Libraries, Typography and Reader Mood

Getting libraries to take typography seriously is a bit of a hard sell. I certainly understand that there are bigger picture issues for us to think about. And I get that fretting over the shapes of letters can seem a bit precious.

But the typography we use affects how our members perceive us. So it is worth thinking about.

A short paper titled The Aesthetics of Reading [pdf] confirms that good typography leads to better experiences. I found this bit about perceived elapsed time particularly interesting:

…we found that participants in the poor typography condition underestimated their reading time by 24 seconds on average, while participants in the good typography condition underestimated their reading time by 3 minutes and 18 seconds on average.

The study also reports that good typography can make people more creative and in a better mood!

With the candle task we found that 4 of 10 participants successfully correctly solved the task in the good typography condition while 0 of 9 participants correctly solved the task in the poor typography condition. This is a reliable difference, ?2 (1) = 2.47, p < .05. This indicates that participants in the good typography condition were in a better mood before starting the candle task then were the participants in the poor typography condition.

Having read this paper, I now feel more justified to blather on about typography. (Consider yourself warned.)

Dmitry Fadeyev at Usability Post has a nice summary of the paper: Effects of Typography on Reader Mood and Productivity

Why Doesn’t Netflix Offer Advanced Search on Their Site?

Nothing is purely additive unless everyone uses it: If there’s an affordance to use a feature, the affordance is a distraction to everyone, while the positive value accrues only to the users and potential users. The net value of a feature is the value to the users of the feature, divided by the distraction of the affordance to everyone. Advanced search ends up being used by such a tiny fraction of users (sub 1%), that it can’t possibly pay for its cost. And yes, obviously we have thought of burying the affordance for people who don’t use it.

Netflix’s Chief Product Officer answers a question about search on Quora.

I’m not posting this to badmouth advanced search. I’m more interested the larger lesson.

The formula of Net Value = Value / Distraction is extremely useful, and we can use it to think not just about our library websites, but to our entire organizations.

What library services and programs offer the most value and least amount of distraction? What distractions can you eliminate to increase the overall value of your library?

Starting with Simplicity

There are lots of ways to make life easier for the members of your library, but the simplest might be to step back and rethink your website.

In “The Benefits of Less,” I advocated for reducing the size of library websites. Doing so makes them easier for libraries to manage and, more important, easier for library members to use. I’m not the first to advocate content restraint, and I’m not the only one preaching this. Recently, Matthew Reidsma, web services librarian at Grand Valley State University, MI, wrote about cutting some 70 percent of the content from his library’s site and how no one noticed ( Writing about the fold on web pages—the parts of the screen users see when a page opens without scrolling down—Reidsma suggests an aggressive method for cutting content:

For now, here are some rules for dealing with content below the fold.
1. Get rid of it.
2. Go to rule 1.

This might be slightly simplistic, but it certainly has the right sentiment. Actually, wrangling content doesn’t have to be much more complicated than Reidsma’s suggestion. As always, the needs of library members should guide us as we make these decisions. Since library members the world over have similar library website needs, it’s possible to make some generalizations about what content library websites should have and how the sites should be designed.

To be sure, libraries must be responsive to their communities and offer individualized services, but typical web UX and design are not generally an area where libraries are going to innovate. Instead, better to benefit from the collective experience of other designers and focus limited resources on customization elsewhere. There are great efficiencies to be had if libraries were to join forces for website development efforts. It seems silly that libraries across the country are working alone, trying to solve the same ­problems.

Heading toward one page

Collaborating on library website development doesn’t be complicated. As a proof of concept, my UX colleagues Nate Hill and Amanda Etches and I created a sample library website template to illustrate this. It solves numerous common library website problems, and the result is a site that’s simple but better than most.

Our example features plain writing, highly legible typography, the basic content people want on a library site, and nothing more. Additionally, the site is responsive, meaning that it adapts gracefully to all desktop and mobile browsers. This gives mobile users the most appropriate experience without requiring any extra work for librarians. This One-Pager template is free for libraries to use under a Creative Commons license so you can download the code and fill in your own content. For more details, visit, or try the demo at­onepagerdemo.

Nail the simple stuff

You’ll notice that there isn’t any interactivity built in to One-Pager. Some might consider this a limitation, but we think of it as a restriction leaning toward advantage. Advanced website features are worth pursuing only if they rest atop a solid foundation. The majority of library websites don’t meet basic standards of usability, appropriate writing, and graphic design. They lack this groundwork and should get the basics right before moving forward. Scaling back is a way to make this happen.

I’m not a strict reductionist and fully support libraries aiming toward the development of interesting, higher level aspects to their websites, such as Ann Arbor Library District’s Treasure Quest summer game, which offered clues and earnable points to participants online. But we have to nail the design fundamentals first—and focusing on one great page for every library could be our most direct path to success.

This first appeared in “The User Experience,” a column I write for LJ.

Pirate University

A similar service is available between libraries as “Interlibrary loan” or ILL-service. However, these schemes are slow and expensive.

The Pirate University is ILL organized by library users and fulfilled via the web. Request an article to which you don’t have access and someone with access might just upload it for you.

It is a new site – there have been only 29 article requests and less than a dozen responses – and it probably won’t gain much network effect but it is still interesting.

Toward Catalog Reform – 1939

Libraries have a history of thinking about usability and user experience:

In recent years little discussion pertaining to the form of the library’s catalog has found its way into print. The dictionary catalog, this strange creature of modern library economy, has become so firmly established in modern library practice, that is is accepted without question in most of the libraries of this country.

The complicated arrangement of the dictionary catalog has progressed to a stance where the average undergraduate has not been able to use it.

Clearly, the patron’s helplessness before the dictionary catalog cannot be attributed to obtuseness on his part. The fault must lie with the catalog.

Hagedorn, Rolf K. Toward catalog reform. Library Journal. 64: 223-25, March 15, 1939.

I wonder: do we have some sort of amnesia about our professional history? Why haven’t been building on these ideas since 1939?

Library Terms That Users Understand Archived

John Kupersmith writes:

The “Library Terms That Users Understand” website, sometimes mentioned in these discussions, is now 10 years old. While it’s still relevant and useful, I believe it has pretty much made its point.

So, I’ve updated the resource list and condensed the site into a single page. It’s still available, but won’t be updated with new material.

I remember first seeing this site forever ago and getting really excited at the user-centered thinking. Definitely an inspiration!

I’ll disagree with John, though. I’m not quite sure that the site has made its point since there’s still a ton of confusing labels on library websites.

Students Don’t Know How to Use QR Codes

A damming critique of QR codes for marketing.

In the midst of the growing industry pressure to force-feed these barcodes into the marketplace, we noticed a profound indifference being shown to QR codes by the one demographic that can make or break a trend — college students.

Unless QR codes become easier, more nimble, and can provide content that engenders a more meaningful connection to the brand or product, students will continue to shower them with apathy.

The best part of this article is that it is based on some hard data.

We put a QR code in front of 500+ college student and asked them to scan it. We didn’t ask if they *would*, we asked if they *could*. And despite the fact that over 80% of those students had the necessary tool (a smartphone), only 21% knew (or figured out) how to successfully scan it.

A niche market.

[via @ulotrichous]