Video Tip of the Week: Enzyme Portal and User-Centered Design

This week’s video tip of the week introduces you to Enzyme Portal, an interface to explore data about these important proteins, from the EBI. In the video, Jenny Cham–one of the authors of the paper below–takes you through the main features of their newly designed resource.

I learned about the new effort from this blog post at BMC: Designing better web experiences for bioinformatics. In this post, the team talks about the backstory and the philosophy of user-centered design that they employed to create the site. They also note that the article describes not only their experience, but also offers guidance for people who might be building resources of their own.

The resource they deliver provides categorized and integrated information about the proteins, genes, EC numbers, structure, pathways, disease relationships, small molecules, and the literature. So from that perspective it might sound similar to other resources. But their re-organization of that data into the easy tab navigation, and the quick way to switch among species, is easier than some other resources I’ve used. I do like the quick access to the graphical representations like you can see on this page: . And I like that they link to Reactome, which is one of my preferred pathway resources. But there are links to many other useful tools and resources as well–exactly the ones I’d expect to need when seeking out more details.

In the paper I liked their summary of the “challenges” associated with applying user-centered design (UCD) to bioinformatics. I have seen some of the resistance to this first-hand, beginning over 15 years ago when a friend of mine was trying really hard to encourage usability and design for bioinformatics tools (right Michael?). And getting very little support for that. Alas. I hope people begin to appreciate this at some point….

So have a look and think about how you are using this tool. And offer them feedback–I’m sure they’d want your input. If you are creating tools for end-users, think about ways you might incorporate some of their strategies. A lot of tools I’ve seen could benefit from a bit more thought about how it’s going to be used by people who don’t write the code.

Quick link:

Enzyme Portal at EBI:


de Matos, P., Cham, J., Cao, H., Alcántara, R., Rowland, F., Lopez, R., & Steinbeck, C. (2013). The Enzyme Portal: A case study in applying user-centred design methods in bioinformatics BMC Bioinformatics, 14 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2105-14-103