Monday, April 8, 2013

Digital Know-how Day Takeaways: UX for Libraries (or why your user rules your world)

This blog has been occasional at best for the past few years, but I am trying to return to it more regularly. There's lots to write about, but perhaps over the course of a few posts. Although I'm still at the Bodleian Libraries as Communications & Social Media Officer, I'm no longer working for the Conservative Party Archive. Instead, I'm job sharing the position of University Museums & Special Collections Librarian at the University of Reading (super exciting - loving it so far!).

One of the best training/CPD events I've been to recently was my colleague Alison's Digital Know-how Day on UX for Libraries. UX is an increasingly hot topic for libraries (or perhaps I should say it's an increasingly 'duh' topic for the web world and a 'just getting started topic for libraries'? Perhaps that's unfair). As part of the Bodleian Libraries web redevelopment project (first few websites up! see, the project team has spent some time considering how best to figure out what our users actually want and need from our sites. I've learned about and helped with user testing, focus groups, card sorting and more. They all boil down to this: your user (reader, visitor, whatever) is a real person, who is trying to do a real thing or build a real experience. HELP THEM. Web design isn't about colours, or logos - though those things are important. It's about people.

'It's designed so that whatever you do, you'll get the mushroom.'
--Shigero Mayamoto (via Matthew Reidsma)

The day provided a good mix of details and theory, with presentations from Tom Grinsted of the Guardian, Matthew Reidsma (Skyping from a corn field in Michigan), Martin Bazley and Ruth D'Arcy-Daniel as well as some quick fire presentations from me and a few other staff members and a live user testing session.

Key takeaways:

  • Web work and understanding your users is an iterative process. It's constant! That's a good thing!
  • Don't be afraid to show people an unfinished product. Even a paper version can yield great feedback (and save you money and time in changing a finished version). Just don't launch a half-baked product that doesn't work; people would rather use a limited version that works great than a full product with lots of bugs.
  • Make data-based decisions: Hypothesise, launch, test, revise, repeat.
  • It's important to use different types of testing or statistics, qualitative and quantitative, to support your work. Online analytics are great, but your users don't exist in an online vacuum, and neither does your organisation. Use guerrilla testing - it can be a great way to get some fast answers! 
  • Stop designing based on what you 'think' users should be doing. Historically, this is a problem for librarians; we often feel the need to 'help' people do the 'right' thing. Teaching people to use a catalogue is great, but you shouldn't need a guide to your website. Like Super Mario - you learn everything you need to in the first 20 seconds of the game (props to Matthew Reidsma for including video games in a library talk).
All in all, an illuminating day, and lots to keep in mind over future projects, both in Oxford and at Reading. I'll be thinking about how this applies to the Reading SC website as I learn more about its content, and we're addressing the Bodleian Libraries SC sites over the coming months and in preparation for the opening of the Weston Library.

If you want to hear a bit more about the UX day in full, check out the full Storify.