Computers in Libraries, Part 2: User Experience

Posted on 13 April 2014 Conference, Technology


At CIL 2014, several sessions ran simultaneously. I attended specifically for the sessions in "Track B: User Experience (UX): User First". These presentations were highly practical and generally focused on improving microinteractions and the holistic virtual experience, or effective design research methods.

Human Computer Interfaces: Maximizing Usability and Findability

Shari Thurow's presentation was a rapid-fire rundown of easily-implemented tips for improving web usability. Her primary focus was employing a thoughtful labelling scheme to ensure pages are searchable online.

  • There are three primary types of labels: document, navigation, and content.
  • Labelling must be in the language of the user, from the user's perspective.
  • The < title > tag and URL are crucial to findability, and must be constructed meaningfully.
  • Don't deliver duplicate content via search results.
  • Image and video headings should exist outside of the media itself.


Other usability notes:

  • Information needs are triggered by context. Consider what tasks your user comes to the website to perform while on a mobile device and determine the most appropriate layout: mobile, responsive, or redirecting to the full site.
  • Perform an expectancy test: What do searchers expect to see when entering a particular query?
  • Don't use gray for navigation, as people associate gray with "unavailable" content.
  • Navigation should look and be clickable. Affordance testing can be done with a printed copy of the site, asking participants to circle what they believe to be clickable. The only people who hover over text are "technology people, and children".


Thurow recommends the book "Mobile speech and advanced natural language solutions".

This session, among others, generated a lot of discussion regarding responsive design versus mobile sites versus apps. Thurow seemed to err toward "dynamic serving", or allowing the user the option of viewing the full site when first arriving at the mobile. She discussed a client where the tasks being completed by users of the site were so highly complex, no one would opt to undertake them on a mobile device.

Using APIs to Create a Seamless User Experience

I particularly enjoyed the presentation from Sonya Betz from MacEwan University, partly because of the Canadian connection, but also because they took a chance and developed a very elegant solution to providing a controlled user experience. Like many academic libraries, they find users struggling to comprehend the labyrinth of products and interfaces between the home page and the item. To place a hold on a book, students must navigate the discovery layer, a link resolver, and a shared catalogue where users are prompted to log in with unfamiliar terminology (PIN Number).


MacEwan opted to contract a local iOS developer to create an app for Apple users, taking advantage of APIs provided by the vendors. The cost was approximately $50k, but the end result achieves their goal of replacing numerous disparate interfaces with a sleek and visually consistent environment.

MacEwan's students are 70% iOS users, which they felt justified the decision to make their initial foray via the Apple app store. Developing for iOS is clearly tempting for many of the presenters -- it's a popular platform among students, and because the device market is restricted, there are fewer screen resolutions to consider. However, my preference would always be attempting a similar project on the web, where it can benefit all users without the precondition of a download.

UX Notes from Other Sessions

  • An Atlanta public library system migrated from SharePoint to Google for all its staff-side needs. Through Google cloud storage and apps like Hangouts and Drive, they reduced cost significantly, and created a collaborative network that most staff were already familiar with.
  • When recruiting users for testing, consider the "hot new gadget" effect. People will choose the latest electronic device (provided that it is desirable and newly released) over the equivalent amount in cash.
  • Try PIXLR for drafting on top of a web layout.
  • There is a shift toward graphic prototyping over written background documentation and research.