“How do you communicate with scientists to define or communicate their visual communication needs/goals?”
When communicating with scientists in order to establish expectations and understand the vision, I find that asking for reference material – either prior publications or general synopses of previous work – helps to develop a basic understanding of who I’m working with and what they might be particularly passionate about. Within that reference material, it’s incredibly helpful if they highlight the sections that they feel are particularly important or want to be conveyed in a final product; my limited research experience allows me to sift through some level of jargon, but simplification down to the most critical parts makes developing a project infinitely easier.
Establishing the target audience of the piece is also crucial – formats and artistic styles have varying impacts on different audiences, and a lack of clarity about this also leads to potentially creating art that’s significantly over or under a person’s comprehension level. I believe that this should be one of the first things discussed between the artist and the scientist, as the preliminary drafting alone would already look very different if I’d been told to cater to an elementary school science fair versus an introduction to a lab for prospective students. All of the people involved in a science-art collaboration want to create something that will leave an impact on eventual viewers, and considering their needs from the outset is the best way we can do that.