Database of Religious History

Database of Religious 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.

Project Brief
The primary focus of the database is accuracy, which relies on the religious studies experts’ knowledge in their respective areas. The team wants to build an easy to use website to support that. In addition, the team wants a digital presence that will accurately represent the vision of DRH.

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.

As the lead UX designer, I was tasked to improve various workflows. The priority was the data entry flow. The improvements were measured by three criteria:

  1. To reduce abandonment rate
  2. To encourage scholars to enter as much details as possible
  3. To reduce the overall time to complete each topic (average time is over 40 minutes)
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 to 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 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 some wireframes for the landing page and the religion poll.

Sample Wireframes

I have worked closely with the technical manager to develop some personas so 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?”

Here is a sample of the persona.


By adopting the HCD approach, the team begins to understand the importance of feedback from the users. One way to receive feedback is performing usability tests via prototyping.

The team has established an iterative design process in which ideas are being tested via prototyping before committing to a final design.

The DRH team also wanted a digital experience that the experts will be comfortable with. Since the average age of the experts are in their 60s – 70s, the design will need to address any potential vision loss due to aging. I invited David Le, the lead UI designer for this project, to join the team. 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 engage 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 works)

Users can see their progress for each entry poll via the progress bar.

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.
Besides the improvement of the data entry workflow, the most important result of the DRH team is showing empathy to the users. Not only does this lead to an improvement of overall user experience, it also helps the team to conceptualize a strategic roadmap that focuses on features that will add value to the users.
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Billy So in collaboration with David Le and Carson Logan.

  • information architecture
  • interface design
  • persona
  • user flows

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