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9–11 September 2015

McGrath Centre, St. Catharine's College, Cambridge

A UX journey into the world of early drug discovery

Francis Rowland European Bioinformatics Institute
Dr Nikiforos Karamanis European Bioinformatics Institute
Dr Jenny Cham European Bioinformatics Institute

Session type: Experience Report
Session duration: 45 minutes

About this Experience Report

We have been designing a new scientific service to support researchers working within the pharmaceutical industry and academic organisations with the aim to make early drug target identification more efficient.

Developing new medicines is an extremely challenging process with more than 50% of new medicines failing in late-stage development where the cost is the greatest. One of the main reasons for attrition is insufficient knowledge about the nature of the gene or protein (target) involved in a disease. Scientists in pharmaceutical research and development use diverse data and software applications to aid decision-making for drug target identification and validation.

We will report on how we applied a range of participatory design methods including interviews, observations, sketching workshops, paper prototyping and usability testing to understand how experts carry out the very early stages of drug discovery. We will discuss the challenges of working in this domain and the extent to which standard UX approaches helped us understand what matters for our potential users so we could design and deliver solutions within an Agile framework. We also mention when popular UX methods didn't work in this complex environment and how we addressed these issues.

This work has been carried out via the Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation, a partnership between the European Bioinformatics Institute, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and GlaxoSmithKline.

About the Speakers

Francis Rowland

Francis Rowland is the lead UX designer at the European Bioinformatics Institute, a world leading research institute based in the UK. He works there alongside scientists, developers and other UX professionals to help deliver tools and services to the biosciences community. He also co-organises the Cambridge Usability Group.


Dr Nikiforos Karamanis

Nikiforos joined the User Experience team at the European Bioinformatics Institute to work for the Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation (CTTV). Before that, he worked as a consultant and as the UX Lead of SwiftKey.

He has a PhD in Informatics from the University of Edinburgh and worked as a Research Fellow at Cambridge University and Trinity College Dublin on user-centered design and evaluation of novel technologies for a variety of settings.


Dr Jenny Cham

Dr Jenny Cham has a background in pharmaceutical R&D, and an engineering doctorate in computational biology from Cranfield University. She now works as a lead user experience architect at the European Bioinformatics Institute - a not-for-profit scientific research and services organisation near Cambridge.

She is interested in applying UX in complex domains, in particular to support the development of user-friendly services for enabling cutting-edge life science research. She blogs at


Session Types

Need help planning which sessions to attend? We've provided a breakdown of our various session types below.

Case Study/Experience Report

A presentation and discussion of real-life (not theoretical) experiences of the application (or mis-application) of service design techniques. Case studies and experience reports include some discussion of lessons learned and an indication of how novel the work is.


Participants learn a new approach, tool or technology through using it to solve one or more practical exercises. Any software/hardware requirements are disclosed in the session description.


A session focused around some specific tool, technique or issue. Primarily led by the speaker, tutorials usually include some elements of interactivity or individual / group exercise.


An in-depth working session on a specific topic. May include paper presentations.