Category Archives: Design

The Big C

Useful and usable web content is a big challenge for everyone, everywhere but it’s especially challenging in the Libraries because of our distributed authorship model with no central editing body.

This leads to:

  • Inconsistent tone and writing style
  • Content ROT (Redundant, Obsolete, Trivial)
  • Lack of cohesive information architecture
  • Inconsistent and confusing user experience
  • Training challenges
  • Lack of authority to address content issues
  • Difficulty creating and adhering to a thoughtful content strategy

Karen McGrane’s Responsive Design Won’t Fix Your Content Problem, published on A List Apart, is extremely important and pertinent to us right now.  As we gear up to do a responsive redesign of our entire site, it’s clear that we have a ginormous content challenge on our hands.  And we CAN’T sweep it under the rug and we CAN’T just use what we have and expect any measure of success.

Nutshell version:  The redesign will fail if we do not fix our content problems.

Scary thought.

We probably need to start talking about what we mean when we say “content.”

I’m thinking about it in terms of items like this being our Big C Content:

  • Events
  • News releases
  • Guides
  • Tutorials
  • Information Literacy
  • Hours
  • Physical location info
  • Study Room booking app
  • Interlibrary loan
  • Database access
  • Maps
  • Digital collections
  • Search
  • Policies

And within each of those areas, there is the Little c Content: the individual pieces, including the assets.

Things like:

  • headings
  • lists
  • paragraph text
  • metadata
  • images
  • logos/branding
  • buttons
  • videos
  • charts
  • infographics
  • (white space)

While it’s easy enough to make a style guide that outlines best practices for writing web content and achieving accessibility, that won’t fix the ROT, information architecture issues, and all the larger issues listed above. That alone doesn’t give us more useful and useable Big C Content.

I’m sure there are other ways to look at it but I think a good place to start is focusing more clearly on what we mean when talking about content. This will lead to more productive conversations about strategy and responsibilities.

We have a content strategy sub group who is focusing on this issue.

Members are:

  • Jade Diaz (topic co-leader)
  • Mason Jones
  • Natalie Moore (topic co-leader)
  • Minnie Rangel
  • Robyn Rosenberg
  • Kristi Selvaraj
  • Audrey Templeton
  • Travis Willmann

Contact any of us with feedback. We believe it’s crucial enough to push this conversation to a wider audience. So much hangs in the balance.

Interactive Maps and Technology

A current trend of interactive map making is for institutions to bring in a third-party vendor who has experience building maps, the proprietary software for interactivity and the hardware muscle to keep these interactive sites running on the vendor’s servers (while being accessed on the Client’s local web browser).

UT’s own Tarlton Law Library at the UT School of Law has implemented a product called “StackMap” to create their own online catalog called “Tallons”.  In doing so, Tarlton has created an interactive map that when accessed from a catalog entry within Tallons displays within the floor plan the location of the book or material in question.

When the desired material is found in Tallons, click on the title of the material, then click on the “Map It!” button and a multi-functional pop-up window appears with a location marker displaying the material sought.  (See image below.)

“Tallons” the Online Catalog of the Tarlton Law Library.

Interactive Maps Interacting with Technology
Some interactive maps will feature a larger, more detailed pop-up image of the one on which the site visitor clicks or over which the mouse hovers.  These pop-ups can contain detailed information such as the person occupying the space, their e-mail and phone number; all of this information being pulled from an active directory.

Simple Interactive Pop-Up Window of an Individual’s Details. (

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Readability – the App.

Readability the Reader App

Browsing the world of free “reader apps”, I came across Readability. There are pay reader apps out there that do much more and pay reader apps that do much less. But any apps with key functionality and rich user interface design deserve a little more attention – especially when they are free.

Like all things in life, Readability is not going to appeal to everyone, nor is it going to fit everyone’s definition of what the perfect reader app should do. However, if you are looking for a reader app that gives you the ability to download web pages and articles to read offline; and if a clean, crisp, modifiable page layout is important to you; and if it is important to you when the app button says “FREE”, Readability is worth reviewing.

Readability is a “service” delivered via a mobile app and/or a browser add-ons that allows you to organize articles or web pages for reading when you are online or download articles or web pages for reading later when you are offline. According to Readability, they want “to turn any page into a clean comfortable reading view” in order to create a “web designed for readers”.

The basic choices given by Readability are “Read Now” or “Read Later”. Reading now or reading later can both be done online, but Readability lends itself to be used as a tool of leisure reading, a gatherer of sorts, of material to be downloaded and read later when you are offline.


Creating Your Account
A simple registration process is required for you to open an account with Readability. They will send a confirmation e-mail to the address you provide, so be sure to use a working address from which you can respond to this confirmation.


Readability, the signup screen.

(The sign up screen for Readability.)

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TIS & Library Systems Presented at Drupal Developers Group

Steve Williams and Jon Gibson presented on development of the AHPN web site at the UT Campus Drupal Developers group.  Steve discussed using the Zen theme kit to build a template layer with regions and styling of the site. Steve also demonstrated how to set up a dual language site in Drupal, including installation of modules, language detection methods, configuration of site variables, and how to create multilingual content like nodes, menus and blocks. Jon discussed the custom AHPN Search module, the separate layers of storage, and the Solr search index integration. Jon also demonstrated how Solr returns data and how each return is parsed.

