Science meets Storytelling

Faculty Focus

“The need for: ‘multi-disciplinary’, ‘communication’, ‘social science’ and ‘story-telling’”

I was struck by the reoccurring mention of these terms while attending the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) annual conference  in Washington, D.C.

NCSE is a conference of scientists (primarily earth & physical scientists) who do highly specialized research related to environment and climate, so it is refreshing to hear the desire for collaboration coming from both science as well as from the worlds I inhabit – communication and creativity.

As an information designer, educator and visual storyteller working at the intersection of science communication and visualization, I get especially excited about complex sustainability content with data and a need to help non-experts understand.

For research findings to be accepted and acted upon by communities – scientists and policymakers need to draw more personal ties between policies and how individuals interact with them. An important step in this is helping the public understand a bit more of the system (and the ‘why’) behind a particular policy. Because 65% of people are visual learners, and because graphics are an important method of showing complex systems – visuals are an excellent tool to help audiences relate to and connect with content. At science conferences, you’ll find me advocating for design, creativity and the arts. At design conferences, I’m the advocate for science, data and content. Bridging such worlds is a common theme in the work of MCAD ES grads.

At the NCSE conference, I presented as part of a MN-based symposium on “Artists as Partners in Infrastructure Education.” (More details on our symposium here) With this group, we hope to continue the dialogue of how artists can contribute to the great work these scientists are already doing – and helping it take a relevant and emotional hold on communities around the world.

It was a great experience to be immersed in the state of US research and policies related to climate and environment. I look forward to bringing what I’ve learned into the classroom!


Arlene Birt is now a full time faculty of MCAD’s Entrepreneurial Studies program.

This article was first posted in the Entrepreneurial Studies blog.

Arlene Birt

Arlene Birt is an infodesigner, visual storyteller, public artist and educator. 

Founder and visual storyteller at Background Stories—an information design consultancy that works with organizations in the US, EU and UK—Arlene’s work translates complex ideas, systems and metrics into clear visuals that help people understand sustainability.

Her work on sustainability communication has resulted in several grants—including a Fulbright grant, invitations to present internationally and has been featured in numerous publications.

An alum of MCAD’s ES program, Arlene holds a Masters in Design from The Netherlands and has been teaching in MCAD’s Sustainable Design program since 2008. Following a 5+ year stint in Brussels, she is currently faculty in the ES program.