Pointing Out the Great Way

From 2014-2015, I worked with the Boston-based Buddhist community Pointing Out the Great Way to design and develop a new web-based platform to meet the unique needs of their organization.

Project Management, UX & UI Design, 
Front-end Development

2014–2015

Public Presence

The organization already had a functional basic web site, but it lacked an unified message and wanted for clarity. We undertook a complete redesign not only to unify and clarify but add considerable additional functionality including live video streaming, an event calendar, and payment gateway.

Complete Re-architecture

We provided a new information architecture based on the content of the old site, and worked with the community to develop new sections to clarify and contextualize complex topics. In this phase we also mapped out the key user flows including registration, livestream viewing, and payment submission.

The Secular and Spiritual

How does one present a 2500 year old Eastern spiritual tradition in the information age? We attempted to find a balance by clearly defining meditation, the spiritual tradition, and the teacher — as well as an immediate call to action to listen to a guided introductory meditation.

Stories from Tibet

Just a click away from the more secular homepage is a page filled with videos of Dr. Brown’s many trips to Tibet that offer a glimpse into the history of the land where these teachings and methods originate.

Regular Livestreaming

The site also offers weekly video streaming sessions that are accessible through membership or a one-time payment. We used Paypal’s Merchant API to implement a one-time payment gateway and Ustream Pro to embed live video into the site.

Retreat Calendar

Pointing Out Way teachers travel worldwide to share meditation instructions and Buddist philosophy with their students. Information for these retreats is managed and published through the site in the Calendar section.

Student Site

In addition to clarifying the public web presence, the foundation wished to offer access to large library of recorded teachings to its students. With this goal in mind I designed a completely new application that integrated seamlessly with the public site.

Information Architecture

As with any new project with a blank slate, I began by mapping out the core experience of the users and delineating the information architecture of the key screens.

Student Home

Pointing Out Way students are able to register on the site to access live streaming, lecture archives, Buddhist texts, as well as calendars to schedule time to speak with individual teachers.

Library

The library includes audio, video, texts of philosophy and guided meditation from years of retreats lead by Dr. Brown and a variety of teachers in the Pointing Out Way community.

The Library section offers basic search and filtering functionality, as well as the ability for users to save specific files and add notes to specific times during lengthy audio and video lectures (a la SoundCloud.)

Bookshelf

The bookshelf is a section for material that is saved (“bookmarked”) by a student or recommended by his teacher. It additionally includes material from any retreats the student has attended, recordings from the weekly livestreaming sessions, as well as material relevant to any Book Group sessions.

Media

Video and audio recordings stream straight from the Library and can be saved for later viewing with the click of a button.

Membership

Three levels of membership are offered which include free public materials, paid access to the library archives and live streaming, as well as a an invitation-only option for students with strong practices and engagement with their teachers.

Administrator Tools

In addition to the needs of students, we needed to address the develop a way for site administrators to managed a variety of data types: users, retreats, media, payment records, and more. We designed a flexible javascript interface to work with Google’s Firebase database service so that we could provide a robust interface without worrying about server maintenance and security issues.

Root Access

At the Root Level of the administrative section, admin users can see all the data in the site and the application.

Automatic Interface

When editing an object (a set of numbers, strings, text, etc.) the application automatically presents the appropriate type of input in the interface – a large text box for a text field, a date picker for a date, and links to edit associated data: here labeled as Collection Links.

Collections

We defined a special type of array as a “Collection,” to store the vast majority of data on the application. Retreats, Users, Media, Teachers, etc. Collections operate like a standard array — here showing standard sorting, searching, and editing functions — but can be easily linked to other Collections through the Admin interface.

Collection Links

Collection Links are an user-friendly abstraction of the common data type known as an associative array, which allows individual objects from Collections to be quickly connected with other Collections, making functions like adding a Teacher to a Retreat a snap.

A Great Project

It was a joy to work with a client whose contemplative practice included the philosphical elements that would later come to be a foundational part of my work approach.

Additionally, the project was an excellent test of skills and our clients ambitions. Thanks to the talents of my development partner, we were able to handle numerous specification updates, design revisions, on a relatively short timeline and successfully launch the site in 2015.

Since its launch the Pointing Out Way site has continued to function as designed with only minor updates. Dr. Brown and his associates continue to offer meditation teachings worldwide and weekly livestreaming through the site.

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