University of Colorado

A Portal to catalog extensive research data accessed worldwide.


The Website is a searchable index of North American diatoms sponsored by the University of Colorado in conjunction with the USGS.

The Problem

The first version of the diatoms site had been built on ExpressionEngine. The process of updating content was cumbersome. The site design was outdated and not supportive of organization goals.

The Solution

We did a deep dive into the strategic planning work that had already been conducted by the Diatoms team. We expanded on this work and created a new site design, implementing it on a new CMS, Craft CMS.

Overview serves as a catalog of North American diatoms for scientists and laypersons alike. More than 2,500 diatom species are indexed, as of the current count. The database is searchable across multiple attributes, allowing users to explore individual scientific interests, projects, and research. The effort is supported by the University of Colorado as well as the EPA, INSTAAR, and the USGS.

The website was moved from its previous LAMP stack CMS platform, ExpressionEngine, to Craft CMS by Solspace. We took the opportunity to optimize a number of important aspects of the website including design, data organization, search, data layouts, and authoring experience.


Creative Development

Our clients often get the most value from us because of what we call our creative development ability. We know our chosen platforms, Craft CMS in this case, backward and forward. We take this deep knowledge and apply it to problems presented by our clients. Using a highly collaborative and creative consulting style, we work together with our clients to find clever, efficient, reliable solutions to complex problems.

With the Diatoms team we found many occasions where creative development was valuable. Whether it was search, system architecture, content architecture - we applied creative development to help define and solve website problems with the Diatoms team.

Improved Design

The Diatoms team worked for a year on a new UX / UI strategy for the website prior to our engagement. That team, Sarah Spaulding, the site owner and Tim Gasperak at Strange Attractor LLC, the strategic lead and Ian Bishop built on what they had learned from the first version of the website. They sought to optimize the overall utility of the site, focussing on the search and browse experiences.

Our work was to take their strategic vision and interpret it into a visual look and feel, a new site design. The website is all about classification, so we leaned heavily into this in our design work. On a site such as this, we wanted the design to stay out of the way but also facilitate ease of use and convenience as well as future augmentation.


Data Organized

The previous CMS was more constrained in how data could be organized. With Craft CMS we were able to really dial in the data architecture so that there were no awkward organization work-arounds. It feels to our client and to their audience like the CMS has wrapped itself around the organic nature of their data as opposed to the data having to obey present rules established by the CMS.

Improved Search

Search was key. With 2,500 diatoms in the index, excellent search was essential. We built a custom search capability using JSON data sets and Vue JS so that visitors could reliably search across many different data attributes simultaneously at high speed. The search capability is cacheable in a CDN and performs with very low latency. It can scale as well, allowing for additions of search attributes and use cases.

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Improved Authoring Experience

One of the greatest assets of Craft CMS is its authoring experience. We see clients time and again move more of their web properties onto Craft to take advantage of it's excellence in this area.

The Diatoms team sought an improvement in the ease and convenience of maintaining and creating new content in their system. With as much information as each diatom entry required, they were very pleased with the new simplicity and improved content creation flow afforded by Craft.

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