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Providing researchers and engineers with building blocks for the cloud.

SURF is a cooperative association of Dutch education and research institutions in the field of information and communication technology. Together and with the SURF organisation, they develop, combine and share knowledge about the optimal use of IT in education and research.

The Challenge

One of their services is the SURF Research Cloud, a portal for building virtual research workspaces efficiently. Researchers and supporting engineers can use preconfigured cloud building blocks (workspace templates and datasets) from the catalogue, or add their own. The catalogue’s challenge was to lower the barrier for researchers to create, share and maintain these cloud building blocks themselves and to make the catalogue more self-service.


To tackle this challenge, we first conducted user research to identify the important goals, needs, and pains in creating and maintaining building blocks. We then created a prototype of the proposed solution and tested it with users to ensure it met their needs.

Our advise was to guide the user step by step and focus on preventing errors.


We provided SURF with a roadmap and overview of more portal improvements that SURF’s own development team can continue to implement.


After identifying the most critical issues, we worked in close collaboration with the Product Owner (and domain expert) to design and implement two wizards for creating and maintaining building blocks, like software scripts and workspace templates. The wizards replaced the previously nested forms, which often made the process more complicated than it needed to be.

The final product is a simplified ‘single page’ but multi-step flow. The flow now provides intuitive steps, in-context links to documentation and proper feedback on invalid input, preventing errors and simplifying the process.


The new building blocks catalogue has made it easier for researchers and supporting engineers to create, maintain, and share robust cloud environment building blocks. As a result, there will be less errors in building block management, fewer user questions directed to SURF employees, and the SURF Research Cloud platform is now ready for scaling up to many new users.