It’s the beginning of a new year, and for many it marks a time of change.  While we’re busy making resolutions in our personal lives, it’s also a good time to evaluate our libraries as well.  I like to begin the new year by thoroughly organizing my desk and prioritizing any ongoing and forthcoming projects.  Just like our desks and the library shelves need a little tidying up sometimes, so do our websites.  If one of your library’s resolutions is to create a clutter free,user-friendly website, consider using Optimal Workshop to get started.

Optimal Workshop consists of several user experience tools to help you organize your website with your users in mind.  I’ll highlight three in this post.  Focusing on user experience (UX) to me means giving our patrons a usable, desirable library website.  In other words, I want to give them what they are looking for without making them think about it.  Usability is only part of the user experience, but it is a very important part.  For an excellent (and entertaining) review of website usability, read Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think.

In order for a site to be usable, the navigation must be instinctive and as concise as possible.  If a patron visits your website to use a database, they will probably look for something that says “Databases” or “Research.”  If your databases are located in the “About Us” section, chances are some people will miss them.  Optimal Workshop has two tools to help with your navigation, Treejack and OptimalSort.

OptimalSort is my favorite component of Optimal Workshop.  For this tool, you create a card sorting exercise for participants.  Card sorting is where you give all components of your navigation on separate “cards.”  Then, participants click and drag the cards into categories that make sense to them.  You can define the categories for them, let the participant define all the categories, or you can define categories but also give participants the opportunity to create their own.  I’ve had great success using this tool.  I suggest creating at least two categories ahead of time for your participants: “I don’t know what this is” and “I don’t think the library website needs this.”  As librarians, we tend to use library jargon that our patrons may not understand, like ILL or OPAC.  If multiple participants have trouble with the same card, maybe it isn’t important or maybe it needs a new name.  Additionally, users may enter comments to clarify their choices.  The resulting categories will help you define your site’s information architecture.

Example set of results for navigation card sort

Another tool available through Optimal Workshop is Treejack.  This is a reverse card sorting exercise.  It allows you to test your navigation for effectiveness without having participants actually visit your site.  A simplified, text-only version of your navigation is used instead.  You define tasks for participants to complete such as, “You need to reserve a study room in the library.  How do you do this?” and set the correct answers.  Treejack records the clicks each participant makes until he/she completes the task.  This type of testing tells you if people are ultimately getting to the right place and if they took a wrong turn anywhere along the way.  It’s nice that you can do this at any point during your website design process or on a website that’s been up and running for a long time.  Since your participants don’t ever actually visit your website, you have the opportunity to test several information architecture schemes at once for comparison.

Chalkmark is a first-click analysis tool.  It does exactly what first-click analysis sounds like it would do.  You define a task, and participants click on an image of your site where they think they should go to begin the task.  That’s it.  They don’t have to complete the task, just show us where they would get started.  Results are shown on a heat map.  This tool can be useful if your patrons are getting “lost” on your site.  It can also be useful in determining nomenclature.  If you find your users aren’t clicking the right thing, try renaming it and see if that works better.

For all three of these tools, you have the option to include a questionnaire at the beginning of the surveys.  If you work in an academic library, I strongly suggest you use the questionnaire option to segment your user group.  I ask users to choose the option that best defines their university status, and I include “library faculty/staff” as an option.  I find it useful to be able to compare library responses to everyone else.  As with library jargon, it is important to remember that we are not our patrons.  Chances are, we know our sites’ quirks better than our patrons and maybe even tend to ignore them.

So, if you are ready to try Optimal Workshop, I suggest signing up for the free plan.  With the free plan, you can create as many cardsorts, treejacks, and chalkmark tests as you can dream up.  For each survey, you can have a maximum of 10 participants.  For OptimalSort, you can create up to 30 cards.  You can create 3 tasks each for Treejack and Chalkmark.  If you upgrade to a for-pay account, you have the option to open your surveys to additional participants, tasks, etc.  With the upgrade you also have the option to customize the colors of the surveys and add your organization’s logo.  However, studies show most issues will come to surface with 5 users.  Unless you have a compelling reason for needing more, the free plan is probably fine for your studies.


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