Client: Penguin Random House
Year: 2013
Platform: iPad

"Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious." – Stephen Hawking


Dr. Hawking called me up and said, “Hey, I love science and think more people should care about science as much as I do. I want to turn some of the concepts from my books, A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell into interactive thought experiments where people can learn the theories by interacting with them.” Ok, Dr. Hawking didn’t call me personally, but he did work with Penguin Random House, his publisher, and we worked with them to develop an iPad application that would showcase eight hand-picked thought experiments that pulled from the two books.

My Role

I was the lead UX on this project, and the entire team consisted of a UX designer, two visual designers, two developers, and a project manager. On Penguin Random House’s (PRH) side, we worked with their product owner, content writers, and cosmologist to validate our direction with the experiments. It was my job to ensure that we successfully translated the book concepts into an engaging and easily understandable experience throughout every touchpoint.

Our Approach

Dr. Hawking did a fantastic job of making the science behind our universe approachable, so it was imperative to make the experiments in the application approachable as well. The simplicity of Hawking's explanations of the science was going to be our guiding principles throughout every decision made for content, interactions, and supporting visuals.  

We started by digging into the content and science for each thought experiment. Once we had a good grasp of the content, we followed up with taking broad strokes to see how far we could push the content, interactions, and the limitations of the device.

Early thinking

I rallied the team around the whiteboard to start ideating on our initial thoughts. We quickly came up with and plan, and we couldn't help ourselves, but we immediately started working on high-level concepts. After the initial whiteboard work, we expanded on all the great ideas with my second preferred method, sketching. Through sketching, I was able to rapidly work through different navigational concepts and exploratory interactions for each thought experiment.

Iterative Flows & wireframing

Through iterative cycles with the team, we solidified a solution for each of the thought experiments and further developed the ideas through a series of user flows and wireframes. What was captured in the flows and wires was the intended user experience, navigation, content, and interaction behaviors.

The design coming together

After we finalized on the details of the user experience, the designers took the requirements and brought it to life. As the designers worked through each thought experiment, we continued iterating and improving it throughout the design and development phase. The collaboration between the team made the difference for all the design details that even Dr. Hawking would be proud of.

The results are something the whole team and client was proud of. Our app performed very well in the app store and gained a lot of positive feedback. So much so that we won Apple's Best Apps of 2014.

Science is not only a disciple of reason but, also, one of romance and passion.– Stephen Hawking