Billy So
UX designer


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 in, 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 a high abandonment rate (scholars did not complete the data entry). Without quality and sufficient data, the usefulness of DRH is reduced. 


To gain insight of the scholars is the key to improve 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. 

In the beginning of the project, the engineers have focused on building a platform that can capture the 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 abandonment rate 

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

  • To encourage scholars to enter as much details as possible 

An example of a persona

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 a 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 have 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 identifying 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 work flows:


Once the team has aligned on the work flows, I have 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:

Due to the scope of the project, a dedicated UI designer and developer is 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 are 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. 


We are able to achieve the three criteria:

  1. To reduce abandon rate by allowing users to complete the topic at their own pace

  2. To improve the details of each entry by introducing a progress bar that engages users to reach 100%

  3. To improve users’ participation by allowing users to include links to their publications as references (this allows the experts to share their work)

I want to point out that getting the DRH team to adopt the Human-Centred Approach is a pivotal moment for this project. By 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 to complete 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 details 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 data base. They ultimately want to share their publications to a broad audience. Knowing this, we have allowed scholars to include links to their publications once they have entered the right amount of details.

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

I would like to thank the DRH team for giving me the opportunity to work on this project. The project would not have been completed without the assistance of the engineering team, scholars who volunteered their time to share their knowledge, and project managers who ensured the project was being delivered on time.