Development / Design / User Experience / Open Source /

An open source collaboration between several universities for storing and searching Glycomics and Glycobiology data.


Minimal funding meant the time available for design and development was extremely limited, and so the challenge was to gain maximum value with limited resources—this meant a simple low-maintenance design utilizing a css framework that could continue to be folowed and developed without input from a designer or front-end developer. UX research and planning were considered but ultimately given up as a trade-off for more design and development time which could be used to implement a ‘sensible and reasonable’ experience aimed at academics used to dense interfaces and data displays.

Given the interrelated nature of the data and it’s public use, as many pieces of information were attempted to be linked as possible for reference purposes. Users were also found to often not search directly for the information they were looking for, instead often looking up related information and arriving in a round-about manner, so hierarchy was de-emphasised to encourage browsing cobweb-like data.

details yo
  • : UniKarb KB
  • : http://www.unicarbkb.org/
  • : Marc Ziani de Ferranti
  • : Mathew Campbell, Marc Ziani de Ferranti


Public sector and academic work occupies a curious middle ground for design work, in that the products need to be useable in the general sense, but also often fit specific idiosyncratic workflows and preferences. Because funding for these projects is public money (often government grants), stakeholders are often weary of appearing to spend ‘too much’ money on the visual or non-mechanical parts of a system for worry of being seen as having priorities out of order, which is—as loathe as a designer is to admit—not entirely unfounded. While this can frustrate a designers instincts for spit-and-polish aesthetic or deep user research, the job is ultimately to provide maximum benefit to a product. Thus, such a scenario does present a challenge and forces a focus on the basics of what can be done to both provide value to users, and developers alike.

Providing User Experience value in what I shall term ‘on-the-fly’ scenarios is at once great for honing instincts, and frustrating for the lack of guidelines, flow, or direction UX work would customarily provide. This can be seen in the customising of an existing framework—for the most part this works well as it allows a designer to leave a project and have developers continue to grow and mature a product without their input. The downside is that guidelines and frameworks are only as good as the priorities reinforcing them. That is to say, frameworks require time investment to understand their best use for implementation, and on-the-fly UX works for the parts implemented by the designer, but cease to help once they have left a project. This is where thorough UX planning and documentation can continue to influence and guide a project, having an outsized impact to time-investment ratio.