For the past couple of months, we’ve been getting to know CERN. We’ve been getting to know how the website is currently used; what is it that people want to do? what do they want to know and who are they? We’ve also been spending our time understanding the current content on the website and assessing what is valuable and what isn’t. All of this talking, listening, researching and strategising has led to some key initial deliverables from us for the project. We’re beginning to define direction and we wanted to share this output with you for feedback.
Research activities included:
- Public site questionnaire with over 1000 respondents
- Stakeholder & team interviews
- Business unit and experiment interviews
Research activities planned:
- Continuing experiment and business unit interviews
- User interviewing
- Usability testing
One of the activities we try to do as early as possible in a project is ‘shape’ the audience in terms of tools we can use and refer to. For this project we took the data from the questionnaire from the public site and established four audience groups: General public, Students, Teachers (science teachers) and Physicists/Researchers. These groups were the largest representations in the data.
Each of the personas had key user goals and motivations derived from the data we gathered. We’ve compiled these in a PDF document which can download and have a look at, but I’ll run through each Persona here as an overview.
Olivia is a student. She primarily needs to find information on CERN projects for her homework. She looks for this information on the web whilst at home. Her motivations are strong on Curiosity and Education.
Roger is a High School teacher. He has a mid-level comprehension of what CERN does. His primary user goal is to get updates from the LHC and the various experiments. He uses the CERN site at work.
Chris is a Physics Researcher. He has a high comprehension level and primarily needs very specific information from projects. His motivation is either very specific use-cases, or more general (keeping abreast of updates).
Joanne is a member of the general public. She is curious about CERN. She uses the website at home, mobile and at work. Often prompted by exterior triggers in the media (links from other articles/content), her primary goal is to find information and updates.
We will be using these tools in the design process. All sections and pages of the website will have a primary and a secondary persona to which they will be designed for.
The current CERN website has evolved organically over the last 10 years or so. Throughout this period of natural growth, the site has become difficult to use and difficult for the user to find content they need. Along with our audience research activities, we’ve been spending time assessing the current content on the site and also defining a strategy for the needs of the organisation and creation of new content going forward.
The content strategy can best be described in terms of levels of content; going from the disconnected and nebulous content that lives outside of the CERN.ch domain, and the content that is highly scientific and specific in nature that is clearly siloed as to not turn off the general public. In between, we have content that tightly controlled, editorially managed and ranging from telling rich, great stories about CERN through to operational / highly functional content such as maps and contact forms.
Our next steps for the content strategy is to map the existing content to this new structure. These ‘page tables’ will clearly define user goals, primary & secondary personas and the content that will be on the page, along with categorisation, valuable meta data and clear related content to help with meaningful user journeys from one piece of content to another.
User Experience Strategy
User Experience Strategy is about defining a user experience direction for the project. It’s a touchstone for which to refer to throughout the project to ensure we’re on the right track.
For CERN, we know that people are curious. We know that people are interested and want to know what is happening, but quite often on the CERN site (and other CERN comms), they’re met with quite difficult to comprehend science coupled with imagery of large machinery.
CERN has wonderful stories that need to be told. They need to be told in the right way that inspires and captures the imagination of the general public. We feel that an organisation that gets this story telling right is NASA. Now, of course images of space and stars is very inspiring and captures the imagation of people the world over. BUT, what if CERN was the NASA of inner space? For what NASA is to outer space, CERN should be for inner space.
This about creating wonder.
We do that by telling stories, showing images (not necessarily photographs of magnets) that support those stories, and revealing what CERN has done, what it continues to do in the future.
So, we understand the challenges that CERN has an organisation. We have all of our content. We have a strategy of how we’ll use it and create new content going forward. We know – and have modelled – our audience. The next thing we need to do is organise that old and new content. In web design, this is called Information Architecture.
We have created our top level information architecture and how top level content maps to it. These are our top level sections: About CERN, Students & Educators, Physicists and Researchers and CERN staff.
Prototype: iteration 1
Rather than create schematic page diagrams, we prefer to create website prototypes on the web in the form of lo-fidelity HTML prototypes. This allows us to test them early in the process, and also for us to use real content (rather than dummy copy).
The first iteration of the prototype includes just two section pages, but most notably the homepage.
For the new CERN homepage we have three primary criteria to design to (gathered from the research, and the UX strategy).
- Clearly show updates from CERN
- Funnel difference audience groups through to content that matters to them
- ‘Create wonder’
These are addressed by the following page elements:
- Updates: update panel and also a clearly labelled ‘experiment status’ panel.
- Funnel: Clear content sections for distinct audience groups
- Wonder: show visualisations of collisions in the LHC with an easy to understand explanation
Design concepts: iteration1
We often combine our UX work with initial look and feel concepts. At this stage, given our experience strategy, it’s important to try and stress-test some of the more visual aspects. In this visual, I was looking to address the following criteria:
- How does the brand hold up?
- Is the of the Optima typeface a viable solution?
- Try the idea of simplified experiment logos for the status panel
- How do we create wonder (I audited a range of suitable images)
- Feel: how do we get the feel right for the organisation
We will continue to iterate on this concept through the design and UX sprints.
We’ll also be visiting CERN next week. As part of that visit, we’re setting aside some time to be available for questions, concerns, ideas etc in a one-to-one surgery.
Mark Boulton on