Library Site Design: Usability Testing

Following Joe’s Nov. 16th presentation of the wireframes, I performed a round of usability testing (Nov. 29-30th). To keep up with our aggressive communication strategy I came directly from the usability lab to a public services meeting and reported my initial findings. I was happy to report that prior assessment efforts had paid off (I will never tire of saying this!) and initial testing of the wireframes was extremely positive.

Overall impressions included:

  • Extremely positive reaction to the simple architecture; the site is easy to navigate
  • Categories/terminology works in most cases
  • About menu successfully leads users to physical spaces
  • Services page is easy to navigate. We received a lot of positive feedback about the consolidation of our services on this page. Users were genuinely surprised at the depth of service the library provides.
  • Users do not look to the left side of the page for primary content – this is space for ads or news

A couple of our findings continue to confirm what we already know:

  • Once a user discovers one path , they tend to keep it
  • Our users tend to look to Virgo for a lot more than books. Course reserves and research help kept coming up this round of testing

It is important for me to continue to observe these behaviors and describe them well beyond the work of our UX team. These behaviors should influence instruction session content and future ILS developments.

As we know, all usability studies generate a laundry list of negative findings in addition to the positive and here were some of our areas needing improvement:

  1. The Services page requires a clearer distinction between discovering a service and making a reservation.
  2. Users were looking for maps and visuals of our interior spaces. They not only want directions to each library but also glimpses into study spaces to get a sense of the character of each space (Libraries & Labs).
  3. Terminology and options under Scanning/Digitization was unclear (Services page).
  4. Users repeatedly looked for specific subject librarians on the Research page (and they weren’t there!).
  5. Only half of the users we tested easily found the link to their library account. Those who did not find it at the top of the page looked on the services page (see location of My Account at top right of Home).
  6. Some users were surprised that the navigation bar had only one menu. They expressed interest in seeing consistent behavior through the bar. I didn’t observe any navigational issues with this so the jury is still out. I will test again carefully with additional content and styling (Home with menu).
  7. Services links: categories with 3 or fewer links were very easy for users to scan. Those with more than 3 – we observed some hesitation.

Collections Page

With this design we are attempting to highlight our collections and to make as clear as possible the various paths users must take to explore them. In our testing this page was the weakest. Though I don’t have all of the answers I need to get this page to where it needs to be, I do know that:

  • Explanatory text must move to a more central location
  • Users need more visual cues directing them to the tools used to search the collections
  • Users missed that we were featuring certain collections and that this is not a comprehensive listing

We are working with our Collections Steering Group coordinator and Special Collections to create new content for this page and to further populate the featured collections area. We hope a rework of the layout, content and categorizing of featured collections, we will achieve our goal of easing discovery of these treasures.

Come back soon to see our improvements.

Library Site Design: Wireframes

Our design principles for the Library site restructuring left us with a lot of tricky design issues to tackle, and we also needed to make sure we were addressing organizational stakeholder needs in addition to our researched user needs.  Reviewing the ways that other websites approach similar problems proved informative (such as those in eduStyle’s Noteworthy Sites list), though most other library sites contained the same complex, tabbed search boxes, obscure navigational labeling, and physical location focus that we hoped to avoid.  After many conversations with Erin, reviewing organizational needs based on Erin’s interviews, considering our user personae, and studying our analytics data, I produced the following wireframes and presented them to our stakeholder community (Nov. 16, 2011). Continue reading

The User-centered Library Web Site

After this summer’s successful integration of article content in our library catalog, Erin and I began working with our Library Communications department to re-think our Library’s main web site.  We knew that the sheer number of pages had gotten out of hand, and with new analytics data and a history of user assessment in hand, we were ready to establish the design principles that would guide our work.

Re-envisioning the Catalog: Wireframes & Design

After establishing design principles based on good assessment data, I typically turn to some quick pen-and-paper sketching to wrap my mind around design problems and areas of potential confusion.  These sketches are quick, low-fidelity, and really only meant to inform small-group conversations with those closest to the project.  Depending on the task at hand, I will sketch full pages, discrete interactions (such as a specific form element), or a narrative storyboard to visualize a potential user path.

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Re-envisioning the Catalog: Establishing Design Principles

After Erin has performed initial assessment activities, my first design task isn’t to jump right into HTML & CSS or select a color palette or even sketch with pen & paper.  My starting point is instead the creation of short, pithy, abstract Design Principles that summarize key lessons learned from our pre-design assessment and will serve as a framework for the entire design phase.

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Re-envisioning the Library Catalog

Setting the Stage

For many of us, the availability of discovery services such as Primo, Summon, and EBSCOhost, has caused a major rethinking of the library catalog. After all, who out there isn’t excited about finally putting an end to one of our most frequently asked questions: “Why can’t I find articles in the catalog?”.

For me integrating articles had to be more than simply redefining the catalog itself. Today’s discovery services  search across collections, but are not comprehensive resources and should be strategically placed next to more in-depth, subject-specific tools. Therefore, they are most effective when presented as one piece in a suite of services. For our users to navigate this kind of suite effectively, they needed a new research-oriented web page consolidating our online offerings and providing point of need instruction indicating how and when to use them.

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