Who is the user? #blogjune

I have been involved in a project at work to showcase the history of our organisation. It has been a fascinating fact-finding process and one of the highlights has been to talk to staff and students who, over the years have been a part of the university. Hearing snippets of information about Very Important People has also been a highlight too :).

How the digital showcase was to be structured was a story in itself. The team met for the first time and wrangled with the question- how would people discover the stories? Members of the team wanted different ways- a search facility, a way to filter stories relating to a particular campus, or using keywords to jump to related items.

The challenge be of this was that the display was to be mounted as a touchscreen format, with no keyboard, so the navigation had to be as simple as possible.

“But if it were me wanting to use it, I would do this…”

It was really hard to disassociate the online showcase from a typical desktop experience, where you could interact and query the information with a keyboard. It was also really challenging not to think of oneself as the typical user.


While the typical Tube user may not be a Dr Who fan, they know the value of a Tardis when travelling 🙂

How often do you think how a user will interact with your services when you are in the process of designing them?

Do you have a clear vision of who your users are? Many businesses use personas, or visions of a particular user type to help them structure how a service will be accessed and used. 

Should libraries be developing personas to help them design services more effectively?




On the back of the door- Calendars #ANZ23mthings

Calendar on the door

This is my calendar- it sits on the back of the door of my pantry with spaces for everybody’s schedule and appointments. It’s filled in when I remember for the once-off occasions, but the routine stuff- Miss BG’s ballet, Master BG’s soccer are already known and not put in.

What I like about the print version is its accessibility. It’s in a location that everyone uses and it can be updated easily and by anyone, as textas and pens are in easy reach. The truth of the matter is, that it seems to be only me that does the updating the adding and checking. Most of what happens in the house gets stored in our heads.

So moving to a mobile version was a novelty. Google calendar was duly installed and it automatically synchronised with Facebook- very convenient! It shows how that gleeful setting up of your phone with your Facebook, Google and Twitter accounts can prove in the long run to be advantageous. There are disadvantages when reliant on one way to coordinate your life, when one gentleman discovered when Facebook disabled his account.

Adding events were easy to input, and to amend. I liked the reminder 10 minutes before the event (also thankful that living in Ballarat, it usually takes about 10 minutes to get to where you need to be, including parking time!).

Inputting something such as School holidays from an .ics file were trickier.

I was wanting to conduct the whole exercise on my mobile, but ended up importing the file to my desktop and syncing my mobile. On the whole, not a great user experience as I felt I couldn’t do it all on my phone.

A couple of tips to consider before creating an electronic events file for your library or institution

1. Consider the user- will they get any value out of this? Will they find it easy to do?

2. Plan ahead with the events that you wish to include in the file. Usually the event files I download to my work email are done on an annual basis, and include public holidays, school terms and Parliamentary Sitting Days.

3. If you have a page on your website which has event dates, add an .ics file on that page so you can download it to your phone easily. The school term dates are listed on the Department of Education’s website, but the .ics is not.

4. Or maybe use something less fiddly than a file- maybe a QR code which you could capture and which would input the data you need to your phone.

5. Do event reminders need be in a calendar format? I get text messages from my dentist and hairdresser, and email reminders from the library advising me I need to return or renew books due in a few days’ time.

I think for the calendar to work, it needs to be something I check a lot- for the moment I’ll stick to the back of the door :).


Video- youtube and screencasts #anz23mthings week 6

This is a catch-up post for last week’s theme of Video. I am thankful that there are regular breaks scheduled in the ANZ23mthings program to catch up when the whole work-life-study balance goes awry!

It has been great see the Library-related videos on Youtube, yet I usually prefer checking out Youtube on my desktop. So the challenge for me has been to use video related apps on my mobile.

The last time I accessed YouTube on a mobile device was to look at how to put my bike wheel back on my bike after having changed the tire. I had found a video from a bike shop which demonstrated it and I was able to view it and follow the visual instructions. I have also found YouTube great as a portable instruction guide for crochet stitches as well :).

YouTube on the mobile is geared more toward browsing channels and subscriptions. You have to go into your account in order to access the upload facility.

