Activating Martian software on Earth


PIXLISE is a data visualization tool used by NASA scientists to identify potential signs of life on Mars. Partnering with science and product teams, I designed PIXLISE’s public debut. I generated all technical content and crafted the product’s initial deployment and messaging strategy for growth. 🚀

Design fully implemented in Spring 2023.







Role

Design Lead
Skills

UX/UI Design
Info Architecture
Content Strategy
UX Research
Copywriting
Visual Design
Client

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(PIXL Science Team)
Duration

10 weeks



SOLUTION OVERVIEW

Enabling Earth labs to make groundbreaking discoveries with PIXLISE

 
Previously limited to a small science team at NASA, PIXLISE is now accessible to all geoscientists. Quickly survey complex features and potential use cases, understand PIXLISE’s value to your lab, and take steps to deploy powerful software 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. The new site highlights PIXLISE’s ability to handle it all by breaking down all product functions into the following:

Workflow: how users cross-reference and collaborate
Quantification: how users validate data
Investigation: how users explore and analyze




2. Reimagine science collaboration


Commercial tools don’t enable collaborative workflows, despite scientific inquiry in labs being incredibly interconnected activities.

The new site validates common lab science challenges and highlights novel collaboration perks. PIXLISE emphasizes the importance of the science community: guides and forums are just a click away.




3. Evaluate for fit and adopt


Replacing 1:1 product demos with tiered options enables potential users to try features autonomously and choose a version of PIXLISE that fits their needs.

This reduced onboarding from weeks to minutes, allowing the product team to focus on shipping awesome features.





Explore the final prototype here.









Peek into the process:



OPPORTUNITY

Mars science tools are useful for Earth scientists too


PIXLISE was designed to help scientists investigate the geological history of Mars in rock samples collected from the planet. Despite this specific use case, PIXLISE’s functions are applicable (and potentially revolutionary) to all elemental geoscience workflows.

The PIXLISE product team at NASA JPL approached me to distill its capabilities into a compelling story to engage a new world of users.




PROBLEM

PIXLISE doesn’t know what makes PIXLISE beautiful


Previously, PIXLISE’s front page contained only the most basic information, lacking the perspective to communicate its value to external users. Without restructuring, the tool would never grow beyond its initial user base. Research also revealed several workflow gaps PIXLISE could fill in labs around the world.







Challenge








RESEARCH OVERVIEW

Crash course in the product, existing users, business, and competition


I had no prior experience working in planetary geoscience. With research I hoped to understand the breadth of PIXLISE’s capabilities, and diving deeper, why PIXLISE works so well for Mars.








Custom Notion setup to stay organized!





INFO ARCHITECTURE / TAXONOMY

Diverse user workflows require detailed content organization


There’s no one “happy path” in scientific investigation. Through 15+ interviews and workflow demos with scientist users, we were initially overwhelmed with the high variation in the features used and the ways they are utilized.





Despite this variation, I found patterns through prototyping (rough) tables and reviewing them with the product team and scientist experts.

I devised a comprehensive organization of product feature information with seven levels of granularity. At the highest level, PIXLISE is characterized by flexibility (in workflow), speed (in quantification), and innovation (in investigation).




The clear, structured taxonomy translated gracefully into the Landing and Product page wireframes, and is a huge improvement to the 4 cards on the site previously.






INFO ARCHITECTURE USER FLOW

Lab challenges illuminate a plan for deploying PIXLISE


Despite a limited access to our target user, speaking to the UWO’s XRF lab validated a need for PIXLISE on Earth and allowed us to step in the shoes of research lab scientists.




We envision users to imagine how PIXLISE can transform their lab’s research. We scaffolded any technical barriers to entry with tiered deployment. First, try PIXLISE with sample data. Then, secure PIXLISE for your lab when you know it’s a good fit. Later, experience PIXLISE at peak performance with cloud-parallelized computing.





We further simplified PIXLISE adoption with an ever-present “Try PIXLISE” button on the global navigation and a concise and engaging call to action and community metrics to end every page on the site. 






INFO ARCHITECTURE / STORY

Supporting function with an out-of-this-world narrative


We can’t lose PIXLISE’s unique history in a universe of awesome features. In the Mission page, we highlight the Mars story as an additional reason to love PIXLISE. PIXLISE’s “mission” statement strategically follows its origin story and continued presence in NASA’s flagship Mars 2020 mission.






This completes the arc of the public PIXLISE experience:  Show off product features first, reinforce with community resources, and seal the deal with an otherworldly mission statement.



Site Map




IDENTITY


Refreshed design system reflects new product values


The visual design reflects the sophistication and quality of the revolutionary tool, while maintaining a tone of warmth through its tight-knit community values.






Working with the product team, we were able to scale this identity into a design system for implementation.







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





COMMUNICATION DESIGN

Optimizing visuals for scientists


At first, I relied solely on product screens to supplement the copywriting. Although great for demonstrating how a scientist might use PIXLISE, these failed to communicate abstract product benefits, such as “real-time collaboration” or “open-source web access.”






In later iterations, using lighter backgrounds afforded a refreshing differentiation from the product UI. Simple illustrations helped convey higher-level concepts and high-res geography photos supplemented context and atmosphere.



Finally, microinteractions added dimension to the web experience:





︎ With every refresh, the landing page shifts to reflect PIXLISE’s impact.





︎ Survey product features quickly by clicking on the informational cards.





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




 

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





Interact with the final prototype here.






REFLECTION

Learnings and next steps


Despite the ambiguity of our target user and high level of content complexity, I was able to design a product’s growth strategy and public interface for implementation within 10 weeks. Though not without struggle, by far my greatest breakthrough was learning to be wrong, so we can get it right together.



Image 1: 2022 PIXL Team photo!
Image 2: Obligatory JPL sign picture :)



More learnings:

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

Asking good questions is good, but prototyping wrong solutions is better. I had to confront my perfectionism in the face and build out some terrible artifacts before they started to become clear. The goal is to move the needle forward.

Design creates access. Working with technical stakeholders helped me contextualize the importance of design in a high-complexity setting. Seeing design’s ability to bridge connections, disciplines, workflows, and understanding within just a few months made the challenges along the way so worthwhile.


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 and test with more earth scientists to validate site success.

Build out guides. PIXLISE is not easy to learn and user support is necessary to troubleshoot and adapt to software changes. I’d love to continue working with users and PIXLISE developers to build user-friendly guides for user autonomy.

Be more hands-on with deployment.  
Through this experience I realized I enjoy working with eng stakeholders to ensure ideas are grounded in reality. If afforded more time I’d love to be more involved with designing the back-end for PIXLISE’s sustained growth.
Presenting the website 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 necessity of human-centered design.

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

Stay tuned 🌠~