LearnSphere, part of the Simon Initiative’s LearnLab and DataShop projects, is a hub for learning scientists and data analysts to upload, analyze, and share datasets. With LearnSphere’s Tigris tool, users can create data analysis workflows to help with their research, share their findings, or continue their work.
I originally joined this team as part of an REU for summer 2018, and was hired on after the summer to continue work into the present. Working as the only designer on a team of five, I fill many different roles, ranging from UX/UI, design research, and front-end development. One of my primary roles was to fix the Tigris interface, both aesthetically and from a UX standpoint. The original interface was several years old, designed by computer scientists for their local network of computer scientists and data analysts.
The Simon Initiative was founded to make learning science more accessible. Tigris’s interface was not.
I took two parallel approaches to this project: redesigning the interface based on my UI/UX background, while interviewing many different users from several universities and of varying experience levels. First, I’d talk to the users about their backgrounds and primary reasons for using Tigris, and then I’d have them perform a series of tasks in front of me so I could see firsthand how they interacted with the interface. I found that many of them agreed with my assessments of the interface: important tasks were often hidden, it took many clicks to do a simple action, and the function of components or buttons was often unclear. With this in mind, I created mockups of the new interface, and once they were approved and implemented on the back end, I also worked on the front end to make sure everything that worked well in theory also succeeded in practice.
The original Tigris interface looked a little juvenile, utilizing whimsical patterns and bright or neon colors. Tonally, this didn’t make sense with the kind of tool it was, so I redesigned it.
Additionally, the interface had bad contrast and was often difficult to read without zooming in. Zooming in, however, significantly impacted the usability of the interface. This was a Catch-22 that needed immediate addressing. I simplified the interface, relied more heavily on icons, unified the font family, and changed the colors of the interface to create a more adult tone with better contrast and easier usability.
Finally, one major component of LearnSphere is its sharing capabilities.
These workflows, created in Tigris, can be shared with other learning scientists for collaborative research. The workflow list in its current state was difficult to use, and provided only minor searching abilities. Essentially, it was just a reverse chronological list of public workflows.
I completely redesigned the workflow list, adding a tagging system, advanced search, and a more condensed way of communicating the necessary details for each workflow (author, date updated, is the data public or private?, does the workflow have an error?, etc). The result was users not needing to search for important information, and an easier experience locating a specific workflow. LearnSphere’s database grows each day, and I’m continuing to work with the team to implement new features, update old ones, and continually improve the UI/UX.