Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

A data-driven design process for data-minded researchers.


The UK-based research institute needed a website designed to share the life-changing impact of their work with the world.

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Most everyone’s heard of the Human Genome Project — the largest collaborative research project in history, completed in 2003 with a map of the structures and functions of all the genes in a strand of human DNA. The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute was the single largest contributor, and has since made more advancements to our knowledge about disease, population genomics, and evolutionary genetics.

They’re doing work that will change the way we think about human health, yet not many people beyond the research community knew their name.They needed a website that could explain and engage the world with their work.

Data, Discovery, and Decisions

Our work with the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute on their Symplectic and PATRIC projects had given us experience with the unique needs of research institutes. Working with this team of future Nobel laureates meant getting input from all areas of the organization, time-boxing their participation with agile sprints, and backing up design decisions with data.

We performed original research and usability tests for each section of the site, so we could base decisions on actual test data from our intended audiences and their reactions to the design. Sometimes it confirmed what we were thinking, but it also threw us a few surprises.

At first, we were planning to de-emphasize the genome annotation software tools Sanger scientists develop and make available (for free!) to the public. Their team thought users were getting to them from software aggregation websites. Instead, they wanted to prioritize news and “about us” content aimed at government funding officials and journalists searching for news about research.

To test our assumption, we organized their content into groups in Google Analytics so we could see what users were accessing most. This filter showed us that visits to their “Resources” section made up 26% of overall web traffic, making it the most popular section of the site.

That stat changed our strategy, as well as our plan for the global navigation, and we prioritized software tools and downloadable resources to make them more easily accessible.



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