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Worldwide Telescope A Storytelling Universe

Microsoft Research approached us to design virtual telescope software that lets users browse the universe from a variety of sources.The primary goal was to create an exploratory environment that provided easy access to large quantities of astronomical data, while giving users an understanding, context, and scale of what they were looking at.

It also had to engage educators, students, scientists, astronomers, and casual space enthusiasts equally.

The result was a rich, interactive, and visually engaging experience for anyone who has ever been curious about outer space, as well as being voted one of TIME’s best websites for 2009.

"Like Google Earth for the heavens, WWT aggregates terabytes of astronomical data from the world’s biggest telescopes to create a single virtual scope that anyone can look through. WWT is not a model of the known universe, but rather a centralized repository for just about everything known about the universe."

Time Magazine, 50 Best Websites 2009

"The WorldWide Telescope is a great example of a piece of educational software that’s been designed intelligently from the ground up. And it is the most impressive one I’ve seen to date to handle the visualization of the sky in a very interactive, smooth, clean interface."

Robert Hurt, Astronomer, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, California Institute of Technology

"There are many online astronomy sites, but astronomers say the Microsoft entry sets a new standard in three-dimensional representation for its vast amounts of data plucked from space telescopes, the ease of navigation, the visual experience, and features like guided tours narrated by experts."

Steve Lohr, New York Times

"Microsoft has blended an optimal user interface for the WWT, including guided tours and intelligent “sensing what you’re doing” technology. Say, if you zoom in on something, the program detects your interest and names the top most interesting locations in the window below with a thumbnail so you can just click on those for an explanation and identification."

Michael Tan, CNET

Highlights

An evolving and scalable tool

As the global network of scientists and astronomers continue to discover new objects in space, discoveries can be shared and added to the database.

Highly visual interface

Guided tours made by other users enhance the experience while a dynamic, highly visual interface enables easy exploration of objects in the sky.

Engaging content, easy navigation

Enticing, highly visual thumbnails provide navigation to corresponding elements in the sky while always providing a sense of context and scale.

User controls

The design is such that universe imagery acts as the canvas for the narrative. Users can take the guided tour or point to where they want to explore.

Process

Ideation

In the first six-week phase, we explored different directions to address the aforementioned challenges.

Identify users

Since all users experience products in different ways, it was important to correctly identify these users and uncover their motivations.

Recommendations

After converging on one design direction with our client, we described the recommendation in a detailed specification document.

Branding

We collaborated with Microsoft Research team to create a brand for the project, which eventually culminated in a branded experience across the application and the website.