YouTube screen shot

Using Animoto on my mobile, I created a short video entitled Out And About. I was able to select the background music and images and to upload it to the site from my phone. The steps were quite simple and easy to follow, though it did not really allo for more complex procedures. I found I had to resort to the desktop, though, to add tags and describe the video, as well as to upload it to my Youtube channel.

While mobile is seen as a great way to consume internet content, there are still limitations to providing a fully interactive experience. Apps, while using a simple linear transaction (progressing 1,2,3,4…finish) may not necessarily allow for the full array of options as the desktop experience.

The other issue is bandwidth- a smartphone, unless it is accessing wifi, may be using a mobile network in which data costs are prodigiously expensive. Uploading a video via mobile can be time-consuming and use up data and power.

What happens when you click here- a fairy tale

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was learning how to create websites and all about HTML. If you really want to know how long ago, let’s just say the Millennium Bug had loomed large (and had appeared to be nothing more than a little sniffle) and I was still suffering from the mother of all hangovers from New Years Eve 1999.

I learned about Microsoft FrontPage(!), flashing gifs (!!) and frames(!!!). I learned about nerdy things like HTML and tags and how to link, using the ALT tag for images, and creating meaningful links rather than creating links that simply said ‘click here’.

Over the next decade or so, I went on to work with websites and while the websites changed, and were replaced by content management systems, and whiz-bang software tools which didn’t mean you needed to touch a piece of code, it was still one of the most important lessons I retained. Never, ever create a link that says ‘click here’.

Because if you do, a fairy dies.

(The Nerd Fairy, which may or may not bear a resemblance to me)

Now, this is no ordinary fairy. It’s not the tooth fairy, nor the mystical laundry fairy (which I would so very much like to have visit my house).

It’s the type of fairy that imbues your website or blog with Usability, and Accessibility, and even SEO, or the ability to have your site appear in the top ranking when searched. It is quite an elusive creature, and almost invisible to the eye. However once the fairy disappears, you’re aware of its absence. You’re left with a nagging sense of loss and irritation thinking WTF does ‘here’ mean?

You often have to go back and read the sentence in its entirety to gain a context of the word ‘here’. You’re making your user think harder than they ought to. And making your user have to think more about whether or not they wish to click ‘here’ reduces the usability of your post and your writing. You want your users to reflect on what you have WRITTEN, not a link you have created, telling them to ‘click here’.

And often, your readers may not necessarily be reading in the way you may normally read. They may have a vision impairment which requires them to adjust the screen resolution, or cannot see the ‘here’ which is linked in a pale colour or not underlined. Their vision impairment may require them to use screen reading software or app which can call up a series of links and activating the link that holds the greatest interest. ‘Here’ is meaningless in this context.

But, you say, I have **,000 readers- why do I need to bother about making a correct link?

Well, you know that book you recommended or reviewed, or the video of yourself that you posted, or the recipe for that yummy chocolate cake or the pattern for that cardigan you knitted? Your post is less likely to pop up when it’s googled. You may be losing readers rather than gaining readers when you ‘click here’.

And you’re likely to lose people who don’t like clicking ‘here’- like me!

Look, if you don’t believe me, there’s a whole heap of peeps who believe the same way…

Just think of the fairy next time you put a ‘click here’. Please.

m.slv.vic.gov.au a review

The new mobile site of the State Library of Victoria (http://m.slv.vic.gov.au) was launched today. Thanks to @Library_Vic who responded to an earlier tweet of mine regarding libguides and their exhibition on Melbourne Post-War Photography, I hopped on and checked it out.

The colours correspond to the red, grey, and black and white tones which are associated with the full site, making the transition from a full to the mobile version smoother.

The vital information- address, phone number and opening hours are listed at the top of the screen, with the address linking to Google Maps and the phone number linking to your phone to call them. There is also a search the mobile site facility located in the top right hand corner of the screen.

The navigation is quite simple, offering three links:

Visit Us– providing the user with further information on location and hours, access, events and the cafe and bookshop;

What’s on – linking to their exhibitions, tours and activities, which in turn then open up to provide more information about the event;

Services– information on joining the library, accessing the collection, computers and copiers (the bread and butter of any library). There is also information on Ask a librarian and how to contact them via chat, phone or email.

