Guiding principles for a shared understanding

One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years in working on library web projects is that you can’t make assumptions that the teams, internal stakeholders, or higher-ups have a shared understanding of how the website work is done and priorities are set. Often, by the time this is figured out, a great deal of time and energy has been spent going around and around in circles. Establishing a set of shared guiding principles is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page, or, in the worst case scenario, establish that the team isn’t actually able to agree so you can figure out where to go from there.

Guiding principles can be anything you want but I think they work best when they balance theoretical with practical. My approach to developing my guiding principles began by taking a step back to think about all the challenges, roadblocks, and repetitive conversations that naturally tend to occur in the process of designing and developing interfaces. With universal design principles and UX best practices in mind, I then developed themes and a vision for how we should be operating.

Library Web Presence – Guiding Principles

Having just started a new job in August at the University of Illinois Library, I decided to share this with the new team I’m working with to help jump start conversations and get a better understanding of how they like to work. After some great conversation and minor language adjustments to fit this new context, we were able to unanimously agree that we should formally adopt it.

I hope that others find it useful and make their own versions as well! If you do, please let me know!

UX and Web Systems Job Postings at the University of Michigan Library

The following 3 positions are now available in the User Experience (UX) and Library Web Systems Departments. We’re looking for candidates who take a user-centered approach, have a passion for solving complex problems, and are invested in improving the library website user experience.

The U-M Library’s technology unit designs, develops, and supports the library’s primary web interfaces – including multiple websites, access systems, search apps, and mobile interfaces. These interfaces provide access to over 10 million physical and digital resources to more than 2 million users a month.

Interface Designer (UX Department)
Design beautiful, user-friendly, and accessible interfaces. Primary responsibilities include: creating wireframes, mockups, html prototypes, and complete visual designs and web-ready graphics.
View full job posting:

Interface Developer (Library Web Systems Department)
Design and implement accessible interfaces for one of the largest research libraries in the world. Primary responsibilities include ensuring the library’s web sites are accessible, implementing and refining interface designs, and developing responsive mobile-friendly interfaces to library resources.
View full job posting:

Web Content Strategist (UX Department)
Develop and oversee an overall content strategy for a large organization with 100+ content creators. Primary responsibilities include: assessing and improving current content and content workflows, curating and creating new web content, creating best practice and style guides, and informing design solutions and information architecture.
View full job posting:

Now hiring – MLibrary User Experience (UX) Specialist

We’re looking for an innovative, and talented user experience professional to join our User Experience (UX) Department. The ideal candidate will be someone with a passion for better understanding users, the ability to use creative problem solving skills to design engaging interfaces, and an investment in improving the library web experience.

The position is written more like a “generalist” than “specialist” because we’re a small department doing a wide-range of activities that span the entire development cycle. However, depending on the qualifications of the candidates, we’d consider revising the position to focus more on either design or research.

See the full position description for more information about the position and how to apply.

UX photo booth 2011 (My ideal library…)

A few weeks ago I helped out again with the MLibrary Undergraduate library’s annual “Party for Your Mind” event to welcome the students back and introduce new students to the library.

Like last year, I did a photo booth where I asked the students to complete the sentence “My ideal library ______” and like last year, I got a lovely combination of silly and serious responses. Quiet/Loud and food/sleeping were again popular themes!

My ideal library... loud & fun!
My ideal library... loud & fun!

See the full set here.

MLibrary UX Developer opening

Wanna work on UX and mobile development for MLibrary and HathiTrust?

The University of Michigan Library is seeking a talented front-end developer to join our User Experience (UX) Department. The UX Department focuses on interface design, mobile design and development, usability testing, user research, web use statistics, and accessibility. We are looking for someone with an investment in improving library users’ web experience. The primary focus of this position will be development of a variety of mobile websites.

iDesign student competition 2011

This is the second year of the University of Michigan Library’s iDesign competition. This year’s theme is virtual browsing and the challenge is to design an innovative tool which will enhance MLibrary’s discovery environment.

We received some fantastic entries! I especially appreciate the projects that employed UX research methods to inform their designs. If you are so inclined, you can vote on the projects or just have a look at the individual projects:


“…a recommender system could be developed to utilize this rich set of knowledge to curate subsets of the overall library collections, which could then be used to make recommendations to users. A large number of these subsets from across the university could be interconnected and used to surface new content to users, enhance their experience, and break down artificial barriers created by different subject areas.”

MyLibrary Mobile App

“Ever lend a book to a friend? Ever wish they would bring it back? Forget who you lent it to in the first place? MyLibrary will finally let you keep track of your personal collection.”

MLibrary Search
Designs for an improved multi-search interface

Aoide: Virtual Browsing Exploration for MLibrary Audio Collection

A-oi-de [ey-oi-dee] – noun: “A virtual browsing system that aims to facilitate new methods of interpreting search results through virtualized representations of audio CD materials for the University of Michigan’s Music Library.”


A visual browser for Askwith Media Library

MLibrary Mobile: Is that the library in your pocket?


We’ve been very hard at work over in the User Experience Department!

We started working on a year long mobile initiative in September and have officially wrapped our first phase of work. The result is a site that provides access to key library content and services in a mobile-friendly format. The site currently provides access to Mirlyn Mobile, a list of mobile friendly databases, library hours & locations, ask a librarian services, research guides, and news & events.

The above image is the basis of our promotional campaign. We’ll soon be distributing signs, bookmarks, and digital sign graphics all around campus. The idea for it came from the amazing Liene and then once I found a willing butt, I was able to turn the idea into the design above.

MLibrary Mobile

MLibrary Mobile Initiative Project page

MLibrary Mobile Qcode

UPDATE: I also wanted to mention that I’ve distributed print & screen promotions around to our various libraries and a few classroom buildings. These materials include a QR code to the mobile site. If you’re interested in seeing stats for scans of the QR code, here’s the stats page:

Labels are hard

I’ve been joking at work about writing a series of “case studies in why things are hard” for some time now and I’m finally inspired to do so.

We often get interface requests that seem perfectly reasonable and simple but once we start to work out the details, it becomes clear that it’s much more complex. It seems like more and more we are faced with interface issues that just seem nearly impossible to solve. Labels seem to be the hardest of all.

I’ve come to the conclusion that an ideal label is: true, short, and meaningful but for any complex need, you can’t have all three at once.



In our library catalog, we want to provide users a clear way to easily skim search results for items that have full-text online by designating their online status using an icon and label. However, we can’t just use the label “Full-text” because it’s not true since some of these items aren’t actually text but are images, audio, video, etc. On top of that, multi-volume materials (newspapers, journals, magazines) may have mixed full-text access (e.g., vols 1-20 are full-text but 21-44 are not). We currently use the label “available online” which is short and meaningful but isn’t exactly true since not all the items in the records are truly available online. We’re currently thinking about changing it to “electronic resources,” which isn’t very meaningful. Another alternative we’re testing is “some content fully available” which is true but isn’t exactly short or meaningful. In fact, preliminary results of our usability testing shows that students recognize this is an accurate label but say wouldn’t be inclined to pay attention to it. This leads me to think that for this particular task, going with something meaningful & short (but not exactly true) might be our best option.

Suggestions welcome!