National Institute on Aging's Genetics of Alzheimer's Disease Data Storage Site

Creating an accessible genetic data repository for Alzheimer's research

The National Institute on Aging's Genetics of Alzheimer's Disease Data Storage Site (NIAGADS) is a national genetics data repository that collects and disseminates primary and secondary data on Alzheimer's Disease. Funded by the National Institute on Aging, a division of the National Institutes of Health, NIAGADS is at the forefront of genetics and Alzheimer's research. With rapidly developing applications for personalized medicine, NIAGADS is positioned to be a vital resource for researchers in the field, and NIAGADS came to Message Agency to help them improve stewardship of their datasets and make them more accessible throughout the Alzheimer's research community.

NIAGADS website on laptop, desktop, tablet, and mobile

The Challenge

NIAGADS' website was initially envisioned as a seamless access portal and resource for researchers studying the genetics of Alzheimer's Disease. But the existing site was not flexible enough to accommodate basic dataset and content management needs. Many of the administrative processes for dataset requests and approvals were handled manually via email, straining the bandwidth of staff. The authorization workflow also made it difficult to customize permissions for specific pieces of data within a dataset. In addition, the site was difficult for researchers to navigate. Important information was often lost within walls of text and the site navigation was inconsistent.

The Strategy

Message Agency's primary design goal was driven by functionality: the need to support collaboration among researchers who use it to share their data, analyze the data of others, and link to related research efforts. We focused on developing backend solutions that help NIAGADS staff more easily manage dataset presentation, submission, and applications for access while also creating a user-friendly interface for researchers to browse available data and related research. In particular, our decision-making was governed by a few core organizational goals and user needs:

  • Increase utilization of NIAGADS data, website, and resources
  • Help researchers better navigate to and access datasets and related content
  • Improve the workflow for submitting and administering dataset access requests
  • Enhance NIAGADS' capacity to manage datasets and content


The Concept

To create a compelling aesthetic without depending upon strong imagery, we used bold color and typography to generate visual interest. The color palette emphasizes purple, the representative color of Alzheimer's awareness. Color blocking is used throughout the site to highlight different sections and aid information design. A carefully considered type hierarchy is employed to ensure information is as legible as possible while generating additional visual interest. And an iconic visual was created by abstracting elements of DNA to create a minimal yet impactful image.

The Design & Build

We designed a new applications workflow and permissions model that more fully automated the process, reducing manual effort for staff. Once authenticated, researchers access a dashboard showing the status of their requests to access datasets. Researchers' experience is further improved through a dynamic filter that allows them to sort datasets by study type, data type, genetic phenotypes, and other useful metadata. The results are then presented in a responsive table designed to render the information across desktop and mobile devices. Upon selecting a dataset of interest, the page features collapsible headings to control information display, related published papers and datasets, and the ability to request access to that dataset.

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