Below  these main links are ways to stay connected to the State Library via social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. The footer provides access to the full website, further contact details, about us and legal information.

The information provided on the mobile site is a good estimation as to what a user would be seeking on a mobile device- location, hours, what’s on and basic information. What I really liked is the infromation on how to access the wireless network using your laptop or wireless device. The richness of the content on the full site is best viewed via a desktop.

Further information which is available in the full version of the site is indicated with a crossed out mobile phone icon. Clicking on the link next to the icon, takes you to the full version on your mobile browser.

Even so, the mobile version provides a good user experience with its uncluttered layout and the use of white, which makes the navigation links really stand out.

The grey tones at the top of the page though, nearly made me miss the information about Ask a Librarian available from the Services link. It could also be the smallness of the text, but it would be good to have the Ask a Librarian text size increased.

What would be good to see further developed for the mobile site would be an online registration form to join the library and the email form to post a question to the librarians optimised for the mobile. Further content, such as libguides, which are thematic gateways into the library collection would also be good in a mobile format.

Above all, I like that the State Library has opted for a mobile version of their site, rather than resorting to an iPhone app which seems to be the default app by choice (spoken by someone who has an Android device!). By providing a mobile version, they are making their content freely available on all platforms, rather than just one, which aligns itself well with their 1854 mission to be

a place where the world’s knowledge and information would be freely available to all citizens of the growing colony of Victoria, regardless of their social status or financial resources

http://m.slv.vic.gov.au/about-us accessed 1 July 2011

I’ll just add or choice of smartphone :).

Trials and Tribulations of a usability tester

Assignment time is over, but there is still the last minute posting to the online forum, and text reading to do, so my head is still in study mode (to some extent).

My last assignment was to conduct a usability test on a website. I ended up choosing the CSU website as it’s one with which I am very familiar and I knew my test subject (Mr BG), while knowing his way around a website, would not have encountered this one.

Lessons learned:

1. Don’t schedule a usability test 20 minutes before the final episode of Lost– it can make the person being tested somewhat impatient for the test to finish.

2. If you’re using a video camera to record the test, make sure you’re not holding it. Trying to take notes, film what’s happening, and prompt your test person to think aloud while navigating the site is somewhat… difficult.

3. Trying not to suggest how to search or navigate a site to the test user (you know, what a helpful librarian usually does) was incredibly hard.

4. Users all have different strategies. Mr BG’s preference is to look for a search box, whereas mine is to navigate first then search. CSU position their course search box prominently in the middle of the page, yet their website search box is located in the bottom left hand quadrant of the page, rather than the top right hand corner. If your screen reolution is set fairly low, the search box doesn’t appear unless you scroll down below the fold.

5. Visual impairment is more than being blind. Shortsightedness can have an affect on how a user interacts with a site. If the navigation text is small, a user may prefer a search box, as it’s easier to use than trying to read the navigation. If your navigation is all grey buttons and hard to read, it makes it even more challenging to use.

6. A more accessible site is a more usable site.

Mr BG was very gracious with his time and I thank him for it (yes he reads this blog!).

Can books talk?

I am counting down the days- 7 to go- until I hand in my last assignment for uni for this semester. I have a pile of books, a pile of projects and a list of shops I am keen to visit, once I am on holidays from uni!

The latest book to end up on the book pile is Sunday’s Kitchen: food and living at Heide– a wonderful combination of recipes and a general biography of the life of one of Australia’s most intriguing art patrons. And that’s as much as I can tell you, because it looks so inviting.

It’s beside me now as I write, and I can see it out of the corner of my eye, jumping up and down yelling, Read me! Read Me! No, not really, it’s more of a siren call. I think if books could talk, it would be in hushed tones, sultry, breathy, seductive, almost like a phone sex operator! I’ve just hidden the book under my uni text Prioritizing Web Usability, which has muffled the Read Me! tones somewhat :).

