The Power to Make Things

“What I’ve learned through Ladies Learning Code is that there is a huge group of people in our society who are ready to become creators —not just consumers —of technology and the Web. They want to build web sites, they want to prototype app ideas, they want to design and print things in 3D, they want to understand how computers and the Web work, and they want to be able to better use technology to improve their personal and professional lives. Not all of these people are comfortable venturing into the space on their own, though. It’s intimidating, and when you start, you don’t know what you don’t know. If we can get this group of people to the point where they have the knowledge and confidence to begin exploring the world of making—well, it would be a big deal.”

Heather Payne

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

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.

Two things

Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, my life has been taken over by the South Korean TV show Coffee Prince (커피프린스 1호점). You know how sometimes when a movie is being advertised they have excerpts from supposed rave reviews, and often (especially for kids movies) it’ll say something like “This movie will make you want to stand up and cheer!” Honestly, has a movie ever made you want to do that? I can only think of one, and it was Stomp the Yard. Well this show makes me want to stand up and cheer. It is cute and dramatic and heartwarming. You can watch it all on Hulu! But here’s part of the first episode, just because I’m in favor of multimedia blog posts.

[Youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8eSdFeHlbQ”%5D

Another TV show I wanted to mention is this British show The Supersizers. Premise: A food critic and a comedian eat their way through British history while dressing the part and sharing bizarre trivia about each era. I think my favorite was the French Revolution episode. It can be kind of hard to find full episodes, but you can do it. The show originally aired on BBC4.

The only other thing I got is a quote that seems like a no-brainer, but it makes me ponder things a little:

A key feature of information is that it remains invisible until someone provides an interface to it.

David Benyon. (2007). “Information Architecture and Navigation Design for Web Sites” in Human computer interaction research in Web design and evaluation .

WebAnywhere: free “on-the-go” screen reader

While going through a large donation from a faculty member, I came across some recent issues of Technology Review. In the Sept./Oct. 2009 feature on young innovators, there happened to be a profile of Jeffrey Bigham, who, “as a graduate student at the University of Washington, created WebAnywhere, a free screen reader that can be used with practically any operating system – no special software required.” Serendipitous discovery, given my recent resurgence of interest in researching assistive technologies and web accessibility.

For a while I have been meaning to go to the public library and experiment with browsing the Web using JAWS (it’s installed on all THEIR public computers), but now I can do it from the comfort of my desk! I’ve already tried searching my library catalog and navigating our website using WebAnywhere. It works…mostly? I just did basic stuff, and I haven’t attempted any databases yet. One issue that might be significant is that our OPAC times-out after a rather small amount of time. It took me so long to “read” through the page and the list of search results that by the time I picked one to look at a more detailed record, my session had expired and I had to re-do my search. Anyways, I’m really excited that there’s a more “lightweight” tool for navigating the web via screen reader. Instead of just following accessibility guidelines when designing websites, now I can actually see what my pages sound like. (edit: I didn’t know about the accessibility validation tool Cynthia Says before today either). I wonder if a lot of people who are blind or have visual impairments are using WebAnywhere. And I wonder how it compares to JAWS or other screen reading software.

Here are some basics from the WebAnywhere site, and (for you multimedia cravers) – a video. I would love to hear about it if anyone is inspired to go access some websites – especially your favorite library catalogs and databases? – and comment on how navigable they are with a screen reader. I’ll probably be posting more about this in the future since I am just so curious about it.

WebAnywhere is a web-based screen reader for the web. It requires no special software to be installed on the client machine and, therefore, enables blind people to access the web from any computer they happen to have access to that has a sound card. Visit wa.cs.washington.edu to access WebAnywhere directly. And, it’s completely FREE to use!

WebAnywhere will run on any machine, even heavily locked-down public terminals, regardless of what operating system it is running and regardless of what browsers are installed. WebAnywhere does not seek to replace existing screen readers – it has some big limitations, namely that it will not provide access to desktop applications like word processors or spreadsheets.

Further reading:

W3C introduction to web accessibility

How People with Disabilities Access the Web from the Web Design & Development course created by the University of Washington.