National Geothermal Data System

User-Centered Design Helps Geothermal Community Share Data

The Problem

The US has more geothermal capacity than any other country, however, the process from exploration to productive power is risky, expensive and inefficient. Part of the challenge is a lack of reliable and comprehensive geothermal data to determine sites with geothermal potential. Historically geothermal data is not digitized (think old maps, rock samples and field notebooks!) or uniformly formatted, and spread around systems in academic, industry and government agencies.

Under direction of the Department of Energy, we worked together with partners in academia, industry and government to create a one-stop GIS-based portal with digital documents and datasets to help determine geothermal potential and accelerate the development of U.S. geothermal resources. The National Geothermal Data System (NGDS) was the result.

The Solution

Everything In One Place

Decades of geothermal data have been recorded and filed away in notebooks, binders, boxes and filing cabinets across industry, academia and government. NGDS provides an unprecedented improvement as a first online one-stop experience for finding, sharing and contributing digital geothermal data.

MAP based interface

Users can easily find datasets by searching for a specific location or zooming into an area on the map. Map layers let users visualize thematic data such as geological features, environmental data, land use, ownership and more.

Robust Search

Users can find data by simple keyword and geographic searches. An easy to use faceted search and navigation helps users narrow down results by common categories such as topic, audience, author and data format.

Data Contributions

An easy to use interface supports academic researchers, private industry, and government agencies in contributing their data to NGDS. Hundreds of datasets are contributed every month, incrementally increasing the value of the system.

Developer Portal

A developer portal supports a suite of tools to encourage the developer community to build third party open-source applications, and utilize NGDS data in new and innovative ways. 

Help & Plain Talk

While geothermal energy is a scientific and complex topic, user research indicated that standardized and plain talked language helps all user groups be more effective with the system. Throughout the interface and help sections content is plain talked, optimized for the web and easy to understand.


Project Partners

Siemens Corporation
U.S. Department of Energy
Boise State University
Arizona Geological Survey

Wireframes & Visual Design

Facts & Figures

  1. 50 NGDS Collaborators Sharing Data
  2. 10,000,000 Data Records
  3. 53,000 Documents & Reports
  4. 6,300 Geological Maps

Geothermal Exploration is a data-driven process.

Scientists, industry experts and data contributors were calling for a way to reduce risk by better access to data.

“Data is the holy grail for us.”

“Give us a common interface that links the data behind the scenes.”

“We’re making high dollar decisions and are trying to predict something complex from anything you get.”

“You know, there’s no good data clearinghouse, which is probably why NGDS was envisioned.”

“There isn’t any geothermal data that isn’t important; from geological investigations to production data, we need all of it.”

The Toolkit

Collaborating closely with our NGDS partners, we worked through the user-centered design process and provided a variety of services to help design a more usable system.


  1. UCD Roadmap
  2. Consulting in blended UCD and Agile development
  3. Comparative site analysis

User Research

  1. Expert interviews
  2. Focus groups
  3. Personas
  4. Ad hoc user profiles
  5. Use cases

Information Architecture

  1. Data card sort
  2. Faceted taxonomy development

Usability Testing

  1. Paper prototype testing
  2. Guerrilla usability testing at conference


  1. UX design concept
  2. Wireframes / prototype

Training & Mentoring

  1. Training workshop in UCD