Shaley’s UX Writing and Content Design Portfolio
Design Thinking Activities for a Library Website Taxonomy
* The university name where this project took place is hidden in this example. On my resume, look for the following role: 03/2018 – 03/2019, 1-Year Contract Library IT Manager (UX Consultant).
When I joined the university, the librarians were in a deadlock disagreement with the departing Library IT manager about redesigning the university library website.
Communications and collaboration were non-existent. More than 2,400 loosely associated content pages were spread over many domains. There were no style guidelines, and every librarian had her or his own idea of what constituted “good organization and writing.” ADA accessibility standards were required by university policy, but rarely implemented.
Throughout the following year, my combined skills in design thinking, UX writing, negotiations, and relationship building served to repair broken trust between the IT team and the librarians.
At the conclusion of my contract, the Dean of Libraries gave me a thank-you note that said, “You came to the Libraries and saved us from devolving into chaos. Your good humor, positive outlook, and communication skills were essential to stabilizing the Library IT unit.”
Taxonomy and Labels Can’t Be Decided in a Vacuum
Between them, the librarians had at least 30 perceived “critical” topics that they believed belonged front and center on the library website homepage.
My job as a UX writer and content strategist was to empathize to figure out the big buckets that mattered most, then create labels that helped students and faculty find things easily.
I started by getting the librarians to talk to each other. During several UX research events, I used design thinking activities to encourage discussion so that they all felt included in decision making.
Librarians started by writing down the top five things they felt must be included in a new website design. When they were done, they helped each other sort their idea index cards into groups and started labeling the groups.
They talked through their thinking as they moved things around. It gave me a terrific opportunity to ask many probing questions to get more information about words that might make the best labels.
We completed four main activities during the brainstorming sessions. At the conclusion, librarians were asked to vote, with two stickers each, for the content they wanted to make sure was included in the website homepage. We could immediately see that we’d shrunk more than 30 priorities to around 10 priorities.
Now, I just needed to figure out what to name those buckets, so that students and faculty could easily find things. I created drafts, tested with students, and iterated, until a final design was agreed on.
Library Website – Before
- Years of cramming in the “most important” information eliminated any sense of hierarchy. Everything was vying for equal attention.
- Labels often were too ambiguous to be meaningful, put in multiple places because people couldn’t find things, or contained content that users would never look for under that label.
- Sections on the home page were not labeled, so there was no easy way to scan for things like events or departments. You had to read the details about content to get an idea about what kind of information may be located in a particular place.
- “Search the website” was buried at the bottom of the page.
- Live chat functionality was hidden in “Ask a Librarian.”
Library Website – After
Labels were added for easy scanning of primary chunks of information. See numbered descriptions below the image.
- Live chat, account login, and search the library website were moved to the top, where most users will look for them. “Ask a Librarian” became “Chat with a Librarian.”
- The previously unlabeled search box became “Search Library Resources.”
- A new section, “Popular Services,” allowed us to rotate services used most by patrons.
- The previously unlabeled and separate news and events sections became “News and Upcoming Events.”
- Room details and reservations forms that had previously been hidden in level-two pages now had a home page spot with calls to action to “Visit the Libraries – Find a place to study, research, or create” and “Reserve a room.”
- “More Resources” were categorized and easy to scan to find info without leaving the page.
- The “Make a Gift” link in the original design was usually ignored, even though gifts are critical for keeping the libraries open. To increase visibility, I gave it a little real estate and microcopy. For added context, it now said, “Leave a Legacy. Make a Difference. With new spaces, services, and technology, we’re growing to meet the needs of our users.” And the call to action was, “Explore projects and ways to give.”
- A bonus! This simple link and label invited patrons to view work from the special collections. The librarians loved this. It allowed them to feature content without including gallery functionality on the home page — something they felt was a distraction when patrons were on the website for homework or research.
A Mega Menu to the Rescue
I quickly realized that the reason the librarians struggled with what to feature on their home page is because they provided so many services to the community. It would be nearly impossible to feature everything on the homepage without making the page way too long or way too cluttered. To resolve this issue, I added a mega menu and organized everything into the following taxonomy:
- Services for
- Location & Spaces
- Ask a Librarian
- News & Events