Billy So
UX Design Lead


An online quantitative and qualitative encyclopedia of
religious cultural history


The Database of Religious History (DRH) is one of the flagship initiatives of the Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium (CERC), based at the University of British Columbia. It is funded by a 6-year, $3 million Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada.

The DRH aims to bring together data on cultural systems throughout history that will allow statistical analysis, the discovery of new patterns in world history, and the testing of hypotheses about the evolution of human behaviour.

The Problem

The DRH team consists of a small group of academics and computer programmers from UBC. I joined the team about 6 months after the development phase had already started. The priority of the team is to improve the data entry workflow.

Due to the lack of user research and testing, DRH has suffered many usability issues that involve the data entry process. This results in a high abandonment rate (scholars did not complete the data entry). Without quality and sufficient data, the usefulness of DRH is reduced. 


Gain insight from scholars is the key to improving the user experience of DRH. I have worked closely with the technical manager to develop some personas so that the DRH team can take on the Human-Centered Design approach. 

At the beginning of the project, the engineers focused on building a platform that can capture a wide range of religious data and neglect how the users interact with the system.

Once the personas have been created, there was a fundamental shift in approaching any design decisions. The team begin to ask themselves:

  1. “What would [persona name] think of this?”

  2. “How [persona name] would use this?”

  3. “Would [persona name] understand this?”


  • To reduce the abandonment rate of answering the poll

  • To reduce the overall time to complete each topic (average time is over 40 minutes)

  • To encourage scholars to enter as many details as possible 

Database of Religious History

An example of a persona


  • DRH users are highly educated scholars who are in their late 60s to mid-70s

  • Desktop is preferred because of its large display 

  • Prefer traditional keyboard and mouse interaction 

  • Digital literacy is low 

  • Intimidated by the "web 2.0" style 

  • Believe software should work for the users, not against 

  • Motivated to contribute and share their knowledge

  • Have grandparents' responsibilities - need to complete data entry based on their availability


Prior to any redesign, I created a site map and several workflows to document the DRH database web application. These artifacts can help the team have a better understanding of the current state of the web application. From that, the team can find out the required pages for any flows as well as identify opportunities for any improvements. Having these artifacts will facilitate future design by ensuring any new features that will work smoothly with existing flows.

Here is a sample of the sitemap and workflows:


Once the team has aligned on the workflows, I developed multiple versions for the landing page wireframe and the religion poll using UX Kits.  

Here is a sample of the wireframes of the Landing Page (two versions):

Here is a sample of the Poll page which is the primary page where scholars fill out data:

Database of Religious History

Due to the scope of the project, a dedicated UI designer and developer are necessary to keep the project moving. So I invited David Le, who is a talented UI designer, to join the team as the lead UI designer. 

Based on our research,  the average age of the DRH scholars is in their 60s – 70s. The design will need to address any potential vision loss due to aging. Great visibility and high affordance were the two design principles that we followed for this project. 


  1. The abandon rate of completing a poll is reduced by 15%

  2. DRH was rewarded an additional CAD $2.35 million grant from Templeton Religion Trust in 2017

I want to point out that getting the DRH team to adopt the Human-Centred Approach is a pivotal moment for this project. Knowing how DRH scholars interact with the system really drives the solutions that we have come up with. 

From the research, we know DRH scholars have a strong desire to share their knowledge. Yet, it experiences a high abandon rate because the system requires completing the data entry in one session. This is hugely impossible as the majority of the scholars have grandparents' responsibilities that may prevent them from finishing data entry in one session.

Also, the level of detail for each religion could be extremely high. Many scholars will just fill out the minimum due to time. Based on our research, many scholars' desire to share is not limited to the DRH database. They ultimately want to share their publications with a broad audience. Knowing this, we have allowed scholars to include links to their publications once they have entered the right amount of details.

Database of Religious History

Scholars can see their progress for each entry poll via the progress bar. Also, profiles allow links where scholars can include their publications.

Database of Religious History

Nested question is organized by collapsible accordion. Colour is also added to enhance the visual hierarchy.

Database of Religious History

This shows the expanded state of a nested question. The sub-nested question has an arrow icon with an indent which is similar to any tree structure file folder system.

Database of Religious History

The current browse view of a Poll (read only) Check it out