Category Archives: Usability

Support Your Libraries Redesign Update

We’re iterating!

After spending time researching and documenting project requirements, benchmarking fundraising sites inside and outside of academia, and getting Staff Advisory Committee for Library Advancement (SACLA) suggestions on big impact stories to highlight, we created a set of wireframes.

The first design relied on a crowd sourced funding technology to replace our current Wish List of items ranging from $100 to $80,000. We’ve since learned that approach isn’t tenable at this time and we’re now working on a redesigned information architecture that doesn’t use crowd funding. The benefit is that it’s helped the project team reassess the number of different giving options we provide, and scale back in order to not overwhelm.

Things shifted, as they can, and we’re now working on a redesigned information architecture that doesn’t use ScaleFunder. The benefit is that it’s helped the project team reassess the number of different giving options we provide, and scale back in order to not overwhelm.

After the next version is done and approved, we’ll move into designing the look & feel and then building the site in Drupal 7.

Mining chat reference transcripts for UX issues

Attention Staff who provide reference: We want to know about the questions that highlight users’ difficulties with our site.

Whether it’s an issue with how information is organized, its lack of searchability, or it not being there at all…we want to know the ways our site can be improved to meet user needs.

We’ll plan to work with content owners to make improvements.

Feel free to provide this info whatever way is easiest for you, including simply forwarding chat transcripts.


Meet Stefanie, the new TIS GRA

Salutations! I’m Stefanie Roberts, a first-year UT iSchool master’s student and the new TIS User Experience GRA.

I majored in English at the University of Florida and dabbled in nonprofits, media, education, and healthcare before finding my way to UX. I didn’t even know the field existed until I stumbled upon it while researching library graduate programs. The common threads I found woven through my experiences in other fields—working with people, producing creative deliverables, and designing new systems to improve workflows and outcomes—are also at the heart of UX research and design. I feel fortunate to have wound up here working on UX for a library, the dream combination for many an MSIS student.

This semester, I’ll be collaborating with TIS staff and the Library Web Oversight Group on implementing best practices to redesign and create optimal experiences for UT Libraries website users. Since joining TIS in September, I’ve been generating IA and migrating content for the new Geology branch page. I already can’t remember life before Drupal. I’m especially looking forward to learning more about content strategy, responsive design, and accessibility.

When I’m not at the library, you can find me doing schoolwork, co-directing the Student Association for the School of Information and UT’s student chapter of the Association for Information Science and Technology, biking and running (for fitness and/or to Juiceland), or exploring the cultural goings-on in and around Austin.

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.


Currently, I am the new UX GRA at TIS, and I will be working with the Information Architect, Jade Diaz, on improving the user experience of various interfaces throughout the semester. I will be taking part in:

  • understanding project requirements
  • usability assessments and documentation
  • generating information architecture and prototypes for new designs
  • helping web authors maintain and update content in Drupal

How I got here:

I’ve always been fascinated with understanding how people process information and how this information helps them make decisions in their lives, so I got my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Texas A&M University. Unfortunately, I came to realize that getting a PhD in psychology was not for me, so I began looking into other areas that incorporated psychology, but did not require clinical training.

I didn’t ever feel a strong pull towards technology, but my dad is obsessed with the history of computing hardware, so there were always weirdly huge and old computers all over the house that I couldn’t be less interested in. However, I was fascinated with how different those old interfaces looked compared to my new iMac G3 (which obviously rocked the ‘Flower Power’ design). I couldn’t even imagine how someone could use a computer without windows or menus or icons.

When I decided to try to bridge these two interests, one of understanding how people learn and process information, and another of understanding how to improve interface designs to increase usability, I came across the field of HCI. I looked at a few different graduate programs, and decided to attend UT’s Master’s program in Information Studies. I am specializing in usability, information architecture, and UX research/design.

Other than school and work, I love spending time with my two wonderful cats, Gus and Sophie. I also got a guitar for Christmas, so I’m trying to teach myself a few things. I sort of like working out, and love spending time with friends and family.

Writing for the Web

A lot of people are terrified of writing, but here’s what I think: If you can speak, you can write.  This is especially true for the Web.  Some may be better than others, but with the following guidelines and practice, everyone can improve.

Steve Krug, author of the best-selling usability book Don’t Make Me Think, says Web pages should be self-evident, obvious, and self-explanatory.  Users should be able to “get it” without expending a whole lot of cognitive energy.  Most users scan Web pages instead of reading them, anyway.  Even readers with above-average intelligence read only about 20% of text.

So with all that scanning and conservation of mental energy, what do Web users notice?

  • Page layout
  • Navigation features
  • Images
  • Highlighted keywords, such as links
  • Meaningful subheadings
  • Lists

How can you make such features especially noticeable?

  1. Omit needless words.
    Getting rid of unnecessary words reduces the “noise level” of the page, makes the useful content prominent, and makes the pages shorter and scannable.  Not sure where to get started?  Steve Krug likes to say, “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.”
  2. Use plain language.
    People prefer to read simple and informal writing online.  So avoid jargon, use familiar words, define acronyms and abbreviations, and use abbreviations sparingly.  Use descriptive words, especially in the first sentence of each paragraph, and use active voice.
  3. Make content meaningful.
    – Group related information and functions.
    – Use descriptive headings and subheadings.  Style them in bold, so they stand out.
    – Ensure that labels clearly reflect the information and items contained within a category.
    – Use bulleted and numbered lists.
    – Leave plenty of whitespace.
  4. Match link names with the page they point to.
    “Click here” is not very descriptive.  A better way to help users understand and use your Web site and its subpages are to clearly label all links.  For example, instead of writing “Click here for a map,” you might write, “For help, view a Campus Map.”

Ultimately, try to think about your audience and what their level of understanding and familiarity might be when they initially encounter your Web page, and let that guide your writing.  Remember, you want your site to be easy to read and easy to understand.

Here are some additional resources you might find helpful:

(For a slide presentation of this post, download the PDF: Writing for the Web, 3.40MB.)

Usability Testing Complete on the Libraries Website

As part of my role in TIS and my involvement in the strategic initiative to assess our website, I recently completed usability testing on a list of core user tasks identified by our working group.

The tasks were developed using data from:

  • current site usage logs
  • a pop-up survey that asked users what they had come to the site to accomplish
  • an identified list of core library site elements based on reviewing other university sites
  • a survey of staff asking what tasks they saw users performing

View an all-text version of results, including background information and scripts.

Or view a visual summary of results, with screen grabs.

Many thanks to Sara Snow, our GRA, for invaluable help with performing and assessing the testing.

New search box featuring scoUT goes live

It’s the first day of classes and we’re very excited to announce that students are finding a brand new search box on the homepage.  Based on a naming contest this summer, we branded our Summon search “scoUT.”  It provides, for the first time, the ability to search over multiple databases and content types, in one place, and get fast, filterable results.  This is a big deal!






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Kicking off our redesign planning with a webinar

As part of our redesign research efforts, yesterday we watched a an ALA TechSource webinar: 10 Steps to a User-Friendly Website.

I found it to be full of useful, practical information as well as great confirmation that we’re talking about the right things and floating good ideas.

A few takeaways that stood out for me:

Reduce your site. 

  • Our site should be smaller, should not use the “just in case” model of information.  Most of it is noise.
  • The one-pager concept.  Our site can probably not become one page but it can be dramatically reduced.

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