New opportunities for chemistry database application

In collaboration with Elsevier’s service design team, STBY conducted design research to identify new opportunities for a database application used by scientists worldwide to access chemistry information. We conducted in-depth interviews with more than twenty research scientists and specialized librarians at academic institutions in the US and the Netherlands, followed by collaborative analysis sessions. The resulting insights and recommendations  enable Elsevier’s product team to create new versions of the application which anticipate and meet the future needs of researchers involved in increasingly complex, cross-disciplinary work.

Clarifying a complex context of use

The volume and complexity of chemistry information exceeds that handled by non-scientific search applications by many orders of magnitude. In addition to the vast bodies of knowledge of ‘traditional’ disciplines such as organic and inorganic chemistry, research today draws on genomics and proteomics, physics, biology, engineering and computer science in increasingly multidisciplinary projects. This means that any search for information can be motivated by a virtually countless number of different aims and parameters.

To explore this complex context of use, and to ensure that conclusions would be firmly grounded in real-life experience, the interviews focused on existing projects of the researchers and the day-to-day work of librarians. Using a specially designed matrix to analyse the interviews, patterns of insights were uncovered showing not only how chemistry information is being searched for, exchanged, and used throughout the research process, but also new ways that skills are being developed and transferred among librarians, students and researchers. These were condensed into a model which applies across the different research realms and fields.

New directions: co-creation of scenarios

In order to ensure that the results would be maximally actionable, STBY and the core client team organised a collaborative workshop with the product team in Germany in which the researchers and the product team co-created a number of scenarios exploring new directions for the creation of next-generation versions of the application. These scenarios form a strong springboard for the further development of the application. The results of the design research are also relevant for other, similar database and information products of the company.