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Improving digital signatures

Team: NASA Ames HCI Group

Role: Design lead

Completed: Feb 2017


As you probably expect, NASA has lots of forms that need to be signed and, with continued movement away from paper-based processes, the need for functional digital signatures is increasing. The previous interface for digital signatures needed improvements, so we re-designed the interactor to be easier to understand and use.

Keep reading for more details on our process

The challenge

Digitally signing documents is the bread and butter of most NASA processes, so it is in everyone's best interest to make this work really well. Our framework provides this capability, but there are some obvious issues:

The old interface and had some confusing intermediate states.

We sought to improve this component by making the current state easy to understand and clarifying the actions a user may take.

Our solution

After iterating on some ideas, we landed on a design that prioritized the current state of the signature by placing a small icon next to a description of that state. The icon is small, but provides just enough visual difference to quickly understand its meaning.

The new approach uses a simple stoplight metaphor1 to indicate status.

[The design] was a very fast intuitive way to see the state.

- Usability participant

Nominally, a user may request, approve, reject, or reset a signature depending on their permissions. Our new design moved away from the dropdown interactor and instead exposed all of those available actions up front. Our hypothesis was that this would eliminate the need to open the dropdown to see what actions can be performed2.

The new button group clarifies the action being taken.


We usability tested the new design with 10 participants, focusing on the saliency of available actions. Additionally, we used a speed dating activity to test two design variants for indicating signature status.

The tests resulted in the following:

The above findings showed that the new design was successful in meeting our goals to clarify the current state and available actions. We expected there to be issues with the 'Unset' action, but wanted evidence to change it before doing so.

I mean, how much more simple can you be?

- Usability participant

1. And we know from many other projects that NASA users love this metaphor.

2. It's also a more satisfying interaction.