The typical design process on science illustrations (or any educational illustrations) involves me conducting a lot of research on my own, so I can figure out what is most important to show, to clarify the big idea needing representation, and to figure out how to translate the abstract concepts into visual form. I am, also, naturally very curious to learn how things work.
There is huge value in having my own personal grasp of the concepts, rather than being told exactly what to do and draw. First, I have an outsider perspective, and can better discern what an an average person is familiar with. Things which might seem straightforward to a scientist or engineer, an “in” person, may not be so apparent to others. There is a lot that an “in” person has learned or knows that they take for granted, as simple as, electrons are negatively charged particles that “spin” around an atom’s nucleus.
Negatively charged what? If you haven’t taken a science class since high school or early college, if you don’t keep up with science related news, even simple or seemingly obvious things like that can easily be forgotten (or sometimes never learned). It may seem surprising, but it is as true of science as it is of any other gained knowledge. Take foreign languages, for example: if you don’t practice, you will forget. E natural! Maybe a better saying than “practice makes perfect” would be “practice keeps,” “practice for maintenance,” or “practice to practice (practice so you can practice).”
Second, conducting my own research and figuring things out on my own also allows me to ask relevant questions to the science mentors and test whether everything makes sense and is correct. There is dialog instead of one way communication.
Third, it is necessary to have an understanding in order to create the analytical diagrams; to generate the content; to develop a visual story.
Fourth, as an educator, I am familiar both with ways of breaking down information into digestible bits, and also with the attention span of an audience. My goal is to design “learning” that can be easily absorbed by all people. This can generate unpredictable new interest a subject. And it is also more democratic: valuable knowledge is for everyone.