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Web app design and development supports open-access research

Public Library of Science (PLOS) is a peer reviewed open-access set of online scientific journals. PLOS now edits and publishes fresh content after acceptance more quickly than its competitors with test-driven development (TDD) and agile processes.

  • Ember
  • UX
  • UI
  • Full-Stack Development
  • Training
  • Lean UX

The Challenge

Together we designed and developed the tools PLOS now uses daily to publish millions of articles by tens of thousand contributors.

We delivered a custom content management system (CMS) for Journal homepages and Collections pages along with building the Journal homepages and Collections pages themselves. We also designed a new, responsive PLOS Blogs Network, a responsive website, and developed a third CMS for publishing to

By replacing a labor-intensive process, PLOS updates Journal homepages and Collection pages in a fraction of the time previously required. We are extremely proud to have helped lay the groundwork for PLOS’ continued efforts to promote Open Access scientific publishing.

The Solution

Boosted productivity with integrated development and design team

We gathered the product manager, UX lead, and engineering team in a large meeting room with a huge whiteboard and set up an agile software environment with user focused design. UX was super lean, beginning with prototypes on paper then moving to Sketch and Invision; features were validated through extensive weekly user studies. We relentlessly pruned the backlog to keep our eye on the prize (and budget and timeline) while planning fors a visionary future.

Because UX was embedded with development, the project moved quickly. As dev pairing teams expressed concern about how much time implementing a feature as designed was taking, UX could simplify the feature or consider proposed alternatives based on the developers' framework expertise. To give PLOS staffers the ability to edit online content as quickly as possible, we reduced development time by keeping the UI barebones. We relied heavily on Bootstrap, free fonts, and FontAwesome icons to do some of the heavy interface lifting.

Iterated features using feedback from weekly user studies

We tested homepage and menu layouts for with the unsuspecting public on all device sizes. We iterated until design and interface met needs of users and stakeholders alike.

Used core model concept to focus content strategy

For, the audience was public — heavily focused on researchers and scientists, but also targeted at folks who may have just heard of PLOS that morning on the radio. Where the CMS that drove publishing to was bare bones, the actual website design moved past minimal and into the blue sky territory.

We tested homepage and menu layouts at UCSF with the unsuspecting public. We tested our designs on all device sizes, from the smallest of iPhones to tablets, laptops and large desktop displays.

Streamlined publishing tools and reimagined Journal homepages and Collections pages

We helped lay the groundwork for PLOS' continued efforts to promote Open Access scientific publishing. By replacing a labor-intensive process, updates happen in a fraction of the time previously required.

The Outcome

Matched workflow to stage of the project and team strength to deliver highly intuitive and useful products

Flexibility was key to success. We started our engagement with a pretty standard Lean UX, TDD, and agile workflow: project kickoff, daily standup meetings, storymapping, weekly IPMs, wireframing and prototyping, user testing, dev pairing, weekly demos, and bi-weekly retrospectives.

As the projects progressed, we dialed in our workflow. We kept approaches that were working. For approaches where usefulness came into question or that began to feel dogmatic, we considered new approaches and ideas.

Partner with Cloud City

Internal projects can be far more complicated than anticipated, even for software companies. By bringing Cloud City into the picture, our clients are able to complete critical projects and benefit from our partnership. Cloud City is a human-centered, empathetic software development team, invested in our clients' long-term health.

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