Virginia Bioinformatics Institute

Helping VBI Advance Breakthrough Research in Health, Security and Welfare

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VBI needed a bold new site to match their ambitious efforts in research and education

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VBI scientists apply high-performance computing to genomic research for health, society, and the life sciences. The institute also has a unique focus on human network dynamics and the study of large interacting systems. With more than 250 dedicated faculty and staff members in the Virginia Tech facilities, the institute creates tools to study genomes and diseases for the discovery of new vaccine, drug, and diagnostic targets.

The Charge

The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute reached out to NewCity after a successful collaboration on their PATRIC project back in 2007. This time, VBI needed a full site redesign that would match their ambition to “solve society’s most important problems.”

Dennis Dean, VBI’s executive director, wanted to create a “best of breed” specimen that would push the boundaries for a research site, but also align with the Virginia Tech brand. Their internal development, design, and communications teams would implement, but they needed a collaborator to drive things forward and help shape their strategy.

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Examining VBI’s DNA

To start, we had to find out what exactly their organization would need from the new website. Melissa Beaver, our director of user experience, led one-on-one interviews with 23 stakeholders to:

  • Find out their goals for the redesign
  • Learn what they wanted to promote about the institution
  • Define their messaging needs

We used information from these interviews to make sure their current CMS (ExpressionEngine) was meeting their needs and drive decisions throughout the project.

We also looked at their web analytics to see how visitors were actually using the site. They showed that people were often searching by a scientist’s name, but once they found it, there were no links to related projects, faculty members doing similar work, or research groups within the organization. We recommended integrating all of that information using a taxonomy, and designed the site architecture and the SEO strategy around increasing visibility for faculty research. We also recommended that VBI shape their user experience on just four audiences:

  • Scientific Collaborators
  • Funders
  • Prospective Employees
  • Journalists

By focusing their messaging, they could streamline user journeys for those audiences, using navigation to support the tasks and searches they were performing.

Developing Together For Better Flexibility

Because their in-house team was handling the implementation, we focused on providing a framework they could build upon post-launch. Instead of just creating a set of page templates, our team worked collaboratively with their developers to build a flexible library they can use to create new functionalities and content sections as their organization grows. We also gave them advice for implementing the site and standards for responsive web design.

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According to the 2012 Scientific Annual Report, VBI’s Computational Core (CC) resources encompass more than 3000 processor cores of various architectures distributed across 220 servers and several clusters, with over 10 TBs of memory, and more than 1.5 petabytes of disk storage!