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.

Presenting these design principles to a broad audience is a great way to help keep both stakeholder feedback and the design itself focused on user goals.  Similarly, tying later design decisions back to these principles helps non-designers understand why I make certain choices about layout, visual hierarchy, and initial verbiage.

For integrating article content into Virgo, our library catalog,we established the following design principles and presented them to the Library before undertaking any prototyping or other design activities.  As you’ll hear Erin and me state repeatedly, early and frequent communication with stakeholders is sometimes the most important task for a UX professional.

Virgo Design Principles (June 2011)

  1. Separate Search Streams — Competitive usability assessment revealed that separate streams of catalog and article content, instead of a single, integrated search stream, were desired by users.
  2. Re-think Home — Separate search streams meant that our existing Virgo home facets, which were catalog-specific, no longer applied to the whole system.  This also gave us an opportunity to replace a less-used “recently added items” section of the home page with embedded instructional content.
  3. Easy Decisions First — Facets, a search type drop-down menu, and lots of “utility” links were making the search process less streamlined than it could be.  Since we were adding even more content (and potential complexity) to the application, we needed to ensure that quick, easy search decisions were possible early in the search process, while advanced search and filter options were available to those who sought them out.
  4. Clarify Item Types — Also labelled “What am I looking at?”, we needed to make our search streams and, as a result, our item types (article, book, etc.) easy to identify.

In my next post, I’ll share wireframes that followed these principles and led to a “finished” (for this iteration, at least) Virgo design.

Presentation Slides (June 2011)

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