During my time there, Pratt’s School of Information and Library Science began offering courses in User Experience (UX) Design and Information Architecture (IA), highlighting the “Information Science” aspect of the degree. For those unfamiliar with UX and IA, these fields deal with the science behind organizing websites and designing navigation. The courses I took at Pratt changed the direction I decided to take my career, inspiring me to shift away from working with rare objects to digital resources, websites, and databases. In the Venn Diagram of Library Science, UX and IA represent an increasing large slice. As more and more information professionals go into tech careers, they can apply skills from their library backgrounds when learning about the ways users interact with information online.
So how do you know when a website is successful? Like really great sound at concert or nice lighting in an art gallery, you often don’t notice it right away (if at all). But when it’s wrong it can be glaring. People want information online to be easily accessible, and when it isn’t the experience is frustrating. That’s when User Experience professionals can help identify problems such as vague navigation, improper labeling, or ineffective design with extensive research and evaluation. For this post I’ll be discussing my experience gained through a course at Pratt. The project we worked on provided a cohesive overview of some UX research techniques that I have found to be really useful in my current work.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music from the NYPL Digital Gallery. These concert-goers probably aren’t thinking about how great the acoustics are, but they are enjoying themselves. Just like how you aren’t totally floored by the easy navigation of target.com. Both the acoustics of BAM and Target’s navigation are the products of untold blood, sweat and tears.
In my Usability Leadership class I gained insight into the UX field when I worked with a team to conduct a series of tests on the (then) newly redesigned Pratt website. While the new website was a vast improvement over the old one it still had a few quirks that needed attention. The first step was identifying the audience. In Pratt’s case: students, prospective students, parents, and alumni. We then came up with a series of tasks representing each user group’s anticipated needs while visiting the site. For example, a student of the Pratt SILS program would likely want to locate the course catalog for the upcoming semester, and prospective students would want easy access to financial aid information. A sample task would sound something like this: “from the homepage, find the list of courses for the fall semester.”
Next we recruited study participants who represented our user groups. Using a screener survey to suss out the best candidates, we eventually culled together a group of study participants and brought them into our makeshift lab (a classroom with computers on the Pratt campus). One at a time, we had each participant complete a series of tasks on the Pratt website that were targeted to their user group. We used More testing software, which records users’ screens and faces (the latter was great for detecting levels of frustration), number of mouse-clicks, and length of time needed to complete each task.
From the NYPL Digital Gallery. We put all of our study participants under a microscope to understand how they interacted with the Pratt website. By observing their behavior we determined which parts of the site and navigation needed the most improvement.
At the end of each test session we asked participants to answer a survey measuring their overall experience and impressions of the design of the new website. We evaluated all of the information we captured through testing and the exit surveys, and were able to pull effective metrics from our data such as the average length of time in seconds each task required. When we combined the hard data with the verbal and survey feedback from users we could effectively point to the areas in need of the most improvement on the new site. At the conclusion of the project we presented our findings to the webmaster and other stakeholders, who seemed happy for the feedback. Within a short time some of the most glaring issues on the website had been addressed.
It turns out this blog post coincides with an exciting and related event. I’m happy to announce at the beginning of July I’ll be moving on from my current position at JSTOR to a new role as a User Experience Analyst at a consulting firm in New York, where I’ll be tackling projects similar to the Pratt website evaluation above. I’m really excited for a new challenge, though I will miss my colleagues at my current job. For more information about User Experience and Information Architecture, there are several organizations with chapters all over the place: the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) and the Interaction Design Association (IxDA). If you live in New York City there is an amazing community of UX and IA professionals and countless Meetup groups and lectures happening all the time. If you’re interested and new to the field just go! People are so lovely and supportive, and often have cool stories to share about things they’re working on such as this beautiful watercolor mapping tool from Stamen.
As this is my final Guest Blog post, I’d like to thank the Desk Set for having me this month! It’s been great to talk about related fields and alternative career options for Library Science grads. Have a lovely summer!