J-PAL Research Initiatives Website Redesign

Project Summary

J-PAL is an economic development research center based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). One of J-PAL’s core activities is providing research funding opportunities to its network of affiliated researchers and their research teams through initiatives—pools of funding dedicated to specific research areas.

Over the past few years, the size and scope of J-PAL’s initiatives and requests for proposals grew rapidly and the demand for a more user-friendly and cohesive web presence grew along with it.  J-PAL needed a way to consolidate and standardize their initiative content and meet the needs of two distinct audiences: donors and applicants.

Tools: Sketch, InVision, Miro
Client: The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT
Roles: UX researcher, UI designer, project manager


  1. Establish a hierarchy of information based on user experience research with affiliated researchers (applicants) and donors.
  2. Develop templates for J-PAL initiative content that meets the needs of disparate stakeholders, including website content editors, as well researchers and funders.
  3. Make initiative pages navigable within the architecture of the J-PAL website to ensure two distinct audiences can find the information relevant to their goals.


Research methods:

  • Stakeholder focus group – including J-PAL content editors
  • J-PAL Initiative staff survey
  • Affiliated researcher survey (primary applicant pool)
  • 1:1 contextual interviews with donors
  • Google Analytics review
  • Competitive analysis

Affiliate Survey Question: What information do you look for first when an Initiative RFP is announced?

Affiliate survey

Synthesizing Research

After gathering all the data we needed from qualitative and quantitative assessments, our team met to synthesize our research and begin to organize it into actionable insights.

Key Research Findings

  1. Users have difficulty navigating to Initiative pages and finding relevant information once they reach the page.
  2. Funding organizations need to be able to share summary results of initiative research with their partners and colleagues to justify spending and catalyze evidence use.
  3. Qualified applicants need to quickly find application materials and determine their eligibility.
  4. Content entry is unnecessarily cumbersome for staff, which leads to errors and outdated content that confuses users.
  5. Funded projects are important to both applicants and donors. Key project information includes grant type, location, and topic.

We used Miro, a collaborative online whiteboard platform, to identify user pain points, draft empathy maps, and brainstorm solutions.

Empathy Map: Qualified Applicants


With our key research takeaways and brainstorm sessions, we began to produce low fidelity wireframes to test out ideas for functionality and iterate on the user flow.

Simultaneously, we started to think about how the new section of the website would fit into the existing information architecture of J-PAL’s Drupal 8 website. We determined that we’d need to create three new content types and a new vocabulary (taxonomy). To meet stakeholder requirements, we needed to build flexible templates while maintaining consistency across this section of the website.

We tested new menus and introduced breadcrumbs to address the issue of navigation.

Mock-ups & Prototypes

After reviewing and iterating on the wireframes and coming up with a draft user flow, we created high-fidelity mocks in Sketch and uploaded them to InVision for more user testing.



Initial qualitative feedback from affiliated researchers and funders on the new section of the website was positive. We will conduct further research to determine whether users are able to achieve their goals through surveys and by looking at metrics such as application downloads and session length.

An initiative page with new sticky anchor link menu.

View the website >