The Hoover Institution Library & Archives at Stanford University is a century-old institution that hosts academic events, exhibitions and holds a collection with thousands of historical publications and invaluable artifacts available to the public. I was hired to evaluate, redesign, and improve the current site.
Just me m*ther f*cker
The site had grown organically over time. Researchers, students, and visitors were losing valuable time weeding through irrelevant pages, dead ends, and ultimately the inability to achieving their goals.
Redesign the Library & Archives site, so that patrons arrive prepared for research and informed, with effortless user flows to access collections related content.
Help patrons conduct research, prepare for events, and find related content and collections through a redesigned library and archives site.
To better grasp the goals and current experience of the site’s users I interviewed circulation desk staff, curators, preservationists, archivists, and librarians. Using customer stories from these interviews, system processes and stories from the staff, I captured the holistic view of how the Library & Archives function.
From these insights, I created personas and a researcher journey map to illustrate the goals and time consumption the primary persona takes to complete research from the first touchpoint to the last.
"I just bookmark the pages I want and rarely go to other areas on the site." Hoover Library & Archives colleague
Journey mapping helped us identify the three most important needs to improve research, prepare for events, and find related content and collections.
These tools improved collaboration with team members through communicating the volume of pages, identifying needs and tasks, and ultimately focusing on goals instead of features.
Once aligned on the audience and goals, I proceeded to the second step: design.
I began creating requirements that were prioritized based on impact and value to the patron. We incorporated things like top tasks to help identify needs.
During discovery, participants struggled to reserve a spot in the reading room and find the tower observation deck hours. This lead to a hypothesis that a more action-oriented approach to site content would be more effective. This was in addition to reducing clutter in the overall navigation through a simplified structure and consistent categories. The simplified navigation provided a decrease in user cognitive load and frustration.
As shown in the journey map above, conducting research at the Library and Archives requires a significant time commitment and in many cases requires human contact. Providing location and contact information could help reduce the time and effort, as well as provide a better experience. Critical information relating to building location, hours, and contact information is now located in a highly visible area in the top right corner of the most commonly used pages.
The Reading Room is used by 7000 researchers annually and yet it didn’t have a dedicated page. Information regarding the handling of materials as well as registering and reserving materials was buried in the Get Help section of the website. This information was pulled out of the Get Help section and added to a dedicated Reading Room page.
Results were reassuring, using task-related questions on the prototype, the majority of users tested welcomed the new features, especially those related to the Reading Room. However, feedback indicated that some of the Reading Room’s verbiage was confusing when it came to ordering and services.
Working with the marketing (web team), I discovered I couldn’t execute all of my IA and wireframes. My user flow for the exhibitions would have to use a pattern matching the CMS systems to promote events globally on the site throughout the organization. It was unfortunate I couldn’t use my more user-centered design approach, but I saved time and effort by identifying this constraint early in the process.
Designing solo doesn’t mean you have to go it alone or operating in a vacuum. Being a solo designer means you have an obligation to create collaboratively with others. You can use lean design methods to discover your domain, users, requirements and earn research insights from those that use the product. Many colleagues commented that they appreciated being a part of the design process.
The structure of the site and its content cannot be a second thought. The site had a rushed start that over time made it easy to add content outside of the scope of the primary users of the site. The requirements, personas, user journey, site map, and user flows will guide a positive experience on future iterations of the site.
With a solid foundation in place, clear next steps would be creating a way to scale the site while maintaining consistency. Developing a style guide with common UI elements and microcopy will go a long way to maintain consistency and democratizing design.
Patrons of the Library & Archives now have a smoother experience to find what they need online and onsite. I was able to create an inclusive design process focusing on consistency and user needs all in a traditional, academic institution.
Just me m*ther f*cker