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IL2009: Fast-Tracking Usability Testing & User-Centered Design

Speakers: Angela Ballard, Cory Stier, and Robert Bastell

Angela Ballard started her talk by discussing a redesign of their website for the NCSU Libraries.  They wanted to make a good Friends/Giving site with online giving that was secure and standards-compliant and a design that was different from the rest of the website.  Most of the content owners were not convinced that they needed to revise their content — they felt that they only needed a design facelift.  Redesigns start with content strategies; the design comes second.  The purpose of their user studies was to highlight problems with the existing site and create a common language with the content owners to revise the site.  The web team knew there were problems with the content and needed to get user input on grouping and labeling.  There was a facilitator who did the usability testing, and an observer from the Friends of the Library sat in on each session.  There was also someone who was remotely managing the recordings.  They gave people sample tasks to complete, like wanting to buy a memorial brick in the honor of someone.  They had people start at the Support the Library webpage when testing them (Note from Sarah: I think this was because they were really testing this sub-site — but I would wager that few people would think to go to Support the Library to create a memorial brick.)  Angie then showed a video of a user, with the matching screencast, trying to complete the name-a-brick task…completely unsuccessfully, and clicking the mouse like a cicada on crack.  Users aren’t using the pages the way that the Friends thought they would.  Their site was rather text-heavy, participants didn’t make connections between content areas that they thought was evident, and the Friends were relying on the forms to convey a lot of information (improperly).  The users didn’t use search – they would use navigation instead, trolling through link after link after link.  With that type of user, you would have to provide really intuitive navigation as that is the only thing the users are relying on.  They also created a card-sorting testing activity, having users organize cards with navigation terms, but also asking them to duplicate cards when necessary, rename cards, and create their own cards with new labels.  As Angie said, if people duplicate a card across several categories, it might be important to put that item in your main navigation.  Something they found across the various users was people dividing up the giving activities into whether it was a one-time or onging gift, or even the monetary level of the gift.  The web developers came up with various types of sites — one with the organization & content that the Friends wanted, and some others that the web developers drew up.  Some of the user responses: Don’t make me scroll, keep navigation lists short, don’t have big blocks of text, etc.  Users wanted them to use images of students in library spaces to inspire giving.  In the end they went with an approach similar to the UCLA Giving pages.  Much of the navigation they created came directly from the card-sorting activities. They used Morae to record video of the usability participants.

Cory & Robert then talked about their work with the Red Deer Public Library.  Their old website was being run by one person, coding everything by hand and putting it up on the website.  They decided that they needed to expand their website development and looked at stand-along WYSIWYG software, like Dreamweaver and other Macromedia products.  There was the problem of the cost of licensing all of this software for so many different content providers in their library, plus the software was only available on a few select backroom staff computers which limited access and participation.  In 2007 they looked at the various content management systems and decided on Drupal.  Using Drupal allowed them to get content up on their website a lot quicker than in the past, plus everyone had a bit of ownership of the content on the website.  There was discussion about who was going to be involved among the staff in creating content.  Site Admins had administrative control to create user accounts, be in charge of templates, administer top level navigation, and decide on new functionality of the site (new Drupal modules)?  And then the rest of the staff were editors or content managers.  Editors were largely heads of departments — editors for the children’s pages, adult reading pages, etc.  The majority of the staff were creating site content directly.  The staff were trained on writing for the web, marketing standards, and other procedures.  One of the important pieces to consider is the decision on what types of content go where.  Staff may need a little help with audio and video, but if you have standards that makes it easier.  You need to decide how the site will be structured and how many levels are okay to have on each area of the site.  You also need to appoint someone to be responsible for what shows up on the main page (Sarah’s Comment: Make sure this person has all of the following: marketing, web services, and public service experience and exposure).  Some staff need help with formatting too.  They might be used to working with a word processor, but may not understand how that doesn’t translate well to the web.  They might not understand how fonts don’t appear the same on all computers, bolding may look pixelated, etc.  You also need standards for the grammar, spelling, tone and more (writing for the web!).  Standards for graphics and multimedia are essential — are you hosting these files locally or posting them elsewhere and linking to them from the site?  In their WYSIWYG editor, users can upload images but within the editor they can reduce the size.  Instead they are recommending that staff edit/reduce the graphic first in photo editing software and then post it to the website.  Staff also need help with accessibility — adding ALT tags, labels, etc.  Staff need to be told about the legal issues related to using copyrighted material, like taking a book cover from Amazon and re-posting it on the library’s website.  Decisions should also be made about what you’re going to archive from the website and for how long.  They are also training staff regarding search engine optimization.  They are “abolishing content with limited content” — if a webpage has one sentence on it, it gets deleted (as an example).  They are also pushing out the idea of “value over volume” — create a small amount of awesome content instead of a big site filled with useless information.  They also talk to the staff about a difference between content semantics and technical semantics.  Their new website is going to be completely standards compliant.  Hurrah!


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