Biomedical Libraries Web

Web Usability: Does Your Site Work?

The Biomedical Libraries have posted the presentatons from our fifth annual
October Conference for New England Librarians

Thursday, October 25, 2001

The keynote:
"Toward a Usable Web: Striving for the Ordinary"

Sarah Horton, Instructional Technology Specialist in Academic Computing at Dartmouth College and author of "Web Teaching Guide: A Practical Approach to Creating Course Web Sites" (Yale University Press, 2000) and co-author of "Web Style Guide: Basic Design Principles for Creating Web Sites" (Yale University Press, 1999)

How much time have you wasted trying to locate specific information on a Web site, such as a contact name, phone number, or mailing address? What's with that, anyway? What makes such a seemingly straightforward task so difficult? In this situation, many users give up, faulting their own incompetence or lack of understanding. However, the fault lies not with the user but with the design.

The Web is an interesting paradox. While it gives us access to an abundance of information and resources, what we seek is often so buried that it remains maddeningly beyond reach. But things are looking up. With the current emphasis on usability, designers are coming to realize that the Web is not about innovative, in-your-face layouts and graphics. Web site design is not Art. The Web is an everyday device, like a telephone or a photocopier, which users should be able to decipher without having to relearn how to use it every click of the way.

"Usability Testing: Using Task-Oriented Testing to Improve the Redesign of a Library Web Site"

Daisy Benson, Reference and Instruction Librarian; Laurie Kutner, Reference and Instruction Librarian; Trina Magi, Reference and Instruction Librarian; and Peter Spitzform, Collection Development Librarian; Bailey/Howe Library, University of Vermont

Over the last year, librarians at University of Vermont have conducted a two-part user study to inform the redesign of the Library' Web presence. This presentation will describe the methodology of the study and report on the results, with special emphasis on task-oriented usability testing of a prototype design. "Before" and "after" images of the Web site will demonstrate the importance of user input as the basis for design decisions.

"Usability Testing for Web OPACs: MIT Libraries' Experience"

Nicole Hennig, Web Manager, and Tracy Gabridge, Librarian for Civil & Enviromental Engineering, MIT Libraries

In the first half of 2001, the MIT Libraries converted their OPAC from a GEAC Advance system to an Ex Libris ALEPH system. In order to help plan for the best possible Web interface to the catalog, several usability tests were conducted throughout the process: before, during, and after the conversion.

This talk will describe those tests, and summarize what was learned from watching volunteers "think out loud" while using the catalog. Examples will be shown of specific screen designs and the decisions that went into them, based on the results of the tests.

This extremely useful process helped achieve the goal of designing screens that are as usable and self-explanatory as possible. Both the successes and the limitations of what was accomplished will be discussed, along with ideas for further research in this area for the future.

"Responding to User Experience in the Design of Interactive Tutorials"

Robert Vander Hart, Web Site Manager, and Peg Spinner, Reference Librarian/Instructional Services, Lamar Soutter Library, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Usability testing in the design of Web-based teaching modules helps to ensure that they are an effective educational tool. This presentation will describe the process followed in developing interactive tutorials and the changes indicated by direct observation of user behavior.

Lunch - included

"Can Professional Designers Make Your Web Site Work?"

Holly Grossetta Nardini, Service Quality Support Director, and Karen M. Reardon, Manager of Workstation Support, Yale University Library

One little-discussed facet of Web usability is working with professional designers. Many librarians do not have the graphic design skills or software savvy to create polished images for Web sites, yet designers might not be as attuned to usability or the academic setting as librarians. Making a professionally designed site "usable" often requires extra work on the part of the in-house Web team to correct browser incompatibility, slow loading, inappropriate alt tags, and color choices and to ensure compliance with W3C and ADA guidelines. This talk will describe our redesign process, discuss results of usability testing for language and jargon, offer tips for working with graphic designers, and discuss pitfalls to avoid.

"Ask the User! Intuitive Bundling Techniques for Patron-Driven Navigation"

Rachel Zyirek, Reference Librarian, and Jane Cloran, Reference Librarian, Babson College

The librarians at Babson College utilized professional market research tools to fine tune the navigation of their new Web site. As the Web site serves as a primary research medium, customer buy-in weighed heavily in redesign decision-making. In addition to general on-line and hard copy surveys, we conducted twenty one-on-one analytical interviews. The process included a short survey, a card sort with bundling/naming exercise and discussion. A multiple page visual of the proposed Web site was shown to interviewees for comments and suggestions. The gathered statistics and qualitative information directly impacted the navigation of the Web site redesign.

"Accessible Design: Just Do It"

Sarah Horton, Instructional Technology Specialist in Academic Computing at Dartmouth College and author of "Web Teaching Guide: A Practical Approach to Creating Course Web Sites" (Yale University Press, 2000) and co-author of "Web Style Guide: Basic Design Principles for Creating Web Sites" (Yale University Press, 1999)

It is undeniable that our lives have been transformed by the access the Web provides. From locating difficult-to-find items to collaborating with colleagues in far-off lands, the Web has changed the way we do business. For people who have difficulty navigating the physical world, the Web should be revolutionary. In the virtual world it is far easier to design barrier-free spaces that can adapt to different needs: the curb cuts and access ramps of the virtual world are more a matter of attention than of time and resources. Unfortunately, many of the popular trends in Web design erect barriers instead of breaking them down.

When you construct a Web site you are constructing a public space, and with that comes the responsibility of making your virtual spaces accessible to people with disabilities. The good news is that learning accessible design is not starting from scratch. By simply changing a few coding habits, your Web sites will go a long way toward being accessible to a broader range of people.

Last update 3-November-2001 by Biomedical Libraries Web Group
©2001 Trustees of Dartmouth College
Hanover, New Hampshire 03755 USA