A new mission for life-seeking Mars geoscience software


PIXLISE is a science analysis tool used by NASA scientists to search for life on Mars. As the founding visual designer and product marketer, I designed PIXLISE’s public debut and built the product’s first deployment strategy for launch. 🚀

My complete design was shipped in spring 2023.
This case study is under construction. (Apr 2024)




Before
After






Role

Founding Visual Designer and Product Marketing Lead
Skills

Info Architecture
UX/UI Design
Product Strategy
Product Marketing
UX Research
Design Systems
Client

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Duration

10 weeks



SOLUTION OVERVIEW

Helping Earth labs make groundbreaking discoveries with PIXLISE


We transformed a rudimentary one-scroll “site” into a comprehensive and intuitive web experience accessible to all geoscientists. New users can quickly survey complex features and potential use cases, understand PIXLISE’s value to their lab, and take steps to deploy PIXLISE the very same day.





1. Grasp complex features in seconds


PIXLISE’s flexibility supports several subtypes of science users, and every scientist’s workflow is different. Thus, users can begin to understand PIXLISE through 3 core functions, further supported by features and use cases—all validated with expert reviews with NASA scientists.




2. Align with PIXLISE’s mission with extra resources


Science workflows can also be incredibly interconnected, and collaboration functionality is rooted in product origins and one of PIXLISE’s greatest value propositions. Community forums, developer guides, and team info are just a click away.





3. Adopt and evaluate for a perfect fit


Replacing 1:1 product demos with a layered adoption strategy enables potential users to try features autonomously. This cut onboarding from weeks to minutes, allowing the product team to focus on shipping awesome features.






Interact with the final prototype here.








Peek into the process:



OPPORTUNITY

Mars science tools are useful for Earth scientists too.


PIXLISE enables scientists to analyze XRF spectroscopy data from the Mars rover’s PIXL instrument. This robust visualization engine is helping scientists comprehend the geologic history of Mars and identify potential signs of life.

While PIXLISE was initially developed for Martian exploration, this tool has the potential to revolutionize geoscience workflows no matter the source planet.

I was approached by the PIXLISE product team at NASA JPL to distill the essence of PIXLISE's capabilities into a compelling story to activate a new world of users. 




PROBLEM

Built for Mars, PIXLISE was never intended for the Earth scientist.


Previously, PIXLISE’s front page contained only the most basic information about the tool. The team lacked perspective to communicate product value to external users. Without intentional restructuring, the tool will never grow beyond its current user base.






Challenge









RESEARCH OVERVIEW

Building a foundational understanding about the product, existing users, business, and competition


I had no prior experience working in the technical subject area of planetary geoscience. With research I hoped to understand why PIXLISE works so well for Mars geoscience: starting from the innate tool, to the scientist users, and in context of team needs. 







Custom Notion setup to stay organized!





INFORMATION HIERARCHY

Current user workflows reveal what makes PIXLISE special


Because scientist workflows are complex and specific to each scientist, it was more helpful to guide scientists to talk through their workflow than to ask questions. Later, I found distinguishing between different types of information such as workflow actions, feature names, and more-abstract benefits to be critical.

With expert reviews for precise and representative copywriting, the result was a detailed AND digestible organization of product feature information with six levels of information granularity. At the highest level, PIXLISE is characterized by flexibility (in workflow), speed (in quantification), and innovation (in investigation features).





It translated gracefully into my first iteration of wireframes for the Landing and Product pages, and is much more in depth than the 4 cards on the site previously.





SYNTHESIS

Catering to an external audience with limited access to users


- In additional to challenging
We only had access to 1 target user for research (UWO Lab), but we made the most of it by identifying pain points, translating into deployment strategy and technical constraint lists. 

- establishing the order 
- table is a content bank, identify key insights
- using other strategies to emathize with users
- tehcnical constraints
- still think blue sky



Personas




Getting specific about personas and journeys helped determine the call to action (CTA) of the site: direct users to explore PIXLISE’s features in the trial version.

