging stage because, like a scientific research project, the art project can go in many directions. Sometimes it’s useful to speak with the writer to better understand the goal of the graphic and the vision for the project, both conceptually and aesthetically. After that, I start experimenting with line, shape, form, color, and texture to emphasize different elements of the story. Building a graphic is a process, and I love to see where a project takes me from the concept to the final design.

Q | What is your favorite project that you created for The Scientist?

For the December 2023 print issue I had the privilege of illustrating the infographic for "A Story of Mice and FIRE" article. The infographic describes transgenic mice that lack microglia, which results in a breakdown of the protective myelin sheaths coating brain cells. Scientists use these mice to study age-related neurodegenerative diseases. For this infographic, I wanted to stray away from the typical flat vector illustration I was used to and try something different. I used the illustration tool Procreate to hand draw the mouse, brain, and neurons on my iPad. It was a simple, straightforward design, but it was different from what I’m used to doing. 

          Photo of a white dog in front of fall foliage.
In her free time, Ashleigh explores the outdoors with her energetic 11-year-old husky, Keeko.
Ashleigh Campsall

Q | What is your favorite part about being a graphic designer in the life sciences?

I’m a visual learner, and infographics have helped me throughout my life. I am passionate about designing visuals that effectively communicate complex topics. This is especially true in the life sciences where there is a wide scope of topics that scientists explore deeply. A good graphic can bring key elements to the surface and transcend expertise barriers to make content accessible to nonexperts who are exploring new domains. However, it’s important to remember that I can make something that visually looks very nice, but if it doesn’t effectively deliver the message to the reader, then it doesn’t add anything. If it works, then people understand it, and they resonate with it.

Q | What do you like to do outside of work?

On the weekends, you can find me on the couch for hours at a time completely immersed in a book, playing video games, or going on adventures with my 11-year-old husky. Even though my days are filled with design, I still love to draw and try new things. Every year, I participate in Inktober, a month-long art challenge where a new, single word drawing prompt is released each day. 

Connect with Ashleigh on  Instagram  and  LinkedIn.