Tag Simplicity

Library Websites Should be Smaller

The Benefits of Less
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a daring pilot and talented author, also weighed in on user experience:

“In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”

In some ways, libraries have been taking the opposite approach. We’ve gotten in the habit of tacking on new services and taking on new responsibilities, and many library websites can be seen as piecemeal collections of patron engagement tactics.

The problem of more
More content necessitates more design decisions and therefore more opportunity to make mistakes. Every piece of content on a website makes the site more complicated. For example, think about a single-page website with no links. The site’s architecture is really basic. Adding just one more page requires design decisions: Where should the link to the new page be? Could it be an image? Should it open in a new window? (By the way: no.)

Groups of content end up in different sections and require increasingly sophisticated architecture, labeling, navigation, and visual design. It isn’t impossible to get all of these things right, but more often than not patrons feel like they’re trying to find a needle in a haystack.

More content thins out our efforts. It sounds simple, but the more things a library tries to do, the less attention it can devote to any one thing. Without the attention they deserve, web content and services can’t be as effective as they should be.

The benefits of less
There are two ways to increase the amount of attention the bits of a website receive: either by increasing staffing and funding, or reducing the number of bits. An extreme example: imagine if your web team was only responsible for the page consisting of your library’s contact information, location, and one book recommendation per week. They’d be able to spend plenty of time on this page, testing, experimenting, and revising regularly. It would be a great page.

For years, I’ve heard talk about libraries cutting the cord on irrelevant services. Yet I haven’t heard as much discussion about which sacred web cows we can put out to pasture. This might in part be owing to the perception that a 200-page website isn’t more expensive to manage than a 50-page one. While probably true in terms of hosting fees, it isn’t otherwise true. Good content takes staff time to produce and arrange, and the navigational overhead can be a time expenditure for users.

I’m not suggesting that libraries shouldn’t try new things or add content to their sites. They should. Still, the library world needs to start a dialog about an additional way to prevent stagnation: subtraction.

How to reduce
Paring down website content certainly presents its own challenges, but determining your site’s critical tasks—the most frequent and important things people want to do there—isn’t difficult.

Ask library users. Walk around your library, or anywhere in your community, and ask, “What do you do on the library’s website?” Challenge yourself to engage up to 30 people and record their responses. Group all similar comments and rank them according to frequency. You can also put a short pop-up survey on your site asking the same question.

Another way to brainstorm the most important parts of your website is to imagine you’re building a mobile version. Given the limited screen real estate available, what parts of your site are essential?

Your site’s analytics might also help, but they can be tricky to interpret. Page hits don’t tell us much about motivation for visiting pages. They might get skipped either because the content isn’t interesting or because something is hampering findability.

While a lack of visits doesn’t necessarily mean a page isn’t valuable, it does mean that it probably won’t be missed. Use these stats judiciously. Once you’ve determined the most important things to have on your site, consider the rest nice to have but not necessary.

Shrinking pains
It’s a good idea to arrive at these conclusions collaboratively because it might not be easy for someone to hear that something they work on can’t be supported anymore. You also can’t promise staff that they’re going to have all sorts of free time once things are scaled back.

The goal here is to make your website and services the absolute best they can be. That means you’ll be spending what would be free time prototyping and testing revisions of your most important content.

This first appeared in The User Experience, a column I’m writing for LJ.

package design, the crowd and bullying(?)

Orange juice stalwart Tropicana redesigned their cartons and people went bananas.
People seemed to hate the way it looked, citing that it reminded them of a store brand. The less subjective criticism was that people were having a difficult time distinguishing the different varieties of OJ. Tropicana felt the wrath of a relatively small number of geeks that emailed, tweeted and complained on Facebook and then scrapped the redesign.

While on one hand I think it is kinda neat that Tropicana listened to (some) of their customers and made changes in response, but on the other I can’t help but feel like they got bullied.

A recent packaging success is for a new line of Haagen-Dazs ice cream called, simply, five.
They’re emphasizing the idea of less and simplicity.

By the way, what are the best resources to learn more about how libraries are advertising? The M-Word is a great source for library marketing info, but I’m interested in particular in the best ways libraries bring their services to people’s attention.

The 100% Easy-2-Read Standard

Japanese web and user interface design/branding firm Information Architects have a mini-manifesto called The 100% Easy-2-Read Standard that is making the rounds. Library websites could learn a few things from this list. Be sure to click through to the article to see their design philosophy in action and read some details about each of their points. But no calling me out about the default text size of this site!

Most websites are crammed with small text that is a pain to read. Why?

Don’t tell us busy pages look better
Crowded websites don’t look good, they look nasty.

Don’t tell us lots of links work better
Filling pages with stuff has never helped usability. It’s lazyness that makes you throw all kinds of stuff at us. We want you to think and preselect what is important. We don’t want to do your work.

Don’t tell us to adjust the font size
We don’t want to change our browser settings every time we visit a website!

Don’t tell us scrolling is bad
Because then all websites are bad. There is nothing wrong with scrolling. Nothing at all. Just as there is nothing wrong with flipping pages in books.

Don’t tell us text is not important
95% of what is commonly referred to as web design is typography.

Don’t tell us to get glasses
Rather stop licking your screen, lean back(!) and continue reading in a relaxed position.

There is no reason for cramming information onto the screen. It’s just a stupid collective mistake.

Again, read the full article, The 100% Easy-2-Read Standard.