How the Focus on UX Helped the NSF Double Its Science App Installs

Image source: National Science Foundation.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the only federal agency that has supported research and education in all fields of science and engineering for almost 70 years.

And while the agency is behind some of the most exciting and fascinating scientific discoveries, such as releasing the first image of a black hole, most people are typically unaware of NSF’s work.

Until now.

In 2018, NSF set out to capture more attention and to build awareness by overhauling its “NSF Science Zone” mobile app. The agency worked with web designer Viderity, as well as Adobe Creative Cloud for enterprise to create a more engaging and informative app.

David Flagg, who has been with the NSF for over 20 years in the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs (OLPA), says that the impetus for the redesign was simple: The original mobile app, launched in 2010 as “Science360,” had run its course relative to design, layout, and features.

Beyond the need for an app facelift, NSF was keen on increasing awareness for its grant recipients by publicizing images and video of research results and discoveries in a fun and easily digestible way. 93% of the agency’s annual $8.3 billion budget goes to universities, researchers and colleges via research grants.

“We wanted to improve the app’s usability, functionality, and technical stability and also engage users with images, video and knowledge,” Flagg said.

Collaborating together

The team at Viderity was tasked with building a new, visually compelling app through ongoing collaboration with stakeholders at the NSF. “Adobe Creative Cloud for enterprise was key to enabling seamless creative workflows and fostering collaboration,” said Mark Farmer, senior interactive designer at Viderity. The agency used Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to design and develop the improved interface within the NSF app. It also used Adobe XD for prototyping and testing.

“Using Adobe XD,” he said, “our team was able to create prototypes, share designs interactively with the NSF team, as well as quickly deploy public usability tests. The XD prototypes served as the basis for the development of the app. It was so easy to use and made our agency/client collaborative relationship even stronger.”

While Viderity is no stranger to Creative Cloud tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, the first time the agency used XD was with the NSF’s mobile app project. The relaunch of the app went so well that Viderity is now using XD to redesign NSF’s website and sub-domains, and they will now use the tool in workflows with other clients as well.

“Using the flexible, ease-of-use features of XD like the drag-and-drop functionality, and creating prototypes from wireframes with real interactivity, was a gamechanger for us,” Farmer says.

A new and improved experience

Featuring hundreds of exciting videos and high-resolution photos from a wide array of subjects. NSF mobile app users—teachers, students or just science aficionados—can spend hours absorbed in discoveries about Earth as well as from the depths of outer space. The app has become a default application on elementary and middle school tablets, helping students learn about and promote the progress of science through dynamic content.

Users can “spin” through a carousel browser, updated weekly, and dive deeper into the latest scientific innovations.

Personalization is available in the form of filters, allowing users to customize their experience to match their specific areas of interest.

Since the mid-December 2018 relaunch, the NSF mobile app, which is available on iOS and Android mobile and tablet devices, has been downloaded 150,000 times in total. Additionally, retention rate for the app has increased 168% and the number of daily active users has nearly doubled. App installs have also jumped 2.5 times, with iOS downloads alone exceeding 45,000 per month.

“Designing and developing the improved user interface in Photoshop and Illustrator and subsequently prototyping and testing it with Adobe XD helped lead to massive increases in usage,” Farmer said.

Click here learn more about NSF Science Zone on Behance.

This project was an Adobe Government Creativity Awards entry. Learn more about AGCA today!