Why I love my ugly headphones, and why it relates to good web design

If you’re one of those people at the Gold’s Gym on Willow Lawn that can lithely run with those tiny, white Apple headphones, I secretly resent you.  In theory, I like Apple headphones for their suave and hipstery connotations.  But in practice, I dislike them because I have big ears and a pirate-like gait. Apple headphones, combined with running, just don’t stay in my ears.

My colleagues and I encountered a similar challenge this past year.  Lots of people liked our old website.  And the site worked well for some people. (They tended to be the people that had used the site for the longest time).  The problem was that the majority, especially new users, couldn’t navigate our byzantine site very well.  I’d find myself explaining to students the four steps it took to find a library sub-page.  Or, I’d need to check something on the site using my iPhone and I’d have to pitch and squint to find exactly what I needed.

The new site attempts to address those issues by making three major changes.  First, the site now functions fully regardless of the device that you are on. The first image is the old site on an iPhone; the second is the new site.  A key difference is that you can do everything on the mobile version that you can do on a regular PC (including searching).  Also, the old mobile version was only six pages. The new mobile version encompasses the whole site.

Old Site New Site

 

Second, the site uses more visual nodes in an effort to make highly used content easier to find.  An experiment: find the link to citing sources in the two graphics.  Which took more time to find?

oldmenu_newmenu

Third, the site attempts to do away with as much library jargon as possible.  What makes more sense to us: “Interlibrary Loan” or “If We Don’t Have It?”, “Popular Databases” or “Best Bets.”

This project is over a year in the making, and it has been a deeply collaborative effort.  Starting in August of 2013, armed with data from Google Analytics, a small group of library web soldiers (a.k.a. “The Digital Initiative Committee”), identified key user needs.  From there, we spent a great deal of time exploring other library websites and determining what we would like to incorporate into our new design.  In January, we created several mock-ups, and then evaluated three (web) templates; ultimately, we selected the design that we felt would be most supportive to our students.  In March, using Camtasia, we recorded library staff and students actually navigating the new redesign and made changes based upon those usability studies.  In May and June, we shared the site with more students (during library orientations) and received additional feedback.  Finally, in July, we shared the site with Reynolds faculty and staff.  This was a very recursive, but essential process.  We sought feedback.  We made a change.  We sought more feedback.  We made more changes.  Faculty and student input mattered and will continue to be the fundamental determinant for our site decisions.

So here we are: not at a perfect site –there’s no such thing- but hopefully at a more functional and usable site: an ugly headphones kind of website.  We hope this site works for you, but if not, the best way to change it is to let us know that change is needed.

 

Mary Hanlin (mhanlin@reynolds.edu) and the Digital Initiatives Committee (not a rock band, just yet, but almost as cool as one).

Lisa Bishop

Maureen Hady

Suzanne Sherry

Kate Goodfellow

Denise Woetzel

 

 

Published by

mhanlin

Librarian, runner, reader.

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