The greatest challenge, and most interesting aspect, of working at Inscopix was been placing myself in the shoes of research neuroscientists. The only real time I had previously spent in a lab was during a nuclear structure internship freshman year of college. Spending my time in animal labs and talking to researchers about everything from the physical layout of their space to experimental method to how they take notes was critical to designing applications that worked for them.
My primary project was our data acquisition software. The software drives all interaction with the flagship nVista HD microscope. The state when I first arrived was a repurposed streaming desktop application. The controls were numerous and their access confusing.
I designed the current acquisition software from the ground up, creating a simple and intuitive interface for our users. This involved several visits with early adopters and research of comparable systems in the biotech space.
There were a couple of key elements came out of this research:
- The software should be simple
The lab is already overflowing with various instruments, manuals, and caution signs. I spent a lot of time abstracting away the elements that weren't necessary for the user to be able to manipulate. The first version of the software has few functions that were repeatedly tested and smoothed to make adoption easier.
- Make it plug and play
The system loads up with defaults that will give you a starting image if the fluorescent expression is good, which decreases frustration at the end of a long day in the lab spent just getting various systems to talk to one another. Most of the background functions, such as saving and maintaining data, just work.
- Help the researcher
Almost all researchers take detailed notes of what is happening in the lab and during their experiment. I added a log panel which automatically time stamps the entries and lists them in relation to experimental data taken.
The software was in continual development, adding new features and optimizing it for our users. I strive to understand how the users are utilizing the system and software within existing research paradigms, and how our users are pushing the boundaries. I worked closely with all of our early adopter labs to gain feedback and push out iterative versions that solved their immediate needs.
When I first walked in the door, Inscopix was lacking a lot of branding. Kunal, the CEO, had typed out the name in Lucida Handwriting, chosen the default green to color the text, then made the dots of the 'i's blue. I was up to me to do everything else.
I have taken our branding step-by-step and by necessity. With such a small team, and no other designers, I had to balance creating an overarching style guide with immediate needs in software and web design.
Since the initial icon creation, color palette, and corporate font choice, I have extended our branding and style to include graphical elements that are used everywhere from our packaging to booth decorations at conferences.
Using simple, clean shapes has allowed us to make the message and content a focus rather. The bold colors in the original and extended palette stand out against a sea of simple and light colors used by other companies in the biotech space.
I designed and built the original website with input from all of the Inscopix team members. We wanted it to reflect our current position in the neuroscience research community, have an area for people to apply for early access, and give a basic overview of the company.
As our needs grew, we did a complete rebuild of the site, turning it into a portal that scientists and lab administrators can access for training videos and refilling experimental consumables. We also added a forum for researchers to share information within the nVista community, swapping tips-and-tricks for the burgeoning technology. This type of open, cross-lab collaboration was unprecedented in the neuroscience community.
The Inscopix packaging has a complex balancing act to perform. It needed to be designed to emphasize the easy-to-use nature of the nVista HD system while still conveying that a lot of thought and care went into building a sophisticated scientific instrument. We also designed it to be modular, so some pieces, such as the microscope storage, separate from the packaging and are reusable, adding a little order to the lab space and ensuring protection of a delicate instrument.
One of our inspirations for this was Apple, whose product and product packaging design has been setting an example in this area for a while. Even though Apple creates consumer products, we still felt that there was a lot that we could take away from them.
The packaging continually produces a measure of care and respect as our users receive the system.
As Inscopix has grown, we have had to produce a growing amount of marketing material, from product videos to brochures. I have taken all of our product and supporting photos from the beginning of the company, leveraging my previous studio experience.
On occasion, I will be called upon to write up the copy and scripts, as well.