I recently attended the Designing for Digital Conference in Austin, Texas this week. The conference focuses on providing librarians with access to usability professionals. Themes revolve around user experience, with presentations and longer workshops. I had the opportunity to conduct a workshop on usability testing specifically for library websites.
The opening keynote was Jesse James Garrett , who explained the importance of designing systems to connect with the user. He discussed the elements of user experience and went into an interesting discussion about designers give too many options and functions to users because its within the technology. A great example Garrett used was a VCR with a multitude of switches on the interface, but nothing to easily set the clock. Instead, he argued that designers and developers should build a connection to its users. This can be done by creating a relationship either by a story or creating a product with a personality. Without this relationship, users feel dumb and blame themselves for not being to operate the system.
Following the keynote, I attended a workshop that focused on implementing designed focused, service-based initiatives in libraries. The presenters were from Reed College and Montana State University. This workshop was interesting, with highlights including incorporating students into UX teams for the libraries, the use of NCSU’s SUMA app, and mind mapping, which were all used to re-conceptualize the library and how its space is used.
After that workshop, I had some excellent tacos at Torchy’s for lunch. Everyone should have a deep fried avacado taco. My time in Austin has also made me a breakfast taco convert.
Returning from lunch, I conducted a 3 hour workshop on usability testing library websites. It was a small group, which I think works for the best, since I had participants try out mock usability tests with one another. They reported back on the difficulty of trying *not* to lead the user when conducting a test.
The next day, I unfortunately only had time to attend a few sessions. One of the more interesting ones was the experimental discovery tools that the Wellcome Library in London were using. This project was spurred in part to the interconnection of (and lack thereof) data within their records and also the hard work that catalogers had contributed to its special collection over the years. This was visualized in a fascinating breakdown of MARC subfields. I also found it fascinating the comparison of “generous interfaces” between those used in museum collections vs ones in the library world. For instance, the user doesn’t just want a text link to an item, they want to see the actual item. Also, museum’s generous interfaces place emphasis on large images descriptions, whereas library interfaces focus more on the bibliographic content of the item. This impacts the serendipitous discoverability of a special collection.
The last workshop I attended focused on the redesign of OhioLINK’s electronic journal center. OhioLINK’s large consortium employed an outside usability firm to improve their user interface. This was accomplished through staff interviews, persona creations, and mind mapping. This was a very concrete example of employing various usability techniques to increase the functionality of an existing system.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend any workshops since they were too long and I had to catch my flight back to New York. I did have an opportunity to talk to many librarians one-on-one. Its refreshing to hear new ideas or discuss solutions over some good tex-mex. Hopefully I’ll be able to attend Designing for Digital next year!