After the flood Encode Explorer

Encode Explorer

“How can we present new connections in the Human Genome?”


Nature Publishing Group

The Problem

Nature wanted to differentiate itself from other science publishers

Our Solution

Encode Explorer shows new editorial connections in a dramatic manner


Hugely positive response from scientific community, positioning Nature as innovators in the digital space

“How can we present new connections in the Human Genome?”

Encode Explorer is an app that shows thematic data connections between Nature Publishing Group papers on the human genome — the first important papers building on the release of the human genome data. Encode allows readers to navigate papers via a ‘threads’, which are composed from fragments of research papers and aim to provide context and narrative between the individual papers. After the Flood worked with the editorial group at Nature to produce their most ambitious visualisation so far, building an associated graphic language across the site.

From Brief to User Journey

The first important papers to build on the release of the human genome data are now being published. Nature Publishing Group wanted to show the thematic connections between these papers beyond the common subject and contributors. They wanted an interface that would allow users to navigate papers by this system of editorial subject ‘threads’. Nature has a lot of experience in science visualisations for print but this was their most ambitious digital visualisation to date.

Crucial to this particular application were the concerns of different stakeholders. The planning phase required editorial teams to both understand the threads concept as well as test our prototypes for scientific integrity. Alongside this, we wanted it to work across browsers and on tablets too, so the visualisation would need to be robust and usable as well as innovative.

The Encode Explorer received a lot of plaudits in the science community due to it’s ease of use. Below we detail an average user journey navigating the Encode Threads.

The first screen presents users with clear instructions of what to do – namely click on threads ...

... when a thread is clicked on, associated papers are highlighted ...

... revealing more details ...

... and revealing the other threads that they are connected to ...

... allowing a user to navigate to those threads and associated papers too.

Design Principles

This application is mainly steered by the sensitive colour hierarchies. We were fortunate that there were enough threads to allow colour coding with enough difference between colours. The main accent colour was reserved not for a key data points as usual but for key functional elements such as buttons and call outs.

This is the crux of what we do – it is not just the visualisation we need to design but the whole context of the visualisation too, the controls, links with other sites or apps, all putting the user at the heart of the interface design process.

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