The Science & Engineering State Indicators homepage.

The Context

The National Science Foundation has a huge amount of data on “state trends in science and engineering education, workforce, research and development, patents and publications, and knowledge-intensive industries.” They were looking to modernize their previous presentation of these important indicators, such that data would be easier to understand and navigate. The ultimate goal was that NSF data be accessible not just to data analysts, but also to policymakers, advocates, and researchers who may not be as technically inclined.

The Ask

NSF desired specific improvements to the data tool including functionality to compare states to neighboring states, the ability to print custom reports, and the opportunity to provide written context to explain the data being displayed. Above all, NSF wanted to provide true value to their audiences, which could only be assured through user research.

The Solution

To determine which site improvements to prioritize, we started our work by forming a panel of representatives from various site audiences. We ascertained their needs through surveys, emails, and interviews and made recommendations on what site changes would provide the greatest value to NSF.

With these recommendations as our compass, we conducted several internal design studios to sketch out key functionality. We then worked through an iterative wireframing and design phase that incorporated internal and client feedback.

Sketched concepts from a design studio.
A heatmap exercise using dots was employed to identify functionality from each sketch concept that the group felt best supported the stated user needs.

With designs in hand, our development team worked to build a Next.js application for the new site. For this project we forewent the CMS and instead pull all data and documentation in via CSV and markdown files. This approach allows NSF staff to easily make updates on their side, hand off the updated files, and then our developers can use a largely automated update process to push the results live.

State data for an indicator is displayed on a 50 state map.

The end result is a highly performant site that supports user needs. Visitors can view indicator data for all states, or view a state-specific page. From either view, indicators can be modified and reordered to generate a custom layout for online viewing or printing via a dynamically created PDF.

The new site facilitates policymakers, advocates, and researchers in viewing and interpreting state trends in science & engineering.

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