Notes from the redesign team


Usability Testing

Over the past 2 weeks, we conducted usability testing of 2 proposed search prototypes and of our proposed navigation menus for the Web site redesign.  View the following presentation for a summary of our findings from both studies.

To test navigation menus, 32 users were recruited in situ in the D.H. Hill Library lobby and asked to complete 4 of 15  possible tasks using a working prototype of navigation menus only. Each task required the user to open a navigation menu and indicate which menu item they would select to look for the specified information. Facilitators recorded up to 4 of each user's menu selections, in order of selection. The facilitator's assessment of task difficulty was also recorded.

What we found in this type of testing is that the menus were learnable, and that users quickly developed mental models for the global navigation. The 'Find' menu resonated as a broader term than 'Search.' The 'Services' menu worked well as a catch-all. The 'About' menu was used as expected. And, the 'Research Help' menu was somewhat ambiguous for end-users.

There was general confusion about where to locate databases. This problem existed in the search testing as well.

For the search testing, we again recruited participants from the lobby of D.H. Hill Library. Twenty eight undergraduates, graduates and library staff participated in testing 2 separate search models.

Each participant was asked to complete 2 tasks using one of the search models; many participants volunteered to answer more than 2 questions. Facilitators documented what tab the participant initially selected for the task, the search term used, and the path the participant took to complete the task. Facilitators also coded how difficult it was for the participant to complete the task.

A total of 14 participants answered 46 questions about the first search model; 14 participants answered 38 questions about the second search model. Our goal in this testing was to determine whether users pre-select tabs in a tabbed search model before entering search terms. We also wanted to look at how users interact with tabbed or non-tabbed search results.

What we found from this type of testing is that while tabs generally resonated with end-users, there was confusion between the journals and articles tabs. This was consistent with the navigation testing, and highlights the general issues about how to present journal and database articles in libraries.

What are our next steps? We plan to fold in recommendations from the 2 studies into our homepage wireframes. We also plan to build 2 search prototypes in the context of the new homepage - one with a tabbed interface and one with a single search box with links to silos. We'll then conduct more usability testing on the working prototypes.


Give Us Your Feedback!

We need your feedback on our wireframe prototypes!

For the past several months, the Web site redesign team analyzed the information architecture of the current site, mined through usage statistics and interviewed undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty to determine a new layout and structure for the NCSU Libraries Web site.

Check out the resulting wireframes and sitemap.

As you're looking through the wireframes, keep  in mind that they are blueprints, meant to convey layout and content; they do not have colors or images, and the fonts that are used in the wireframes are not the fonts we'll use in the final design. As you're glancing through them, also keep in mind the goals of the new homepage and the larger site:

  • Streamline access to search functions and core user tasks
  • Provide ways to contact librarians throughout the user experience
  • Highlight core tools and provide paths to top tasks
  • Promote the library through news & events messaging
  • Promote new innovations in library technology and learning spaces

Give us your feedback on the wireframes by leaving a comment on the blog, providing a suggestion through our feedback widget (in the right column on this blog), or by emailing us at

We look forward to your comments!


Meet Us in the Lobby for a Quick Survey!

The Web redesign team will be in the lobby of D.H. Hill Library (right in front of the Circulation desk) this evening from 5pm - 9pm conducting quick surveys about the new Web site's navigation. We'd love to talk to you and get your feedback! Candy will be provided!


Mega Dropdown Menus

The Web Redesign team has been creating wireframes for mega dropdown menus. Mega dropdowns are "big, two-dimensional drop-down panels [that] group navigation options to eliminate scrolling and use typography, icons, and tooltips to explain the user's choices" (Nielsen, 2009).  As we've been brainstorming the design of these menus, we're looking around at other sites for inspiration. What we're seeing are really innovative, compelling designs. Take a look:


Personas, part 2

The consulting firm we hired to help us conduct user research and create personas presented their work to us this week. Personas are intended to shift your point of view so that you are better able to see a design through the eyes of its users. By making design choices that work well for a few particular (fictional) people who are representative of large groups of individuals, we'll design a better website.

The consulting firm presented four primary personas and three secondary personas. The primary personas include a first-year undergraduate, a fourth-year undergraduate, a fourth-year PhD student, and an experienced professor of bioanalytical chemistry.

