Improving the EMBL-EBI online experience: a poster on the EBI website ‘rethink’

Here is a preview of Jenny Cham’s poster for the ISMB/ECCB 2013 conference happening in Berlin, 19-23 July 2013:

Jenny Cham's ISMB poster

Jenny Cham’s poster for ISMB [PDF]

The poster tells the story of the EMBL-EBI website redesign

The poster (number B44 at the conference) is a timeline showing the process we used to redesign the website from start to finish (although it’s never really finished!)  As far as possible, we applied a user-centred design philosophy – where evidence from users helped us to decide on the layout, the way search works, navigation, and other stuff.

We used BBC’s Global Experience Language (BBC GEL) as a shining example

BBC GEL provided the inspiration we needed to create style guidelines for the new site.  These include a style guide, design patterns and other advice (such as UX techniques), which designers and developers can follow to make the look and feel (and behaviour) of webpages consistent across diverse services under the EBI banner.  These guidelines will be available later this year, via the EBI website.

Acknowledgement of help

Jenny would like to thank Spencer Phillips (Graphic designer at EMBL-EBI) for his tips on improving the timeline and call out boxes in this poster.  Thank you!

See you in Berlin!

As well as the poster, check out Jenny’s talk on Tuesday 23 July (12.00-12.25, Hall 7) “Designing with the user in mind: how UCD can work for bioinformatics”


ISMB/ECCB 2013 conference page


Designing better web experiences for bioinformatics

The March issue of BMC Bioinformatics includes the first ‘how to’ guide for applying user-centred design (UCD) to websites for bioinformatics. In this post, written by user experience (UX) professionals at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) UK, we find out how UCD could positively impact scientific discovery in the life sciences.

Photo of paper prototyping for Enzyme Portal

Paper prototyping for Enzyme Portal

Bioinformatics services can be really useful for scientific research, but unfortunately they have a reputation for being too technical and hard-to-use. This is because it is usually the software developers who decide how bioinformatics software looks and behaves, rather than the biomedical researchers who actually use the resource.

In our article, we outline a better approach – focusing on what the users want.

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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!

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Some UI tips – tables and colours

HTML tables

It’s interesting how many HTML tables there are on bioinformatics websites. It’s equally interesting (in a way) to see how bad they can look. I can literally count in one hand the number of times I’ve actually seen a nice looking table. So…I was very happy to stop by this post on designing HTML tables.

Have a gander, I found the post to be fairly well written and puts into action a lot of design concepts.


The next post I wanted to bring attention to focuses on color wheels. The post is entitled Color wheels are wrong? How color vision actually works.

The post actually brings up some really great points Bang Wong made on his visit to the campus last year. He also has a recent publication in Nature Methods regarding the use of colour.

I hope you find this all interesting and useful!

UX Storytellers

UX Storytellers logo

Storytelling can be a really powerful way to inform user experience design. We can of course use it to involve the audience, and it can give narrative to the information we wish to communicate. Data can tell a story. The personas we sometimes use in the design process are characters in a story, and that story might describe the context in which our websites and software are used… Continue reading

PLoS ONE Article on Evaluation of a Literature Search Engine for the Biosciences

A paper describing the evaluation of BioText, a search engine for Open Access Journals that displays figures from the papers directly in the search results, has been published in PLoS ONE yesterday:

Divoli A, Wooldridge MA, Hearst MA (2010) Full Text and Figure Display Improves Bioscience Literature Search. PLoS ONE 5(4):e9619.

The paper is an great example of how a (search) website for bioscience research can be evaluated. It describes a user study with 20 participants and concludes that bioscience literature search engines should provide figures from articles in the search results and that not only abstract, title and meta data should be search but also figure captions and the full text of the articles.

BioText is the work of Marti Hearst’s group at UC Berkeley, who recently published a book called “Search User Interfaces“. Francis wrote a mini review of the book earlier this year.

Review: Search User Interfaces

The book, Search User Interfaces (CUP) was published in autumn 2009, and is written by Marti A. Hearst, professor at University of California, Berkeley, who has done research on search user interfaces for 15 years. It would make an excellent addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in search and navigation design.

It was thanks to Nils that I found out about it, and I think both of us have a copy now. I haven’t read mine cover-to-cover, preferring instead to dip in and out, reading various sections or whole chapters as required.

I got my copy at the Cambridge University Press (CUP) shop in Cambridge, but it also available on Amazon.

Even better… in an effort to maximise the impact of her writing, Hearst was able to convince CUP to allow her to also make the book available for free, in HTML format, on her website, so you can check it out there, too. This means you can also electronically search the book, which is really handy. I have found myself using both the hardcopy and the online copy.

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