A classic is a classic.

However, it is difficult to define what makes something a real classic, though.

Some may say it is the expression of truth and beauty, with a certain universal appeal. Something that makes connections with other great works, other classics, not only from its own time but from different eras too. Yes, a big feature of a classic is this: it stands the test of time.

Nevertheless, even with all this clues, there is no algorithm to help us identify what is or what will be a true classic in the future.

Therefore, at the end of the day, we can just feel it. We just know: a classic is a classic.Classic scientific papers illustrations

Science has its own classics, and here we bring you some papers that are classics by their illustrations, schematic drawing and infographics. Those are images that went viral in specific areas of knowledge, the ones that are in almost every thesis presentation of a specific field. Their impact is huge, measured not only by citation numbers, but also by its presence in thesis, presentation, books, and even newspapers and blogs. Admiration and authority canonize their authors.

Maybe not all these papers fame is due to theirs graphics and illustrations, but is evident that they play a major role facilitating the understanding, giving an identity and enhancing the spread of that information.

So let the classics inspire us.

  • The Halmarks of Cancer


If you work in cancer, you know this image. It represents the six barriers a cell must overcome to become malignant, each of them in a color and shape. Because they compose a circle, it makes clear that the cell must have, not 1 or 2 mutations, but at least 6 mutations of each category.

In the center, as a bonus, an illustration with a hint of how complex the tumor microenvironment can be.

Published in 2000, it has 21410 citations and is such a classic that in 2011 their authors in the same journal (Cell) revisited it giving us the follow up with the new discoveries, but still using the same illustration structure:

halmarks of cancer illustration

This 2011 paper has 13092 citations already.


  • Cartoon addiction

alcohol deprivation illustration

Sometimes a technical review is highly cited because it makes the researcher´s life easier in describing a model or the technics in use, but this review on behavioral assessment of drug reinforcement makes something else: it gives you fantastic cartoons you can use to make your presentation more fun! Imagine how many grad students use these in thesis presentation. Can you imagine how they increased the paper´s citation?


  • Master manipulators

wolbachia invertebrate ilustration

In this paper, Wolbachia: master manipulators of invertebrate biology, the authors made this beautiful figure showing the phenotypes altered by the bacteria. Maybe a black and white table would suffice, but it would never have the same impact on readers.


  • Open innovation


open innovation funnel
Henry Chesbrough, Open Innovation; Renewing Growth from Industrial R&D, 10thAnnual Innovation Convergence, Minneapolis, Sept. 27, 2004

Here are some examples outside biomedical areas. The first one is a simple concept made simpler thanks to a simple illustration: the Open Innovation Funnel

It is such a classic that is difficult to find the original figure among all the versions you find online.


  • OSI reference model

osi model illustration

The Open Systems Interconnection model (OSI Model) is a concept model to characterize and standardize the communication functions of a telecommunication or computing system.

You can find thousands of different versions of this illustration too.


Subscribe to our newsletter

Exclusive high quality content about effective visual
communication in science.

- Exclusive Guide
- Design tips
- Scientific news and trends
- Tutorials and templates