Expanding Access to Open-source Ecological Data

Helping the country’s largest ecological data observatory rethink their digital presence through research, information architecture, and design.

Chapman Bettis
3 min readMay 15, 2021

The National Ecological Observatory Network collects long-term, open access ecological data to help researchers understand how U.S. ecosystems are changing.

When they hired MojoTech, they were facing a number of challenges: their services were fragmented across three separate websites, they struggled to meet the complex and competing interests of the various groups who used their data, and they needed to prove to their skill and dependability to convince a skeptical research community of the quality of their data.

Over the course of 3 months, I worked with a designer and project manager to understand their user base through qualitative research, restructure their information architecture, and deliver designs for a new website and a comprehensive style guide.

NEON has 81 field sites across the United States, capturing data on everything from wind speed to small mammal populations.

To better understand the scope of the existing problems, we began with a thorough content audit of their platform and traveled to Louisville, Kentucky to interview dozens of scientists and graduate researchers at the Ecological Society of America’s annual conference.

Research included qualitative user interviews, journey mapping, along with tree testing and task-based user testing.

We found that everyone had a different picture in their head of how all the client’s information was arranged. NEON had built their site in a way that mirrored their own organization, and the language and structure of their content didn’t make sense to the people who used it.

Taking what we learned, created user personas and summarized their most important tasks. We then restructured the IA, rearranging groupings, changing language, and surfacing frequent actions. We then ran a series of tree-tests with users, to see if the new structure matched their mental models.

NEON’s data portal allowed for downloading multiple data sets across field sites.

After updating the IA based on our tests, we translated that structure into wireframes and went back to our users this time with wireframe prototypes to test the most common user flows.

Field site information was important to the scientists doing on site research.
Content Documentation

We then created visual designs and outlined a new brand voice and tone. We provided language guidelines and documented the structure of the IA to guide the integration of future content and services.

UI Style Guide

As a government funded organization, NEON needed to create a second bid for the development of the site, so we created a comprehensive style guide to insure any development team could accurately build our designs.

The design engagement ended on time and on budget, and since has been developed by another agency, bringing new clarity and structure to ecologists nation wide.

More information about this project is available on request.