And in other news…

Melbourne has just been given the title of City of Literature, and is one of 3 cities worldwide to have this status, the other two being Edinburgh and Iowa City. To commemorate this achievement, 2012 has been declared the National Year of Reading. The launch for this won’t be until July, but Facebook is stirring up interest with a Love 2 Read page. On it you will find a variety of librarians, all of whom are very enthusiastic about promoting the Year of Reading.

Anyway, enough chatter from me- back to my assignment…

Eine riesige Bibliothek Nerd

Warning- the following post will contain content of a geeky nature…(and apologies for my shocking German)

Google is not the last source of information– a lovely article on how you can’t always get what you want with the search engine to rule ’em all, and in fact the greatest sources of information are right under your nose.

At the moment I am a tad over powerpoint – it’s the whole keyword and catchphrase for me. Whatever happened to sentences, grammar and presentations that meant something afterward?I have come across so many powerpoint presentations that have no value afterward, because what they say is meaningless without the input of the presenter.

I am also over PDF being used as an alternative to a perfectly good html page on websites- PDFs are great for documents but still woefully inaccessible. I am over websites who are clearly designed for a screen resolution over 1024×768 pixels and when I have to amend the screen resolution I can’t read the text.

Yes I’m grouchy geek tonight- I’ve had three hours’ sleep, with no prospect of an early night tonight. See you on the other side…

Look out weekend, cause here I come

I am looking forward to having yet another reason to go boots shopping– preferably with my favourite stylist and boot fanatic Ms S. Unfortunately it won’t be THIS weekend as it is looking slightly jam-packed.

Apart from the usual rigmarole of gym, swimming for Master BG, and family frivolities I will be:

Dining with my mum’s group as a joint celebration for our birthdays. We will be going to Da Uday, Ballarat’s Indian/Thai/Italian restaurant. I’m thinking this would be great for those who can never decide which cuisine. I have never been, so it will be interesting.*

Maeve MagazineFinally reading Maeve an online magazine which will be launched May 1. I have been following its prgression via Twitter and Facebook and will be really excited to see the results from a wonderful bunch of women!

Attending the Clunes Booktown on Sunday with the kids and Master BG who will be attending in his capacity as uber-librarian. I will attending in my capacity as supportive wife, curious bibliophile and library nerd.

Writing a 1500 page assignment on an heuristic evaluation of a university website for uni. I know that sounds scintillating, but it’s amazing what you can do under pressure and with a steady supply of Tim Tams, nutritious food.

*The menu was extensive and affordable. The wine list was affordable but not extensive. The company was lovely and it was a good night out, but I won’t be going back there in a hurry.

All things must pass

This is a must for all librarians, or bibliophiles everywhere. Take a photo of your bookshelf, email it to the New Yorker and they will tell you what your books say about you. Question- what if you have more than one bookshelf?

I’ve been back at uni for three days, and I haven’t left the state- I love distance education! My bookshelf with my professional reading has been increased by one title, but I still have readings and blogs galore to wade through.

The User Interface as customer service– contextual help is becoming all the more vital when delivering services online, rather than clicking on a help link, then trying to figure out what to ask for, then locating said tip, then returning to where you were, or simplygiving up and going elsewhere.

The Content Creation Iceberg is an interesting concept. While the post is primarily concerned with museums creating content, the whole notion of libraries as content creators rather than content conservators is one which we’re grappling with. In the past creating content simply meant creating a website with links. Now it means creating something which can be commented upon, edited and tagged- basically allowing another avenue to interact with your users. Hopefully our users wish to interact with us!

Speaking of users, there’s an article on how much or how little we know our users. Too often, websites in which I have been involved, have been designed with not the average user who will occasionally use it to complete a specific task, but the super-user (ie library staff) in mind. What has resulted is a big website/portal of links with a limited search capability, which can be easily used by those who access it daily, but for occasional users may present an overwhelming selection, at which point they say- I’ll just google it!

Hmmm, radically changing our site- sounds like a plan…will keep you posted!

Finally, a clip from a Dunedin band Haunted Love. It plays up every stereotype about librarians and it’s a hoot.