ARIAS: Interviews and Card Sorting

The first week of November, Tessa Guijt, a Communication & Multimedia Design student from the Hague University of Applied Sciences joined us in the ARIAS project. She will be responsible for designing the user flow and user experience of the new platform.

For the past two months, we’ve been working on conducting interviews and generating insights that would help formulate a concept for an online publication for ARIAS. ARIAS, the Amsterdam Research Institute of the Arts of Sciences, is a platform for research in arts and sciences. It aims to foster collaborative research between AHK, HvA, Gerrit Rietveld Academy, UvA and VU Amsterdam. Interviews were conducted with Sabine Niederer, Bernadette Schrandt and Curdin Tones, all of them being leaders of projects within different ARIAS clusters. The aim of the interviews was to find out more about the diversity of initiatives within ARIAS, see how researchers currently disseminate information about their projects and what similar platforms the researchers are using (more detailed information about the interviews can be found here).

After conducting the interviews, we created a visual overview of the three projects, based on the information the interviewees shared with us. When analyzing and discussing these projects, we focused on features or characteristics of each project, which can be later be translated into the interface of the online platform/publication.

The first project we considered was “Making Climate Visible”, started by Sabine Niederer. This project strives for using a variety of digital methods to investigate the images that are associated with climate change across a range of locations on the web, taking platforms such as Google, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr as a case study. (More detailed information about this and other projects can be found here).


The visual overview of a multitude of aspects of “Making Climate Visible”:

The second project taken into account is “The Exhibition Designer of the 21st Century”. This project’s goal is to find out how exhibition designers can take more informed decisions when designing visitor experiences, in such a way that visitors are educated, inspired and touched.


The visual overview of the project:

The final project’s leader is Curdin Tones, this project called “The Procession of the Ear”. Curdin works on several of projects and creative initiatives in the village Tschlin in Switzerland, which aim at exploring cultural topics that have a relation to the village itself, its environment, past and future. Projects develop their respective fields of reference both in the house and in the public space.


The visual overview of the project “The Procession of the Ear”:

After considering a variety of features that relate to each project, we started thinking about how to translate those features into the design of the online platform. Designers from Gerrit Rietveld Academy have almost finished working on the design of the ARIAS website, and during the meeting with Jeroen Boomgaard (Lector Art & Public Space at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie) and Flora Lysen (media-researcher at UvA), we have decided that our part would be about focusing on the creation of the project pages, that would also be a part of the ARIAS website. While the ARIAS website will communicate general information about ARIAS, project pages will allow individuals to gain a more in-depth understanding of each project; they will make it possible for users to dive into the research behind the project, and learn about the major milestones of the project, individuals or groups involved, as well as related research.

In order to find out what are the crucial features the project pages should include, we have decided to conduct interviews with several researchers within HvA as well as policy makers, the target group of ARIAS. The researchers we had interviewed were: Gabriele Ferri, who conducts research through design on playfulness and urban spaces; Wouter Meys, researcher within the Citizen Data Lab; Rebecca Breuer, whose current research interest lies in the interconnection between technology and the body; Felipe Escobar Vega, an interaction designer at MediaLAB Amsterdam; and Tamara Pinos Cisneros, a creative coder also at MediaLAB Amsterdam. We have also conducted an interview with Matthijs ten Berge, the director of the Amsterdam Creative Industries Network, and Annemarie van Lankveld, the Head of Communications Faculty of Digital Media and Creative Industry at HvA.

We applied the method card sorting, which is used to help design or evaluate the information architecture of a website. The test person is asked to categorize the cards in a, for them, logical order. We started by printing out the cards with features, which we collected while conducting the first round of interviews. Some examples of features are internal partners, research question and tools. During the card sorting, we asked the test person to think aloud, so the motivation behind their choices became clear. Our goal was to gain insights into the importance and relevance of features that could be on the platform.


After printing out the cards with features, we have asked researchers to put them on the scale, from least important to important and from least relevant for their project to most relevant. Moreover, we provided researchers with the blank cards, where they could mention the features they would like to add and also put them on the scale. There are two scales, ranging from Not important to Very important. We asked the interviewee to use this (X) scale to decide which features are important or not important to them as the user of the platform. The other scale (Y) is about how relevant the interviewee finds the feature for their own research projects.


