Search Interface Redesign
Research Methods: User Interviews, Analytics Data from Multiple Data Sources,
Prototype Testing, Usability Testing
On a university library website, the homepage search interface is a critical tool that students and faculty use to find the resources they need quickly and easily. Atkins Library's homepage originally featured an outdated interface with 8 unique search tabs (yes, 8!). There was one tab where users searched for databases, a separate tab for journals, another for videos, you get the idea. Students and scholars found it cumbersome and overwhelming. Users needed a better way to search quickly across a wide range of research databases, scholarly journals, research guides, and other online resources.
When we started, it looked like this:
Holy cognitive overload, Batman!
I led UX strategy for this effort and planned and executed all user research, often in collaboration with stakeholders. I held discovery sessions with stakeholders to determine our research questions, hypotheses, and assumptions, and crafted a research plan. I conducted research with students and faculty, and invited stakeholders to moderate low-impact research activities with my support (5-minute user interviews with students at library entrances) and engage in research synthesis sessions. As the sole UX researcher in the library, I often included stakeholders in many aspects of UX research to build out our library’s research capacity and increase buy-in for the recommendations and final product. I worked with a UX designer to whiteboard prototypes to test, built a high fidelity prototype for our final round of testing using Sketch, and collaborated with developers at each step to prioritize research findings and understand the feasibility of different solutions.
I presented the findings and recommendations from each phase of the study to leadership and stakeholders, and ultimately secured buy-in to implement the recommended, data-informed redesigned search interface on our library’s homepage.
The mixed-methods research study included four phases:
To understand how users perceived and interacted with the existing search interface, we conducted 5-minute interviews with students at tables set up at the library entrances. We showed them the homepage and asked what they expected to be able to search for using each tab on the interface.
Collected analytics data from multiple platforms (Google Analytics, Ex Libris, Springshare) to generate an understanding of which tabs students and scholars used most often, which tabs they were using less frequently, and what actions they took after their initial search to further refine results.
Tested multiple rounds of prototypes with students and faculty to experiment with different design directions based on research findings. During the first rounds, I tested with low fidelity paper prototypes, then conducted a final round of testing using a high-fidelity Sketch prototype.
4. Usability Testing
After launching the redesigned search interface on the dev site, I conducted a task-based usability test with undergraduate and graduate students to understand if the new search interface helped them find different types of resources more easily than the previous version.
I met bi-weekly with the project team of key stakeholders to update them on the progress of the study, present findings, prioritize insights, and share reports as part of the larger website redesign effort.
After reaching alignment on the recommended design approach with the key stakeholders, I attended a series of staff meetings for the user-facing departments in the library to share the study results. The search interface heavily impacted the work of customer-facing librarians, so their feedback and buy-in was a critical element of the new design’s success.
I also presented the new search interface design at a meeting of undergraduate student government representatives to receive additional feedback from a large group of students. They responded positively to the new design and said it was much simpler than the previous design and easier to use. After presenting at these meetings, receiving feedback from these groups, and gaining approval from stakeholders and leadership, the library’s UX designer and developers implemented the new search interface design on the library homepage.
Feedback from a primary stakeholder:
"I appreciate the immeasurable good you did for Atkins and its website and various discovery tools. You brought a rare mixture of smarts, project management know-how, efficiency, foresight, thoughtfulness, adventurousness, and effortless sangfroid.”