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Science Buddies Gets a New Look

Science Buddies welcomed students back to school with a bright new site design aimed at making the site's award-winning science and engineering resources even easier to use.

When students, teachers, and parents returned to Science Buddies last month as they began talking about classroom science and engineering projects and this year's school science fair, they were greeted by a completely redesigned Science Buddies. Just in time for "back to school," Science Buddies released its new site design, a move dedicated to meeting the needs and expectations of its key users. The fresh new look gives Science Buddies an updated feel, but, more importantly, the redesign and restructuring of the award-winning K-12 science education site make Science Buddies even easier to use.

A Vast Science Education Resource

Science Buddies offers more than 1,000 scientist-authored Project Ideas in over 30 fields of science and engineering and extensive Project Guides to assist with steps of science and engineering projects. As both Science Buddies' online resources and website traffic has grown, site visits topping more than 12.3 million in 2011 and projected to set a new record of approximately 15 million by the end of this year, Science Buddies recognized the need to reassess the architecture, user interface, and visual appearance of the site.

An Improved User Interface Eases Student Use

Return visitors to Science Buddies will immediately note changes in the visual appearance of the site's buttons, icons, and navigation system. Just as quickly, students, teachers, and parents visiting Project Ideas and other key resources will discover that the information has been broken down into multiple pages for easier viewing. In the past, entire "Project Ideas" were displayed on a single page. Given the amount of background information provided and the complexity of many Experimental Procedures, Project Ideas could easily appear overwhelming, a reality which might dissuade students from trying projects they might really enjoy. The new design divides Project Ideas into more manageable sections. The "key information" about a Project Idea, including the objective, the estimated timeline, and the difficulty, are now shown on the "Summary" tab of a Project Idea. Students interested in delving deeper into the project can find the other elements of the Project Idea on sub-tabs, including Background, Materials, Procedures, and Make It Your Own (suggestions for variations).

Screenshot of Science Buddies 2012 redesign
The screenshot above shows the top portion of the "Summary" screen for a Project Idea. Key information is shown on the first screen, and sub-tabs allow students to quickly navigate to other areas of the Project Idea. Project Ideas for which Project Kits are available are clearly marked on the Summary tab. (Project Kits make it easy for students and parents to buy materials for a science or engineering project with confidence.)

Robust New Architecture

Behind the scenes, the redesign of the site is coupled with a move to a new, in-house content management system that offers greater flexibility and control of the large repository of Science Buddies resources. Though transparent to users, the new content management system affords Science Buddies increased flexibility in managing the site's more than fifteen thousand pages of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) resources, enabling easier updates and quality assurance. The content management system also puts Science Buddies in position to proactively deliver resources to users based on the devices they are using when they visit Science Buddies. The new design, which involved a restructuring of the site's categories and tab-based navigation systems, works hand in hand with the content management system to create a flexible design that renders appropriately on a wide range of systems and devices.

Science Buddies Anytime, Anywhere

Science Buddies serves a large number of students who are browsing science and engineering Project Ideas, consulting the Project Guide, or taking the Topic Selection Wizard survey from a classroom or school computer lab, or on a home computer, but a growing number of site visitors are using mobile and tablet devices. The number of mobile users at Science Buddies has grown significantly in recent months, more than doubling in the last year. "Today's students are accessing online resources from their phones and tablets, not only computers, so we need to be able to provide them with an accessible mobile resource," says Claire Hubbard, Science Buddies Product Design Engineer. "As we designed the website, we kept the need for a future mobile design in mind."

The new Science Buddies site works on all devices, and tablet users (which accounts for about a third of the site's mobile traffic) will find browsing Science Buddies similar to using a traditional computer. The recent redesign, however, marks only a first step in addressing the smart phone community and optimizing site delivery and the user interface for handheld devices like the iPhone or iPod Touch. In coming months, the product and web development team at Science Buddies plan to introduce "a mobile-specific version of the site that will make the delivery of Science Buddies resources even more efficient and convenient," says Hubbard, noting that this version will limit scrolling and zooming in and out on pages during mobile visits.

"In talking with teachers, they made it clear that recognizability is of key importance for students," adds Hubbard, who has spent time talking with teachers and observing students using Science Buddies over the last two years in preparation for improving the site's user interface for student users. "If a student visits the Science Buddies website in school on the computer, she expects to see that same resource when browsing her tablet at home," continues Hubbard. "It is important that the students know where the information is and how to find it."

Looking Ahead

With the new site design and architecture in place, the product and web development team is working on the mobile version of the Science Buddies website. "Translating the Science Buddies user experience across different devices is something our users expect," says Hubbard. Once the design of the mobile-specific site is finalized, the new content management system will make it easy to pull the appropriate site components and information into place, creating a seamless experience for users—however they choose to browse.

Support for the creation of a more mobile-friendly version of the Science Buddies website was provided, in part, by the Motorola Mobility Foundation.

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