This manifested in a recurring section at the bottom of every page and the main navigation. The deployment plan also translated into the content above-the-fold of the Resources page.







STRATEGY AND USR FLOW

Lead with values and pain points, let use cases follow


- fitting stuff into flows
- Thinking beyond product features and iterating on a grander site hierarchy afforded a comprehensive web experience that could adapt to the growing product.


Final Site Map



UX Synthesis Process — Site Map




DESIGN SYSTEM + IDENTITY

A research-validated design system that reflects the product’s origins, current capabilities, and vision for the future.


The public site should be inspired by the product, but better yet, present a more expressive side of the PIXLISE brand.

Weeks of research helped me dissolve the essence of PIXLISE into four core values. It was important that these were reflected in the visual design.





I strived to communicate the sophistication and quality of this revolutionary tool, yet still stay grounded in the grassroots origins of the product.


Working with the product team, we were able to refine this identity into a design system that is accessible, inclusive, and implemented at scale.



Final Design System






The final visual system retains the dark look of the UI. We highlight with the same PIXLISE yellow spot color, but now with an additional poppy vermillion, inspired by PIXLISE’s Red Planet muse. The energetic type duo ties it all together: the geometric yet approachable sans serif Faktum and the clean monospace variation of GT America.



UI DESIGN


Combining type, imagery, and interaction for the final UI.


The extensive content hierarchy work established the fundamental structure for the UI, but a lot of design tweaks brought wireframes to fidelity.

At this point, I started considering layout and imagery in the communication of information. 



At first, I relied solely on product screenshots to supplement the copywriting. In later iterations, I incorporated simple illustrations to communicate abstract ideas and hi-res geography photos to bring context and atmosphere to the experience.





Screen Iterations per Page


Sketching helped me workshop a difficult illustration (communicating real-time collaboration).








LANDING PAGE COPY:

Refresh the landing page to better understand what PIXLISE stands for.




PRODUCT FEATURES CARDS:

Survey product features quickly by clicking on the informational cards.





PRODUCT FUNCTIONS :

Easily navigate between the three core product functions: Workflow, Quantification, and Investigation.





TOOL-INTERFACE TOGGLE:

Immediately grasp tool functionality by switching between an isolated panel view and an in-context workspace view.



Interact with the final prototype here.






REFLECTION

What I learned and next steps



The ambiguity of our target user and the high level of content complexity made this project super challenging. However, the hardest lesson I learned was to push through moments of uncertainty and get comfortable defining the UX process as I go. My greatest breakthrough was learning to be wrong, so we can get it right.

More learnings:

Writing is design. Balancing precision, concision, and accuracy with something more “punchy” and “marketable” was hard and required its own iterative process.

Don’t be afraid of ugly. Sometimes the scrappiest and ugliest tables/artifacts I made, prototyped quickly in-meeting or after a sudden revelation were the most effective in making progress. The goal is to move the needle forward.

Accessibility is so important. Working with non-designers helped me contextualize the importance of design in a non-creative setting. I saw the impact I could make in 10 weeks, and that alone made the challenges in communication worthwhile.




Visiting the lab for the final week and my final presentation!


If given more time and money, I’d:

Access more Earth Labs. It was challenging extrapolating findings with limited access to our target user. In an ideal world, I would interview more earth scientists to validate site success.

Build out Guides. Due to the complexity of PIXLISE’s interface, user support is necessary to troubleshoot and adapt to software changes. I’d love to continue working with developers to build user-friendly guides for increased autonomy and reducing the core team’s workload.

Assist Deployment Success. I got to help workshop preliminary strategies to deploy PIXLISE at scale. It would be super cool to continue doing this to bridge UX and software capabilities!

Presenting this project to the Mars 2020 PIXL science team was the most gratifying moment of my career to date. I got to see scientists react to my process and get a glimpse of the positive impact design can have on scientific inquiry. This project reinforced my belief in the importance of user-centered design.

The website is not finished. I look forward to continue systemizing design components to optimize implementation for the developer team. I’m also applying my knowledge from this summer to design the PIXLISE trial experience!

Stay tuned 🚀~