UX research: balance and iterate

Interesting food for thought in this article published in the Weave Journal of Library UX:

The goal of user experience work, as I see it, is not a purity of methods but a balancing of these methods with a practical effectiveness of outcomes. If ethnography and service design can be understood as poles on a spectrum, with methods on one side and outcomes on the other, then user experience would be my term for the spectrum itself.  – Andy Priestner

I’m not sure I get much out of the idea of user experience as a spectrum between ethnography and service design, but I wholeheartedly agree that the goal of UX work is a balancing of methods more than a purity of methods. This view came up frequently in talks at both this year and last year’s IA Summit. FJ van Wingerde did an especially nice job of synthesizing how all the UX research tools we have are basically problematic, but we still have to use them:

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Top 10 IT issues for 2012…and 2013

2012 is almost over. Where is higher education now in regards to these issues?
educausetop10

Re-reading this EDUCAUSE report has made me wonder: what are the Top 10 IT issues for non-profits generally, and information and referral services specifically, for 2013? I’ll be writing about this in the first iteration of my InfoCommons column in the December AIRS Newsletter. This is just a teaser!

bite-size

Interesting readings from around the web:

“Because wide-spread full text indexing abounds, the problem of find is not as acute as it used to be. In my opinion, it is time to move away from the problem of find and towards the problem of use. What does a person do with the information once they find and acquire it? Does it make sense? Is it valid? Does it have a relationship other things, and if so, then what is that relationship and how does it compare? If these relationships are explored, then what new knowledge might one uncover, or what existing problem might be solved? These are the questions of use. Find is a means to an end, not the end itself. Find is a library problem. Use the problem everybody else wants to solve.”
Eric Lease Morgan, “Next-generation library catalogs, or ‘Are we there yet?’”

“My favorite worlds have always been natively game-like. In their basic world rules you immediately want to interact with them. When you know that Anne McCaffrey’s Pern has five types of colored dragons, you immediately want to match yourself to one. When you know that in Piers Anthony’s Xanth every person has a unique magical talent, you want to pick out a talent for yourself. These rule structures are very game-like and enhance the poetry of a world. In addition to making it accessible, they give you a framework that exposes the theme and meaning in a world much more clearly than worlds that do not have these structures. Character classes are extremely powerful things.”
author and game designer Erin Hoffman in an interview with Clarkesworld Magazine

“It’s strange, but start talking to hard-bitten, seasoned executives about information in the enterprise and they automatically switch off their critical faculties. They’ll believe anything. Really. Like, information and how it is used in your organisation can be understood by a piece of software, out of the box. Like, you don’t need to actually understand your information environment in order to manage it. Like, the best people to ask about making your information generally accessible, are narrow subject matter specialists. Like, you can fix your information environment once, and it’ll stay fixed forever without paying any more attention to it. In this article we explore three fairy tales about taxonomies that executives seem particularly prone to believing:

1. That you don’t need taxonomies if you get a good search engine;
2. That taxonomies can look after themselves or can be delegated piecemeal to non-taxonomists;
3. That the best people to advise on taxonomy development are subject matter experts.”

-from Innotecture, citing Taxonomy Times No. 6, April 2011

We can do it

I’ve been tracking IT and web design-related jobs in libraries for a while now, but this is the first one I’ve seen that stands out as being so focused on user experience, they even want a terminal degree in HCI or a related field. And just yesterday I was reading the most recent issue of Library Hi Tech (v.29:no.2), which focuses on usability testing. One of the articles in that volume discusses the quality of research being done on user needs in the LIS field. The author, Elke Greifeneder, concludes:

These papers show that the quality of user research in our field is rising, that researchers know how to label and use methods appropriately, and that they are using a greater variety of methods. Finally, researchers seem to acknowledge that user research requires one small step after another. Instead of painting a big picture with a single user study that has many research questions, they do multiple smaller in-depth research projects, which can be interconnected like one big picture puzzle that might, in the end, give a better impression of how our users actually behave and what they really need.