With a full room of developers no one in attendance had built a multilingual site before and many showed interest in the process. The room was also impressed with the amount of data being indexed (10 million images and associated metadata) and how quickly the site served each request. Audrey Templeton, who also worked on the custom AHPN Search Module, attended and helped with questions.

UT Digital Repository Asset Layout Updated with Icons

Steven Williams and Matthew Villalobos, of Technology Integration Services, collaborated with Amy Rushing and Colleen Lyon to improve the user experience of viewing files in the UT Digital Repository. The default display of a DSpace/Manakin repository is to display files, and their metadata, in a text representation across rows. In order to provide users with a more visual cue, graphic icons for the most frequently used file types were created. In order to associate a file type with its appropriate icon, XSL transformation was performed in the Manakin layer matching the object mime type with its icon.

In addition to using icons to help users quickly scan for file types, the metadata associated with the object has also been moved to a vertical display floating to the right of the icon. The vertical layout not only allows for an improved gaze path, but also provides more space for longer descriptions and spacing for future data like statistics.

Classics Library Redesign

TIS worked closely with the Classics Library staff to evaluate and organize their site content. The redesign focused on  more user-friendly layouts and improved consistency with other library sites like FAL, APL, MSL, and PCL. TIS also took the opportunity to transition the site into the Libraries Content Management System to improve template stability and allow improved access for multiple authors.

Classics Home Page

The new site reduces maintenance and provides consistent data maintained by views from centrally-managed content. Examples of centrally-managed content are Library Hours, Human Resources managed Staff Directory, and the integration of the Libraries Recent Arrivals application.

TIS also sought to improve communication and outreach by providing a blog to represent a digital news board. The similarly themed blog, which is accessed from the classics home page, presents a traditional news listing with built-in tagging, archiving, and RSS feeds. The blog also affords content separation that allows for less formal posting of content. The Classics staff use the news blog to highlight specialized classics books, journals, and other resources available across campus Libraries.

The Classics Library has already received several positive comments:

nice, Gina! It looks good


Cool! Thanks very much for this. I will bookmark it forthwith”

this is fantastic!! Very helpful indeed esp. for us who are on the other side of  campus!

–Fine Arts Faculty


Fine Arts Library Redesign

The Fine Arts Library Redesign is now complete and moved to production. Many new improvements have been made to the information architecture, design and content integration to improve user interaction and reduce maintenance efforts.

Information architecture improvements include a new site layout which chunks content together logically and allows for easier lateral navigation. A horizontal navigation was created to classify main sections. We are now using active states to highlight the main and subsections a user visits, thus providing context and wayfinding clues. The redesigned home page spotlights new applications we’ve recently developed and allows for more continuity with the main Libraries home page.

New Site

Old Site

A new design was created to integrate within the Libraries approved secondary template. This design includes a new secondary header throughout the FAL site so the user easily recognizes what branch they are in. The header includes a new logo providing the full branch name and acronym and includes rotating images of faculty and students using the library. Colors for the new design where drawn from the interior colors used in the branch. To separate the main content from the surrounding site a new treatment was designed to visually raise the main content and to separate the horizontal navigation by providing a distinct look for easy recognition.

Content integration and reduced maintenance has been improved by integrating Recent Arrivals, FAL News, Staff Picks and Hours. All four reduce bloat by including only recent content and reduce maintenance by integrating content from the Catalog, Blog, or a central application. Staff picks can be submitted through the Catalog and programming was provided to cache and display these picks within the branch site. FAL News is managed through a blog, cached and displayed in a news page and on the branch home page. Hours is also displayed in the branch site but maintained in a central application.

TIS would like to thank the Fine Arts Library Staff and the Library Systems for their important collaboration and for ensuring the completion of this project before the set deadline.

LIBsearch: new tabbed search box

Spurred by the realization that our home page lacked a clear starting point, and that patrons are confused about their various search options, the Libraries recently decided to implement a tabbed search box.  We wanted it to be prominent, simple, and intuitive.

A working group was formed to determine what tabs and sub-choices we should include as well as to make recommendations on functionality and aesthetics.

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U.S. Latino & Latina World War II Oral History Project

TIS is proud to have our work featured in a three part series from News8 Austin. The U.S. Latino & Latina World War II Oral History Project, created by UT Professor Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, has been making an impact since it went live several months ago.

Professor Rivas-Rodriguez brought her work and the website into the national headlines when Ken Burns’ documentary on PBS, “The War”, added Latino veterans to the program (after not including them in the original cut of the documentary).

The website has an extensive searchable database of transcripts and videos of interviews with these WW2 veterans. Also featured are hundreds of photographs, both then and now, of these heroic individuals.

Not only does this body of work from Professor Rivas-Rodriguez serve as an important historical and research source of information, it has also served to reunite friends and family members that have until now, not been able to make contact.

Below are PDFs of the website stories from News8 Austin.

News8 Austin Story 01

News8 Austin Story 02

News8 Austin Story 03