Archive for May, 2015

The ChemSpider team at the Royal Society of Chemistry is proud to announce that our new look ChemSpider website has been launched. As discussed in our last post one of the key features of this new design is to make ChemSpider work on as many devices (from desktops to mobile phones).

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The ChemSpider homepage as it might appear on a desktop computer (left) and a mobile phone (right)

As the screenshots above illustrate, the difference in size, shape and the method of interacting with the page means the view of the website that you need is very different between devices. The nature of a responsive website design also means that some of the screenshots that we provide might be a little different from the view that you see when accessing the  site, however the variances should be clear. We hope this results in an experience where usability and readability are not sacrificed for functionality.

 

What has changed? … and what has stayed the same?

To start with the things that have stayed the same: ChemSpider is still based on the same quality-data and provides mechanisms for users to supply and curate data. We also haven’t changed how the search queries work, so searches that you ran previously should still return the same results.

The key changes

 

1. The new page header

We’ve moved all of the old menu items into a bar at the very top of every page (1), we also display a search bar just above the main page content (2). On smaller displays you will see icons for the Quick search box, Sign In and Help items, all other options can be found under the ‘hamburger’ symbol (3).

New layout of the ChemSpider site header.

Comparison of the ChemSpider page header on large and small screens

2. Shorter record pages

One of the biggest challenges of making ChemSpider work on a mobile is how to display all of the information that we have on a much smaller screen. I think that our solution will actually make ChemSpider better for everyone – regardless of how they view the site.

Previously, a ChemSpider record was one big long page that had basic details about the chemical structure at the top of the page, followed by a number of infoboxes that could be opened or closed and also re-ordered. This worked fine in most cases but led to situations where you had to do lots of scrolling up and down, and might not be able to spot the infobox that you were looking for. Now, we still show some information about the chemical structure at the top of the page (1) but, below that there is a single pane (2) which contains tabs (3) that allow you to select the section of the record that you wish to display. This means that it is always easy to look at some information and see the structure to which it relates.

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The new page layout consists of a Compound header (1) and a Pane (2) diplaying the contents of the infotabs (3)

3. No Java, No worries

JSmol3D

Many browsers are no-longer support Java applets – good Java-free versions of chemistry tools have really started to take off in the last 18 months and the time was right to start the switch over. This means that the site now incorporates JSmol – enabling 3D  structure view, CIF viewer and NMR/IR/MS spectra display as well as Ketcher and Elemental for structure input/editing.


4. Structure searches simplified

Previously, creating a structure search was a bit of a pain as you had to: open the structure editor in a pop-up, draw your structure, and then save it back into the searches pages – now our structure editors are embedded into the interface, cutting down the number of steps needed to get to your results and making it easier to tweak searches.

One particularly useful feature for anyone accessing the site on a tablet or mobile phone is the Convert Structure tab which can be used to load in a complex structure as a basis for a search, for instance using “dibenzylamine” in the structure conversion gives a structure that can be quickly elaborated to the Simpkins’ chiral base precursor amine shown in the the screenshot.

StructureEd

What’s next?

Hold on a moment there! We’ve only just got all of these great features into the site! I’m joking, but we will be spending time tweaking and perfecting the new design. We will then be able to focus on further development, if I were to speculate – I’d suggest that we will look at more (non-Java) tools that can be incorporated into the site to give a better experience, and new methods of improving the quality of data in our records.

In the meantime, please explore the site and do email us at chemspider-at-rsc.org to let us know what you think of the new site.

Subscribers to this blog might have noticed that we’ve been a bit quiet of late. I want to assure that this doesn’t mean that we have been resting on our laurels. In fact we have been working on a whole host of improvements to ChemSpider – improving our infrastructure, developing ways to increase data quality and designing a new layout for our records.

We will discuss both the data quality work and the website redesign work in more detail in separate posts but ahead of the release of the new website design I want to provide some insight into what to expect when the changes go live.

Why are we changing the site now?

Well there are quite a few reasons:

  1. Primarily, we need to have a site that meets the standards of the modern internet. This means that the site needs to be usable not only on a desktop computer but also on a tablet or a mobile phone. This is often referred to as responsive web design
  2. ChemSpider has always had records that are full of lots of rich and varied types of information – which poses a challenge when it comes to presenting that information so that it is discoverable and easy to understand once found. We hope that the new layout will present data in an intuitive and clear way that will provide a better experience for everyone.
  3. We need to move away from technologies that are not supported by the widely used browsers. Java-based tools have been an issue for users on certain platforms for a while and this is only going to get worse. For a long time we have provided non-Java structure editors alongside the Java tools (the current version of the site incorporates Elemental and Ketcher for structure drawing. This release will see the adoption of JSmol to enable 3D structure view and Spectra display widgets for devices that don’t support Java . At this time we are providing both Java and non-Java solutions but expect to phase out Java applets in the near future.
  4. Improve the integration of ChemSpider with the wider Royal Society of Chemistry web family

 

Will there be any more changes to how the site works?

There will certainly be some changes to some aspects of the site due to: user feedback and bug fixes. We also what to look at how we can make more complex interfaces such as Advanced Search more usable, but we hope that there won’t be any major changes to the site.

Will all of the features that you use still be accessible?

In the main, the answer to this is; Yes! It might be that they now appear slightly differently or be accessible through a different interface. There are 2 caveats:

  1. When accessing the site on mobile devices

    The layout of a page on the smaller screens and tablets often needs to be different – wherever possible this is achieved by rearranging the elements of the page and adding new controls. But for some parts of the ChemSpider interface we realised that there wasn’t a good way to display all of the data and the only solution was not to show that part of the page on these smaller screens.

  2. Removed features

    There are a couple of features (such as the Print button) which we felt were no longer relevant in the new design or need to be redesigned to make them more usable.

When will the new site be launched?

We hope that the new site will be ready to release within the next week.
 

How will the changes affect you?

We hope that the transition will be smooth for everyone. Once the new design goes live you might need to refresh/clear your Browser Cache. The new design does require a modern browser with a good support of the HTML 5 specification. We will try to ensure that the site is usable on as wide a range of browsers and platforms as possible but expect that the site will not work well in older browsers such as IE7.
 

Will it still be possible to access the site using the old interface?

Unfortunately, the old interface will not be available alongside the new one.

How will you be able to provide feedback on the new design?

The best way to provide feedback will be to email us at chemspider-at-rsc.org

Keep an eye out for the new design – when it is made live we will write a blog post about the changes.