The main purpose of the card sorting was to figure out the features that were the most important and relevant as well as least important and relevant for the majority of interviewees. As a result of the interviews we found out that the following features were the most important/relevant:

  • Short description (as decided by all interviewees)
  • Related research  (as decided by 5 interviewees)
  • Research results (as decided by 3 interviewees)
  • Tools and methods (as decided by 4 interviewees)
  • Funding source (as decided by 4 interviewees)
  • Events/offline aspect (as decided by 3 interviewees)
  • Team + partners (as decided by 3 interviewees)

The short description was considered important and relevant due to the fact that it provides with an overview of the whole project, and might include crucial milestones, goals and research question. The related research feature was chosen by many interviewees because it allows seeing other projects/papers that are connected to the research, and such connection between different projects is rarely emphasized on other research platforms or in databases. The research results feature is crucial as it allows seeing  what was achieved as a result of the research and how these insights can be used for further research. Tools and methods are important and relevant as they are often unique for each project, and thus they allow other researchers to also use them for their own research. Many researchers believe that ARIAS should organize many events and have a strong offline presence, therefore, events feature was considered important by many interviewees. Funding source feature is a key feature, as interviewees mentioned they wanted to know where other researchers get funding for their research. Another important and relevant feature is team/partners because it makes it possible to understand who is involved in the project, both internally and externally, and provides researchers with an opportunity to contact other researchers or organizations.

Regarding the least important and relevant features, the following were chosen by the interviewees:

  • Comment section (as decided by all interviewees)
  • Sharing buttons (as decided by 4 interviewees)
  • Social media of the team (as decided by 4 interviewees)
  • Location (as decided by 3 interviewees)
  • Social media of the project (as decided by 2 interviewees)
  • Videos (as decided by 2 interviewees)

Many researchers stated that social media is not crucial for the ARIAS project, as researchers can communicate via email and other means, and the network could benefit from being more personal. Also, interviewees found the idea of comment section as not important and relevant, as they can use other means to exchange information and ideas. Several researchers considered the location of the projects feature as not crucial, because the majority of projects take place in Amsterdam and otherwise the researcher can be emailed and asked about where the project takes place. Some interviewees also found the videos feature as less important, as they could just read the short description to find out more about the project or email their colleagues and ask.

Moreover, when providing interviewees with blank cards, we asked them to write down the features they considered relevant, but that were not included into the least of features we had initially. There were the features they mentioned:

  • PhD/master opportunities
  • Looking for project partners
  • List of people within a certain institute
  • Offline aspect: meeting physically & alternatives
  • Connections between the five themes
  • Contact details of team (e-mail)
  • Information about theoretical framework
  • Research methods and results including insights
  • Press release
  • International collaboration

Furthermore, we got a variety of insights from the interview, that were also valuable for creating the concept for the project page. In the first place, many researchers emphasized the importance of offline meetings within ARIAS, as well as collaboration between different researchers, both in the Netherlands and internationally. Many interviewees highlighted the idea that ARIAS should not only be a research network, existing just on the website, but there should be an offline, personal and informal aspect to it, and the idea that individuals can attend a variety of events and meetings:

‘‘For me, the ARIAS network right now is purely offline. I think that’s already the case with the ARIAS network, because there is no website yet. If you want to be involved, you have to go to the drinks and the meetings.’’ (Wouter Meys)

“It’s all about the community. That’s also perhaps one of the goals of ARIAS: to be a community, that is valuable. I think ARIAS should stay a community rather than becoming a networking organization. We need to keep it personal, rather than political.” (Rebecca Breuer)

Also, some researchers expressed controversial views when answering certain questions. For example, when we discussed the layout and the design of the website, many researchers highlighted functionality as essential, while believing that visual aspect is less important:

“In professional life, I am interested in a functional design (…) we need to find things faster, effectively and with as little distraction as possible. I need a Google-like experience.” (Gabriele Ferri)

On the other hand, other interviewees believed that while functionality is intrinsic, the visual aspect should be present on the project page:

“The platform can be much more visual and more attractive than Pure and LinkedIn. ARIAS is something different than regular platforms.” (Rebecca Breuer).

We aim to use the information that we found out from the interviews to focus on creating the concepts for the research environment. In the next stage, we will be working on the sketches and creating further concepts of the project page.