Bioinformatics Meets User-Centred Design: A Perspective

We are happy to announce that EMBL-EBI’s latest article on user experience in bioinformatics has just been published in the peer-reviewed open access journal, PLoS Computational Biology. We hope this article is just the start of a trend towards more user experience-related articles in bioinformatics and the wider life sciences.  We feel that in general, articles applying UX in complex domains are scarce in scientific literature, so we hope there will more output in this direction going forwards.  For PLoS journals you can post comments directly with the article on their website, so we look forward to hearing your views and opinions on our work.  Enjoy!

Abstract: Designers have a saying that “the joy of an early release lasts but a short time. The bitterness of an unusable system lasts for years.” It is indeed disappointing to discover that your data resources are not being used to their full potential. Not only have you invested your time, effort, and research grant on the project, but you may face costly redesigns if you want to improve the system later. This scenario would be less likely if the product was designed to provide users with exactly what they need, so that it is fit for purpose before its launch. We work at EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), and we consult extensively with life science researchers to find out what they need from biological data resources. We have found that although users believe that the bioinformatics community is providing accurate and valuable data, they often find the interfaces to these resources tricky to use and navigate. We believe that if you can find out what your users want even before you create the first mock-up of a system, the final product will provide a better user experience. This would encourage more people to use the resource and they would have greater access to the data, which could ultimately lead to more scientific discoveries. In this paper, we explore the need for a user-centred design (UCD) strategy when designing bioinformatics resources and illustrate this with examples from our work at EMBL-EBI. Our aim is to introduce the reader to how selected UCD techniques may be successfully applied to software design for bioinformatics.

Citation: Pavelin K, Cham JA, de Matos P, Brooksbank C, Cameron G, Steinbeck C (2012) Bioinformatics Meets User-Centred Design: A Perspective. PLoS Comput Biol 8(7): e1002554. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002554

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