After more than ten years, a series of minor updates had solved current problems, but without a holistic analysis of the entire website, certain inconsistencies and dissonances began to creep in. It was time for a total overhaul.
With the encouragement of my supervisor, I proposed the project to the library director and the head of technical services. I was granted permission and charged with heading the project.
As my first major web design project, it was a process filled with trial and error, but immense amounts of learning. An overview of the project I wrote was published on the organization blog: A Fresh Start: The Touro Library Homepage.
The Touro Libraries website, before:
In the early stages of this process, I looked at many different examples of library websites to see how other institutions approached the challenging issues of nomenclature, serving multiple distinct user groups, prioritizing and organizing content, and creating a cohesive experience across various platforms and external service providers. In addition to showcasing trends and a variety of design options, this provided benchmarking insights that helped to justify the project and examples that got the team excited about working on it.
I began the project with a content audit, listing each page and the site structure in Excel. Through this process, existing content was classified into three categories: to be kept, to be deleted, and to be updated. Gaps in coverage I discovered were noted as to be added. This was a necessary weeding process to wrangle a decade of ad hoc additions and make the content more cohesive and up-to-date.
I ran several collaborative workshops with library staff, both for research and to gain buy-in. I collected information about how staff used the website and their most common tasks, as well as insight into student behaviors from the people who interacted with them most.
One of our major activities was an open card sort activity, in which groups of 2-3 staff members grouped and named website content cards, which I used to inform the main navigation structure.
Iteration & Prototyping
The design developed over a series of iterations which consisted of brainstorming and sketching, prototyping, and demonstration & discussion sessions with major stakeholders, including the library director, lead library web developer, and other department heads.
Final Design & Production
The final design featured a single integrated search box with a clear call to action accessible to novice users. The color scheme and typography were updated to match the main university website. Specialized features for more advanced users and library staff are easily accessible from the homepage. A combination of icons and user-tested terminology clarifies the function of these features. The header was made available throughout all sub-pages to aid navigation and promote assistance services.
I supplied the final mock-ups, a style guide for colors and typography, and all image and icon assets to our web developer. We collaborated throughout the process, including adding support for responsive design, eliminating the need for the existing separate m.tourolib.org mobile site.
Approximate two months after the new site design went live, a feedback survey was posted, which collected 277 responses. Feedback was generally positive, with a mean overall satisfaction rating of 8.2/10.
After more than a year of working with the new design and getting additional feedback from staff, faculty, and students, I believe the two biggest accomplishments of this project were increasing ease of mobile access by moving to a single responsive site and simplifying search by making the switch to a federated discovery layer. The enduring challenge is navigating the many third-party services that the library incorporates that may cause problems for users but which we have little control over.
Looking back, I may have made different decisions regarding the adoption of a deeper navigational hierarchy. Although we did some user testing to determine the groupings and labels, we relied mainly on staff. Extending this to students and faculty would bring in essential and potentially quite different viewpoints. Additionally, favoring a broader approach may have significantly improved discoverability in a context where many users are not aware of the full range of resources available.