The personas personalize the users we know we need to serve. It's much easier to look at a particular design decision and ask, "is this going to work for Ansari?" (one of our undergraduates), than it is to approach the question more generally (will this work for undergraduates?). I'm thinking about personas as a means of fostering empathy in design.

Some of the main take-aways from the interviews with students were:

  • English 101 is the gateway to the library; what they learn from using the library while taking this class will shape how they see and interact with the library in the future.
  • Likewise, professors shape students' understanding of the library more than librarians do.
  • Some students were uncertain about what they have access to through the web outside the library and what they have to come to the library to access.
  • Many library users -- especially undergraduates -- are interested in "good enough" research; they just need something that will work, not necessarily everything or the best things.
  • Students are intimidated by the stacks and have a hard time finding books; they want topical signs in the stacks to help them browse.
  • They have currently little interest in smart phones , which might be because they have nearly ubiquitous wireless connectivity with their laptops on campus.
  • Upperclass-folk have a strong sense of ownership of the library; they understand it better, and they feel like it's their space.

A few things that are particular to students at NC State:

  • They are more focused. Most know what degree they want to pursue when they arrive their first year.
  • While students are focused, much of what they do is interdisciplinary. This is just part of how they think about what they study.
  • We have a large international student population.
  • The library is viewed as the hub of undergraduate life. (There may be a sample bias in this case, because the students who were interviewed were around or in the library.)

After the persona presentation, walking through the Learning Commons, I'd found that my view of the library and of the students working, studying, and socializing there had shifted. I was better able to see the library through their eyes. This is broadly useful, not just for redesigning the library's website, but also for thinking about ways of improving other services. Approaching the design of the library's new website with Jessica, Ansari, Casey, and Professor Magnus in mind should help us make better design decisions.


Web site Usage

Over the past few weeks, we've been looking at Web site usage for the main NCSU Libraries web site. We're currently using Urchin software to access usage data and ClickHeat heatmapping software to visualize the number of visits we're receiving on our site.

Urchin software provides us with information about the number of visitors to the site, top paths that visitors take to get to information, what parts of the site have the heaviest use, how long visitors stay on the site and which browsers and platforms are most popular with our users.

Using data from Urchin for the time period of January 2009 to December 2009, we discovered that an average of 386K users visit our site per month. Over 50% of our users spend less than 10 seconds on the main Web site before jumping off into the Libraries' catalog, subscription databases, journals or article search; approximately 10% of our users spend between 10-30 minutes on the site. More than 50% of users reach the site directly through their browser by typing in the URL; more than 15% use Google to find us.  Almost 73% of our end users are using either the Internet Explorer or Firefox browser, with usage spreading out almost evenly between the 2 browsers (38% and 36% respectively).

Some of the ways in which people are finding information from the homepage is through the links under 'Search the Collection.' The 'Catalog', Find Articles,' 'Databases,' and 'Journals' links make up 45% of the traffic on the homepage. Our heatmaps confirm the high usage of this section of the page (see the heatmap image in this post). Other popular sections of the site include the search box on the homepage, 'Citation Builder,' 'Course Reserves,' 'My Library,' 'Browse Subjects,' 'Learning Commons,' 'GIS' and the 'Scholarly Publications Repository.'



For the Web site redesign, we're interested in learning more about our users' behaviors and their motivations for coming to our site. One method of documenting the various types of users and groups accessing and using the site is through the use of personas. Personas are fictional individuals that represent users of your Web site or application. Personas typically include a fictional name of the user, demographics about the user, and their goals and motivations for coming and using your site.

Creating personas for Web site design is a common practice and is often initiated in the early discovery and analysis phases of a Web design project. Personas guide design teams, helping them stay focused on the end user and their goals. Throughout a design project, "designs can be constantly evaluated against the personas and disagreements over design decisions can be sorted by referring back to the personas." (

Personas are the result (and an artifact of) user research, often drawn from interviews and usability studies with end users. They may also be derived from secondary research. As we embark upon our Web site redesign, we're using a number of sources to create our personas. We've engaged an outside consulting firm who will conduct contextual interviews with our library users next week. To formulate our library personas, the consulting firm will work with the Libraries' Web redesign team to analyze interview data as well as research from other universities (see Cornell University Libraries, University of Washington Libraries and Macquarie University Library).