Redesigning DDStudio Gateway

Project in SGCI internship

Helping DDStudio team identified usability problems of their gateway and provide redesign suggestions

Data Discovery Studio (DDStudio) is a geoscience platform that indexes over 1.6 million dataset descriptions from 40+ data repositories and community contributions. It provides multiple services, including data search, custom collections, metadata editing, resource contribution, to make analyzing datasets for research more accessible for people. 

Nevertheless, some users reflected that the site is hard to understand and difficult to find what they were looking for. The DDStudio team hence came to us to conduct a thorough usability evaluation of the site to find ways to improve it.


My Role

Team Lead

User research 

UI design

Concept testing


2019/7 ~ 2019/10


3 usability consulting interns of Science Gateways Community Institute (SGCI)


User Interviews & Expert Reviews

At the first stage, we conducted five interviews with existing users to build empathy with them. We were looking for their primary use cases, frustrations, and desires in the current website. Besides, in order to assess the site more thoroughly, we used two usability methods to help us get different views from UX designers’ perspectives: heuristic evaluation and cognitive walkthrough

Through research, we found several pain points and prioritize seven main problems that need more attention. Below I created a diagram to summarize the user journey and our key findings.



Competitive Analysis

Moving forward, we decided to explore other websites with common or similar elements to DDStudio to understand what they are doing and how do they overcome the same problems. We studied 11 geoscience sites and sorted out the advantages we think are worthy of reference. 

Three goals we centered our analysis on were:
01. Improve the visual hierarchy 
02. Enhance the navigability
03. Streamline the flow of tasks


Here's an overview of our learning from other sites:

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Next, we created mockups with these competitor sites as inspiration for updating the look and feel of the DDStudio site. 

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Concept Walkthrough

Then, we conducted five concept tests with potential users to see if our mockups meet the actual workflows and see if there is any confusion on the interfaces.
Overall, users were satisfied with the new design and thought it was clean, simple, and easy to navigate. However, there were some problems found in the tests. We refined related parts based on that feedback and the discussion with the DDStudio team.

Partial Iterations


Final Deliverables:

As the goals we identified at the beginning, our design focused on improving visual hierarchy, enhance navigability, and streamline the flow of tasks. Before, users had to assume what everything did, but now everything is up front with them and easy to digest. Below is an overview of our design suggestions for the DDStudio site.


Our changes in this page are essentially:

  • Removing unnecessary information

  • Cleaning up the search results visually

  • Slimming down the facets

  • Adding functions for clarity (help, dropdown for add to collection, filters added)



Our changes in this page are essentially:

  • Easing navigation with a sidebar

  • Providing relevant functions (advanced links and add to collection) on this page

  • Cleaning up how the text is presented



Our changes in this page are essentially:​​

  • Reordering how each article is presented, making it easier on the eye

  • Separating functions to give more transparency



This project has been a great experience for the team. It allowed us to focus on different aspects of a site and work with professionals in the geology field. Thanks to the DDStudio team's amazing cooperation throughout the engagement, we were able to meet often to communicate our thoughts and make rapid iterations. Moving forward, the team will use our design as a starting point to revamp their website.

"Half the battle in encouraging people to provide and use rich metadata is to make it seem clear, not overwhelming - to feel simpler without actually reducing data. Users feel "allowed" to look at only as much as they wish or need to at any moment, while there is also the unstated reassurance that the information is available and will persist - a victory for white space, clean lines, and good design! Not an easy thing to achieve." - Feedback from the DDStudio team