Re-Designing EconophysiX's Website
The CFM Chair of Econophysics & Complex Systems (EconophysiX)
May - Sept 2022
The CFM Chair of Econophysics & Complex Systems (EconophysiX) is a research group affiliated with the Ecole Polytecnique in Paris. The group's research approaches topics including quantitative finance, economics, and image processing using methods such as agent-based modeling, simulations and empirical analysis. While their work is technical in nature, and specific to their field, the aim of my work on their website was to draw more attention from the public as well as other researchers and institutions in their field.
My redesign of their website included 4 key components–i) improvements to the user interface (UI), ii) a new homepage with interactive visualization of the Chair's topics and methods, iii) new filtering systems for publications, iv) design of a new Resources page with course materials as well as seminar recordings and open-access tools–as well as general improvements including small changes to the sites structure and SEO.
With the analysis of digital metrics on Google Analytics I began with a general idea of the site's traffic flows and users' behavioral patterns. To support this data, I spoke to real users of the site as well as other researchers who fit into the Chair's target group. In the discovery phase I aimed to understand how researchers, including Masters students, PhDs and Post-Docs come to find research groups and make decisions about which to join. In total I conducted 10 interviews and preliminary usability tests with people of different genders, nationalities and backgrounds all of whom have expertise in the fields relevant to the Chair. These interviews included researchers and users within and outside of the Chair. The user interviews were deeply insightful in terms of highlighting points in the user journey where individuals felt doubt and confusion. These interviews, combined with preliminary usability tests with the existing site highlighted opportunities to help users achieve their goals faster and more seamlessly and to boost the attractiveness of the Chair.
In order to better understand users and to streamline their needs throughout the design process I worked with two personae. The first, Anna, is interested in doing a PhD in quantitative finance. The second is, Paul, a PhD student at EconophysiX, and importantly, the site's webmaster. You can find information on these personae in the graphics below, as well as a Journey I created based on the user interviews and preliminary usability tests.
I also used insights from the Discovery phase to draft “How might we..?” questions to reframe the challenge and set priorities going forward:
How might we present the Chair's research in a clear and compelling way while highlighting connections among its diverse topics?
How might we make users feel confident they have all the information they need about the Chair's programs?
How might we make it easier for users to get to know and contact members of the Chair?
How might we ensure that the site is easy to update for the webmaster?
The redesigned site maintains the visual identity of the original EconophysiX site, with changes that have made the pages lighter and more easy to navigate. For example, images at the top of each page have been made smaller allowing users to see and access page contents more quickly and easily. While I kept the site's color scheme to maintain the Chair's branding, I was more restrained in the use of accent colors in the redesign. The top toolbar also features the EconophysiX logo alone, while those of its partners are featured in the footer. This change was made as users were confused to that the different logos did not take them to different sites.
Users explained that the home page did not adequately capture the diversity and connections among EconophysiX different streams of research. This highlighted the need to present the research in a clearer more compelling way and I wanted to do so without relying on text. After brainstorming with researchers from the Chair, we decided that a stretched chord diagram would be a good way to show the different connections between the topics and methods in EconophysiX's research. The diagram is interactive allowing users to hover over different topics and methods to see where they connect. Not only does the graphic show the connections better than any text explanation, but the visualization also aligns with the type of research and graphics that are often present in EconophysiX's research which itself concerns complex systems.
Another way users understood what EconophysiX does was by looking at the group's publications. In the navigation bar the page was titled "research" which confused users as they thought it would lead them to a page explaining the groups research approach, rather than a database of the group's published work. Changing the navigation to read "Publications" clarified the confusion. The original version of the page included a long list of papers with titles, authors, publication and abstract--while I kept the structure of the page the same I added a filtering system that allows users to look at papers based on their topic, methods and publication type.
In the original site, a page called "Teaching" hosted materials from the courses taught by researchers affiliated with the Chair. When talking to users, all of whom were researchers themselves, they were excited by the readily available resources presented on the page which included course notes and lecture slides. However, when talking to researchers at EconophysiX, I learned that they work on producing many more types of resources than those featured on this page, including seminars, open-source code for models and more. Thus, in my redesign of this page, I not only changed the title to "Resources", but also compiled the different kinds of resources produced and shared by the researchers.