This is what the Resource Explorer (REx) interface looked like before I began work on the project. (Click here to view the live version.) The app was envisioned as a desktop GUI, hence the folders and windows. Each folder represents a different server containing links to data sets.
As a typical REx use case, a researcher might create a color-coded globe of sea surface temperatures for a specific date on Earth. First she'd click through the folder structure to locate the temperature data set for that date. To plot the data set, she would copy/paste its URL into a text field on a plot widget (the window in the above image that contains an orange globe). Since each data point has an x, y, and z coordinate, she'd need to copy/paste three different URLs into the widget to render the data.
IT'S DIFFICULT TO FIND DATA
With the file finder's deeply-nested folder structure, the user would spend a lot of time clicking through cryptically-named folders to find the right data set.
THERE'S A LOT OF CLUTTER
New windows and widgets are randomly placed on the screen; the experience is disorganized and visually overwhelming.
Simplify the search
The user shouldn't have to navigate a file tree to locate the right data set. If it's possible to simplify the search process, the user doesn't even need to see the complex file tree and its cryptic naming conventions.
Tidy this place up
The overall interface could benefit more structure. Maybe there's a way to minimize interface elements that aren't currently being used. Ultimately, the interface elements should fade into the background and allow the images to speak.
Provide context and useful features
Users should have access to supplemental information about the data sets, like mission name, locations and instruments. We should leverage the web: visualizations could be saved, exported or shared.
Early wireframe sketches of the REx interface were influenced by programs like Adobe Creative Suite. REx is for creating visual content after all, and UI patterns like icon buttons and dock-able, collapsible, panels are elegant methods of freeing up screen space.
The Data Bin (A) would be a central location for images, plots and maps. The bin also contains links to raw data sets that are used to generate this content.
This (C) is the Viewer window of REx, where the user can edit and view space instrument data visualizations.
Logging in to the Session Panel (B) would allow users to save, share and collaboratively edit content created in REx.
There was a good deal of back-and-forth between myself, my advisor and the developer, discussing the mechanics of REx. How does the user search for a data set, how are things organized, what meta-info about images and data sets would be relevant to display? Over the course of several conversations, the user interface took shape.
In the above images, you’ll notice that the Data Bin (upper-left) is split into three sections. The top section shows data set links and plots in the bin, each with its own icon. The bottom two sections show a thumbnail preview and meta-info about the currently selected bin item.
Clicking the magnifying glass icon brings up the ‘Search’ modal, where the user navigates through folders to find data of interest. Double-clicking a set will add it to the Data Bin. Double-clicking it from the bin opens a new tab with a new plot, and brings up the ‘Settings’ modal. The settings are pre-filled, so the user doesn’t need to copy/paste cryptic URLs. The user generates a visualization by pressing the ‘Render’ button.
Selected screens from the final design
Manipulating images creating using REx, and sharing the image or session with colleagues.
The user would be able to drag tabs around the window to tile related graphs and images.