Mark Boulton

ATLAS

An experiment at CERN designed to explore the secrets of the universe

ATLAS is a scientific collaboration and experiment based at CERN, Geneva. They have designed, built and run one of the largest and most complex scientific instruments ever created – the ATLAS detector – which sits on the Large Hadron Collider and was one of two instruments to observe the Higgs Boson. I was asked to lead a design project to redesign the website to more accurately reflect the breadth of ATLAS' work, to provide resources for schools and education, and be a repository for media and resources.

The project began with extensive stakeholder research, user research and subsequent prototyping. The scientific community – as with my other projects for CERN and EMBL – respond to data and observation. Once we had gathered insight and tested hypothesis, we quickly moved to revamping the rather dated graphic design of the ATLAS website.

Role

  • Design Director

Services

  • Design sprint
  • Web design
  • Strategy and consultation

ATLAS is...

We saw in the research insights that people were confused what ATLAS was. Some referred to it as a community or a collaboration. To some, it was an experiment. To others, a big machine buried 100 metres underground in Geneva. It is, of course, all of these things but it demonstrated ATLAS needed to be much clearer with that messaging. The simple device of the black rectangle and 'ATLAS is...' became a useful content element to carry this messaging and also provide ways in which a user could traverse the higher-level content.

A place for working

The ATLAS site is not just one for marketing and communications, it is also a place where scientists across the collaboration do work. They get access to the scientific data and analysis, in addition to collaborate with collegues. The website had to support these user journeys as a priority. We couldn't simply replace existing technology for the sake of taking a complex, overgrown, outdated solution and making it 'neater'. We had to find ways to make the user experience better with existing software.

The new resources section had to provide a useful and elegant way of exposing, and providing a route to, the huge amount of resources – such as teaching material, images, video and animations – in an accessible way.

Design language

ATLAS didn't really have a design language to support the brand. There was an old logo, and a some colours that people had agreed on, but that was about it. Due to ATLAS' broad outreach activities to various audiences, we needed to create a graphic language that could support the many touchpoints. I redrew the logo, defined colours, and created illustrations to create a simple visual grammar. The typeface Open Sans was chosen due to its legibility, ubiquity. The typography had to gently support the content, but above all, we focussed on readability and accessibility.

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