The AustKin Project

Center for Asia and the Pacific: Australia National University                   Summer 2014         Canberra, Australia

One of my favorite projects to date has been working as a Digital Heritage Management Consultant for the AustKin Project, an initiative to make publicly available a large database of indigenous Australian kinship and language data. I needed to work closely with the Australian government, aboriginal representatives, anthropologists, linguists, and native title lawyers in order to design an interface that would match the desired information paths of those users.

The first thing this involved was presenting to stakeholders and speaking with them one-on-one, taking careful notes of the needs, desires, and worries they expressed when talking about the project.


Although an AustKin database already existed, it was extraordinary complex and required a deep knowledge of linguistic terminology.

Before (click to enlarge)


Some searches required dozens of fields to be considered, which our target users would likely be unable to fill out:


One of the more difficult and controversial aspects of this project was the search result map, which plotted which language communities correlated to the user’s search. Conflict over language boundaries meant that any map I did use would be seen in part as a political choice. To use one, user buy-in (especially among the language communities and government bodies representing them) would be crucial.


The initial interviews and research resulted in a series of paper prototypes depicting possible versions of the final site:

Prototypes and User Testing



Participants were especially excited to contribute their thoughts at this early level, and gave lots of great feedback which would ultimately help shape the interface. I also received a lot of important feedback about the usefulness of AustKin’s map search:


I moved from there onto low-fidelity Axure prototypes, testing out not just the labels and information paths available, but how intuitively objects were placed and how users imagined the banner carousel to work for them in the context of AustKin:



After user testing and a few additional interviews, I built an interactive Axure prototype with a simple, sparse design that could be quickly tailored to the needs of special users (linguists or lawyers, for example.) The presentation was enthusiastically received by the team member and stakeholders alike, and the design is in the process of being implemented by AustKin’s chief developer in France:

Final Prototypes