Isn’t this exciting? I hope to see more jobs like the one Purdue has posted. To me, it’s a sign that libraries are finally moving towards seriously integrating UX into all our digital products and services. Maybe one day more than 28% of the major databases we subscribe to might even be accessible to people using adaptive technology?

UX and libraries, HCI and e-readers

This paper offers a nuanced and thought-provoking analysis of e-readers from an human-computer interaction standpoint:

Pearson,J., Buchanan,G. & Thimbleby, H. (2010). HCI Design Principles for eReaders. BooksOnline’10, October 26, 2010.

And this article in the most recent issue of College & Research Libraries News is succinct but  packed with crucial advice for managing library website redesign projects and really, actually focusing on users needs:

Fullington Ballard, A. & Teague-Rector, S. (2011). Building a library Web site. College & Research Libraries News. 72:3, 132-135.

I know I’ve searched for articles on these topics before, but I think the stuff I found must’ve gotten lost in my email. There have to be lots of articles on UX and library websites, right?  If not…I will write one.  One day.  And if I find some nuggets of gold in my email I’ll update this post with citations.  Maybe I should do some research on personal information management too.  :-/

Update: look out for this paper from the CSUN 2011 conference

Accessibility & technology news roundup

I’ve sort of given up on blogging since I have so much homework – learning Java! It’s exciting. But here are a few interesting items I’ve accumulated over the past month:

Update: Here’s something new from Google, as well: YouTube captions uploader web app

No one cares about alumni

One of my favorite past-times is looking up university websites on the Internet Archive and laughing at what they looked like in the beginning. Ironically, it was probably easier to find the information you needed back when things looked like this:

Pitt website from 1996

University of Michigan website in 1996

The Web Marketing Association has an award for Best University Website.  The Art Institute of Pittsburgh’s site won in 2007, but that version of the site seems to have disappeared.  I remember using it once to try to find information about their library.  I was impressed by how unconventional the site was, but I couldn’t find basic information I needed.  Now the design is different – more structured but still attractive.  This is unfortunate, though:

If you need to tell people to use your menu, you've got a problem. And why not just hyperlink all those programs on the main page if you're going to have them there?

I see university websites as portals that must also contain a lot of content themselves, in addition to making a visual statement that conveys whatever the university is trying to emphasize about itself and enhances its brand.  Ideally it should be impressive from a technological standpoint, since that in itself is (in my opinion) a statement about the quality of the institution.  So basically university websites are probably one of the most challenging type of sites to design. This article from the blog of a design consultancy in Singapore sums it up quite nicely, covering issues of web standards, information architecture, and branding.  An excerpt:

University websites tend to be more complicated than corporate websites. Here are some reasons why:

* Difficultly in defining a common vision: unlike corporate websites, it is difficult for a university to get all of its schools, divisions, centers, etc., to agree on a common vision for communicating on the web. This is a classic example of a house-of-brands or a branded-house conflict. Only the administrative offices are under the fold for obvious reasons. Thus, it is not uncommon to come across a school or a division crafting their own vision, often citing the hyper competitive education marketplace as their main reason (e.g. business schools).
* ‘Not invented here’ syndrome: because of the above, web design tends to fall into the hands of many different local webmasters who make decisions based on local directives – usually motivated by one-upmanship. This results in the hotchpotch that users finally get to see, and unfortunately, to experience.
* Lack of knowledge in user-centered design: this is crucial one. Because the needs of the user (or as Don Norman would say, people) does not take center stage, as the above two points show, design decisions are based on varying principles and random rationales leading to haphazard design outcomes. Unless there’s common understanding of user needs this is going to be a problem area for some time to come.

The xkcd comic above apparently started enough of an uproar to merit an article on Inside Higher Ed about the problems with university websites. And university websites don’t have half the problems library websites do thanks to all our different services which may require different interfaces, databases that require authentication which may have to occur on a page that isn’t the library’s, and the entirely separate (though maybe it shouldn’t be) beast that is the OPAC. But those are topics for another day.