Usable Earth Science: User Interface Design in Earth Science Applications

This session focuses on promoting User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) to first-class citizens in Earth Science application development.  Despite being high powered and sophisticated, many Earth Science applications miss the mark on basic usability.  We'd like discussions around:
  • What current efforts are underway in ESIP to understand and improve Earth Science user interfaces?

  • How should we interpret results from user research into current application usage patterns, both in general and in the specific case of studies we conducted?

  • What role should personas, user-centered design, wireframing, prototyping, and user feedback play in application design and development?

  • How can we raise user interface/user experience work to the level of other software best practices such as testing and configuration management?



1)Design First: Why UI/UX should be a first class citizen in Earth Science

Design First, Build Later

Design Analogy: Layout of Boston vs San Francisco or Washington, D.C.; Difficult to understand vs logical

Listen to Users
-What are people using?
-What do they want to do?
-What do they need to accomplish that goal?

Obsess about interaction
-Underlying API and data
-Visualization layer on top of that

Build before we build
-Create wireframe prototypes without coding

Examples of prototyping tools discussed

The Design First Earth Scientist
-UI/UX not just for visual applications
-Thinking about design can help eliminate data errors down the line
-Using known, tested design patterns allows the Earth Scientist to focus on the problem they are trying to solve

Collect thoughts and ideas without leaving the command line using jrnl

Easily graph data from the command line using DataFart

Earthdata Bootstrap
-Similar to Twitter Bootstrap
-Framework for building one-off web applications
-Known patterns for useable design
-Tested, reusable look and feel for web applications

Discussion of FontAwesome - Create web fonts from vector graphics

2)Concept Car for the Common Metadata Repository (CMR), Global Imagery Browse Services(GIBS) and Services
-What is CMR?
--Single source of unified, high-quality and reliable Earth Science metadata
--High-performance ingest and search tool

-Multiple Metadata Concepts

-GIBS Process Overview

Goals for EDSC
-Showcase EOSDIS Component Benefits and Capabilities (CMR, GIBS, etc)
-Improve Search and Discovery
-Improve Experience Working with Earth Science Data

3)Earth Data Search Client: Design Process

User Interviews
-Earth science data end users, scientists and developers
-Recorded and observed users working with current set of software
-Conducted with Earthdata and Blink teams

Persona Development
-Create Earth Science user archetypes based on interviews
-Helped drive further development of EDSC

Interaction Design
-Interactive wireframes
-Rapid interactions week to week to flesh out core interactions of application
-Low-cost, low-resolution: High fidelity design can be come distracting at this stage

Visual Design
-Color, theme and primary layout
-Heavily based on interactive wireframes
-Design iteration and discussion happened before any code was written

4) Earth Data Search Client: Patterns
-The Map
-Left Stack Facets
-Menu Bar

5) Earth Science Personas
-ES Researcher
-ES Developer
-Applied Science Professional

6) Design recommendations
-Use of earth data search tools is infrequent
-Learning curve muse be minimal
-Terminology should match users' expectations i.e. Download vs ordering data
-No current prevention of unreasonable user data requests
-Options should be dynamically offered based on options that the user has selected so far

Live Demo of NASA Earth Data Tool

Moving forward
-Alpha release of NASA Earth Data Tool
-Working to refine NASA Earth Data Tool
-Core Consistent Capabilities
-Discovery, Visual Metadata and Access

Pilone, D.; Siarto, J.; Usable Earth Science: User Interface Design in Earth Science Applications; Summer Meeting 2014. ESIP Commons , April 2014