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!

UX Photo booth

A couple of weeks ago, our Undergrad library hosted their annual “Party for Your Mind” event to welcome the students back and introduce new students to the library. They have scavenger hunts, video games, craft tables, palm readings, and of course free pizza.

I wanted to do something fun for this event with a bit of a UX twist so, we turned the new presentation practice room into a “photo booth.” Using pre-printed signs, we asked the students to complete the sentence “My ideal library _______” and then pose with their signs like a mug shot. We got some great shots and the students seemed to be pretty entertained by it.

Here are some of my favorites:

My ideal library…is located in my room
My ideal library…is quite enough to hear the computers hum
My ideal library…is easy to navigate (or really fun to get lost in)
My ideal library…is this.

Photo on 2010-09-05 at 16.44

And here’s the full set of images

MLibrary & Print Design

Over a year ago Aaron over at Walking Paper blogged about the need for good print design in the library. Well, this inspired my to highlight some of the great design we have at the University of Michigan Library…and a year and a half later, I finally got around to it!

We are very fortunate to have a Director of Marketing and Communications, Liene Karels, who also happens to be a super designer. The quality of our promotional materials has increased tenfold since she started – I’m not really sure what we did before!

Here are some of my favorites. See the rest here.

Ask a Librarian service sign

For a good time come to the Library

MLibrary Love Pin

Copyright support postcard (front)

Finding images for print & web

I’m always on the lookout for nice AND free graphics to use in print and web design for the library. Here are a few of my favorite resources:


My first go to for images is the Flickr’s advanced search because it allows searching of images with Creative Commons licenses.


DeviantArt content includes photographs, Photoshop add-ons (brushes, textures, borders, graphics, etc.), animations, arts, crafts, and more. Most of the users make their resources free but request that you leave them a comment about how you used their work.

Open Clipart is an archive of public domain clip art. This site offers a wide variety of clip art including vintage and retro illustrations and modern graphics.

Wikimedia Commons

“A database of 6,576,096 freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute.”

Find Icons & Icon Finder

Search engines for interface icons. Looking for new icons for your web page or OPAC? and

From Old Books

“Scanned Images, Engravings and Pictures From Old Books. Over 2,600 high-resolution free images scanned from more than 160 different old or rare books.”

MLibrary User Experience Department

I’m happy to announce that the University of Michigan Library is in the process of creating a new User Experience (UX) Department. I will be transitioning from my current position as Interface & User Testing Specialist for the Digital Library Department to the head of this new department. This new department will focus on interface design, mobile design and development, usability testing, user research, web use statistics, and accessibility. I have a million ideas for projects for this new department but right now I’m focused on hiring 2 really awesome people to join our team.

User Experience Specialist
We are looking for someone with a passion for user research, the ability to create engaging designs, and an investment in improving the library users’ web experience. The UX Specialist will help drive interface development through an iterative usability and design process.

User Experience Mobile Developer
(job id= 38884)
We are looking for someone with experience developing mobile interfaces, knowledge of related mobile design principles, techniques, and platforms.