Rather than simply being a tool for scientific illustration, how can graphic communication design be used to contribute to scientific understanding? How might one better understand scientific processes based on how they are visualized?

Through particle and form-based motion graphics and sound experiments, I used graphic communication design to research how sound and music are processed and interpreted in our brains, our emotions, and our headspace. The idea of a headspace and a consciousness where our emotions are felt was particularly interesting to me, and ultimately titled this visual essay. “The blackness behind your eyes,” is a phenomenon that we can all relate to, but one that has no concrete scientific explanation or visualization.

Neuroscience can explain how sound waves are processed from the outer ear to the inner ear, through the ear canal, eardrum, cochlea and auditory nerves. It can explain how sound turns from a wave, to a vibration, frequency and ultimately an electric signal. Neuroscience can also explain how music triggers the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, activating the limbic system which is responsible for our feelings of pleasure, heightened emotional states, chills, and even euphoria. Neuroimaging shows us which parts of the brain light up in response to music; neural networks all over the brain are activated, including the auditory cortex, visual cortex, motor cortex, cerebellum (mediates emotional response), hippocampus (memory), hypothalamus, limbic system and many more regions.  No known neuroscience research can, however, explain or visualize the abstract concept of a headspace, of the emotional state itself, of our consciousness, trapped somewhere between or brain and our eyes.

With this in mind, I wanted to explore both this unobservable, abstract concept, whilst also retaining some scientific basis in my research. Ultimately, this dichotomy between the subjective, abstract and intuitive graphics and the concrete, explanatory and translational ones shaped my position. How can graphic communication design explain the unexplainable, interpret the unobservable? Can graphic communication design fill in the gaps in scientific understanding? How can I explore new thresholds for how visuals can contribute to scientific understanding? What can I, as a designer, add to this cross-disciplinary exploration?

Dania Layla, 2021