Jerome Chadel

Basespace, genetics research made simple

As the first hire for the project Basespace, and also one of the first UX designer at Illumina, I knew that my mission was going to be more than just one thing. So above my design responsibilities for Basespace, I participated in a culture change in the company where Design as a discipline means better business. 



Coordinated internal and external research, analyzed data collected, and created maps, scenarios and personas.


Presented design research results to executives. Advocated Design Thinking through different activities inside the organization.


Evaluated the effort needed for implementation with the development team, following an Agile methodology.


Created wireframes, storyboards, prototypes and visual design comps and specs.


Assisted the engineers and follow through the entire process until the end of each sprint.


Conducted internal and external usability testings for validating the solutions designed and implemented.

What is Basespace?

The journey of a research study starts with a question, or a hypothesis. When that research needs sequencing data, it starts with one or multiple samples.

This map represents the journey of a sequencing study, and the actors involved: a biologist, a lab technician, a bioinformatician. While this doesn't represent 100% of all possible scenario, it still highlights who are the people involved and what their tasks.


User Research Program

Jerome was very influential from the very early development stages of Illumina’s genomic cloud solution, BaseSpace. At that time our environment was technology-centric, and Jerome was very effective in making us user-centric by way of his focus on testing GUI concepts directly with users. As a result he had a major role in making BaseSpace the successful platform that it is today.
— Alex Dickinson, SVP Strategic Initiatives at Illumina

Implementing Research as part of the development process

User Research was not an activity fully developed at Illumina at that time, and my first goal was to convince my manager, and his manager that we needed to be in a constant learning mode if we wanted to succeed.

Once that step was accomplished I focused in setting up field studies and usability testing. My goal was to understand our users's journey, the number of people involved in their workflow, and who their customers were. 

I had learned from Jared Spool, that the most important thing in research was not about reporting the insights, but the research activity itself. So in order to learn and remember you had to be there observing or facilitating a study. So I created an research group, composed by scientists, designers and engineers. 

Bringing scientific expertise in those studies was really important because it allowed me to go beyond my naive questions since I didn't have a biology training. It also helped us building credibility with our customers and stakeholders.

To train my collaborators, I created a set of simple research guidelines, and I would remind them each time we visited our users. These easy rules were appreciated by my colleagues as they helped us to reframe our mindset just before meeting with users.


 I needed to find a way to make my coworkers feel they were part of this work. So each time I would go on a field study, I would bring someone from the team who was not directly involved in the creative process, so they could literally feel the people they were designing for. They loved it! This was especially useful for me as they would bring an outside expertise.

For them it was a double learning experience, since they would get a chance to know their users, and also learn a new set of skills. 



Collecting data is one thing, making sense of them is another one.

Like any researcher, I created reports and presented our findings during team meetings. But I never felt this was the most efficient way to build empathy. The only people who could feel what our users feel were the one who came to our research trip. But you can't have the whole team visiting customers all day long. That wouldn't make any sense. 

So I experimented with different tools to analyze and organize user research data, from Excel to Google docs, to Evernote. I wanted to have my colleagues play with the data collected.

During the UX Strategy conference, in Atlanta, back in 2013 Aarron Walter, Director of User Experience at Mailchimp, described how his team were organizing, and classifying user research data.

Back in San Diego, I started created my first Research System using evernote and invited colleagues from Customer service, Marketing, and Bioinformatics to contribute to this system.


Some examples of research analysis. 

After visiting several Core Labs - where the sequencing is done - I was able to describe different scenarios representing how biologists, core labs technicians, and bioinformaticians collaborated.


I also created different personas synthesizing their goals, and activities. Those were helpful when writing or talking about user stories with engineers.

Design Seminars

I had many opportunities to present a user-centered strategy to executives,  to demonstrate that the process we were following - not only on our team, but globally at Illumina - was not prioritizing the needs of scientific users and was often limited by technological constraints.

I quickly found out that my voice wouldn't be enough. Convincing coworkers that we needed to follow a user-centric approach was easy. Changing a company culture is way more difficult. So I selected some great external 'voices' to tell successful stories about design coming from different industries.

Jerome [...] championed a series of external speakers to share this passion with the software team and with the product development team more broadly. This commitment and passion where always appreciated when I had the privilege of having Jerome within my organization.


Team activities

To me it was about changing the process, and creating a culture of design while having fun.


UX Journal Club

Stealing from an activity that happens in each scientific research lab, I created the UX Journal Club. The idea was to take a recent article from a User Experience Journal, and present it to a group of people. 

For our first Journal Club, our System Analyst picked an article describing the episode where Homer Simpson is designing the car of the future. Insightful and hilarious!


Lunch and Learn UX

Once a month we would have lunch while watching a video related to design. I had pre-selected a series of talks that I wanted to show like the classic "The anatomy of a Design Decision by Jared Spool".


Design Workshops

I organized several workshops promoting the Design Thinking methodology, as well as some fun creative activities in the Software Engineering and Automation department. Here are some pictures from our marshmallow challenge to promote creative confidence and collaboration.


Design Execution


Design process

Early on we would involve key members of the team: engineers, scientists, designers, and marketing (who were also playing the role of Product Managers). Below is a scheme of our design process.  

Interaction Design

Example of a storyboard for deleting runs.


Interaction design for creating tags, and assigning them to samples

Dashboard concepts

Visual Design

I do not consider myself as a visual designer, but I had to create lots of graphics during my career, and I learned a lot by doing, experimenting and listening to others. I truly appreciate people with outstanding graphic design skills. They can dramatically change the perception of an interface and influence people's experiences.


Design by iterations

There are several ways to solve the same problem, several ways to represent information. In order to discover the best experience, it's important to search for as much solutions as possible, without forgetting to validate with our users.


Case Studies


The Matcher Controller



Component inside Basespace Apps, that enables users to create pairs of samples for their analysis.


  • Samples criteria: 
    • 50 bases in length (ATGCCATTGC...)
    • same number of read 
    • same species/genome
  • Samples need to be all paired - no unique sample allowed.

  • Samples cannot be reused.

  • 48 pairs maximum recommended, for V1. Bigger number for next version.

  • Allow to search by name

Problems to solve

  • How to find samples?
    • by name
    • by project
    • by species/genome
    • by date created
    • by users/owners
  • Samples have often similar or identical names. How to identify samples when their name is the same?
  • Which design pattern should we use for pairing the samples?
  • What is the quickest / easiest way to create the pairs? 
  • Although the initial limitation is 48, can we design something with a much larger number of samples?
  • Which design pattern should we use for selecting multiple samples?


interaction design

Sequence of screens showing the interaction of finding, selecting and adding the samples to each group.

Design Specs

Usability Testing

Video 1


Basespace Mobile App


In 2013, During A Research Study At The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute In Cambridge, MA, One Of Our Most Engaged User Mentioned He Was Looking At His Run's Stats On His iPad During His Commute although BaseSpace was not even responsive... 

A few weeks later, we started discussing the idea of a native version of Basespace, and how we would convince our leadership to fund this project. After a few proposals the project was accepted and the app is now live. Following are a site map of the initial version and a limited prototype.



Here's a limited Invision prototype of that iOS mobile app.