Case Study: NOAA Sea Ice Index

The Challenge

The NOAA Sea Ice Index website received lots of views, but had an extremely high bounce rate. It had loyal users because of the high quality content, including compelling data imagery and deeply researched writing. However, many visitors were leaving the site because it was so poorly organized.

The Product Manager for NOAA wanted to present the Sea Ice data in a way that was clear, easy-to-use, that would scale well over time, and was easy to maintain. She envisioned something that would provide timely information at-a-glance for both laypeople and researchers.

The Approach

I recommended an iterative User-Centered Design process for reinventing the Sea Ice Index. I worked closely with the Product Manager, SMEs, and Software Engineers to define the goals and audiences for the product. After this initial definition, and creating Personas based on past research, we were almost ready to start generating design solutions.

Before starting on design, I wanted to validate or invalidate our assumptions about user behavior that were based on analytics data and anecdotal reports. We recruited some internal folks and partners that fit the Personas, but who hadn’t used the product often. We watched them try to complete some basic tasks, and sure enough they became confused and lost. The need for redesigning the product was clear.

I suggested dramatically simplifying the user experience of the Sea Ice Index by making it a more visual interface, rather than a massive list of categories, images, and links. I started by sketching and later wireframing the concept, and put each iteration in front of our users and the team for feedback.

Sketch of Sea Ice Index User Interface elements
Sketch of Sea Ice Index User Interface elements

After a number of iterations, I developed a functional prototype that we tested with our user group, and they invariably loved the new presentation.

Annotated wireframe for NOAA Sea Ice Index
Annotated wireframe for NOAA Sea Ice Index

NOAA Sea Ice Index web site
NOAA Sea Ice Index website

I also created a concept and prototype for a mobile version of the application called Sea Ice Watch. According to analytics data, there were quite a few visitors to the site who used mobile devices. The Product Manager also thought a mobile version would be appealing to certain audiences such as journalists. Although this concept wasn’t put into production, it communicated a possible direction for future efforts.

Sketch of Sea Ice Watch User Interface Elements
Sketch of Sea Ice Watch User Interface Elements

Sea Ice Watch Mobile Design
Mockup of the Sea Ice Watch mobile app

The Results

We launched the new application with a high level of confidence in the product. The team received lots of positive feedback from the user community, and the bounce rate went down dramatically. The new Sea Ice Index was easy to understand, simple to use, and users were able to quickly find the data they wanted.

Learn more about my work for NOAA.

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