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A closeup of the National Science Foundation’s US Antarctic Program website showing winter content in the header

Sharing Discoveries from the Southernmost Continent

Leveraging user experience (UX) research, human-centered design (HCD), and content strategy, we prioritized features and developed a road map for modernizing the US Antarctic Program’s website,, using USWDS components.

An Outdated Website is one of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) most important beacons, but it wasn’t serving its users as effectively as it could.

The National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs (OPP) manages the US Antarctic Program (USAP), which manages all US scientific research and related logistics in Antarctica as well as aboard ships in the Southern Ocean. is the primary way for the public to understand the work being done in one of the world’s most vital geographic regions, but its dated design is overdue for a major overhaul.

Modernizing the mobile experience for

OPP sought to understand how users—including audiences as diverse as researchers, support personnel, teachers, the general public, and news media—interacted with the sites under the umbrella and how the site could be improved.

Coforma took a human-centered design approach to UX research and to developing design solutions that would help OPP modernize the site content, information architecture, and design system to better align with users’ needs and expectations. We knew that the vision and design of a user-centric, responsive, and aesthetically pleasing site hub was a critical component of the OPP’s connectivity to its user base—and thereby the world.

Antarctica word cloud
Terri Edillion
We are excited to be able to partner with the Coforma team who will help us discover the valuable information which is so critical for designing a new website. Understanding what our audience and users of desire and need will be crucial in developing a communication tool that will be a beneficial resource to many and one that reflects our unique program.
Terri EdillionCommunications Lead, NSF Office of Polar ProgramsUnited States Antarctic Program

A Research-Informed Approach

We aimed to strategically analyze existing site content and develop a new information architecture that was useful and appealing to all of’s audiences, based on what real site users told us they needed.

We conducted desk research, secondary research, qualitative research, and stakeholder research to understand how staff and users interact with We documented their needs, challenges, and goals and produced a synthesized research report that supported a set of recommendations for the USAP team to thoughtfully modernize the web platform. We investigated:

  • Site usage and areas of interactivity via Google Analytics and interviews

  • Audience types and their needs and challenges

  • Content types and requirements from an end-user perspective

  • How best to convey USAP’s vision and goals through a design system and content strategy

A Science-Forward, User-Friendly Site Design

Our findings, designs, and recommendations will be used to build a future website that is an effective and elegant resource for educating the general public on Antarctic science and supporting the logistics of the scientific research being conducted in the region.

Strategic Road Map

To guide future development, we conducted feature prioritization workshops with personnel and stakeholders. We delivered a product road map detailing the strategic vision for the site and a timeline for completion.

Content and Design Guidelines

We created content and design guidelines for the HCD solutions that we recommended, including written content format, voice and tone guidelines, website functionality guidelines, and user interface design preferences.

Extensible Information Architecture and Design System

Using stakeholder input from two workshops, we produced a sitemap and visual design system that utilizes a US Web Design System (USWDS) component library and custom component creation.

Prioritizing What Users Need

User research and workshops with stakeholders drove the resulting artifacts, ensuring that our recommendations for developing web components, content, and assets that will meet the needs of each user group.

Timeline for K-12 Educators, Research Community, and USAP Ops

We identified needs and challenges for different users

Research Findings

We synthesized the data across our research to create archetypes of the site’s four user groups, articulate each archetype’s needs and challenges, and make recommendations for future site development that would meet their expectations and needs.

Side-by-side sitemaps, one for the general public and one for research and operations

We proposed separate sitemaps for the general public and the research community based on input from users and stakeholders

Rethinking Information Architecture

We held a workshop that guided users and stakeholders through a card sorting exercise, then used that information to reorganize information on the site.

Modernized Sample Pages

Our goal was to help create an accessible and beautiful site hub that leveraged narrative writing, provided scientific facts, and utilized the USAP’s photo gallery to draw site visitors into the wonder of Antarctica. We created sample pages to illustrate how the new design components and guidelines could be used to meet these goals.

NSF website homepage with rotating images of the team traveling across ice fields, penguins, and ice cliffs.

Animation showing the NSF website in two styles: a lighter theme for Summer content, and a dark theme that shows the Southern lights and Winter content.

Project Team

  • AngelaAngela HopkinsContent Strategy
  • JamesJames HobbsSenior Product Designer
  • KathrynKathryn AllardeProject Manager
  • SabrinaSabrina FonsecaPrincipal Design Strategist


  • Airtable was used for a content audit, surveys, and monitoring research participant diversity

  • Mural was used for multiple workshops with the client and stakeholders

  • Dovetail was used to document and tag interviews from design research

  • Figma was used to create a sitemap and USAP’s visual design system

  • Zoom was used for internal and external meetings

  • Slack and Google Drive were used for asynchronous communication and reviews


  • Human-centered design research

  • Remote one-on-one user interviews

  • Legacy assessment and modernization

  • Content and design guidelines culminating in a product road map

  • Plain language and accessible design practices

  • Workshop facilitation, which guided information architecture development