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As we’ve been busy building our new catalogue over the past year or so, you may have noticed we’ve also been seeking your feedback. And we're not just paying lip service – this feedback plays a critical part in our development process.
Why is feedback important?
To build a Library catalogue that meets the needs of our readers, we need to know exactly how they use it. This is no easy feat when it's used by so many different people for a variety of reasons – whether they are professional researchers who use our catalogue on a weekly basis, or first-timers who are beginning to explore what the Library has to offer.
As we build our new catalogue, it’s important to know which features our readers like, which frustrate them and which they just don’t use in the way we expected when we designed it. This helps us to build a better, more user-friendly catalogue – one that people enjoy using.
Ongoing feedback allows us to:
- ensure we are exceeding the needs and expectations of our readers
- design in stages – rather than waiting until the end of our development cycle to release a feature, if readers don’t respond as expected or simply don’t understand something we've built, we can improve our design while we're developing it rather than throwing out a whole feature and starting again
- quickly identify bugs or issues that we might have missed.
Feedback received to date
Since we launched the beta version of the catalogue in 2019, we have received a huge amount of feedback through various channels, including:
- over 600 submissions using the ‘have your say’ button on the website
- more than 60 in-person interviews and testing sessions (this number has been significantly impacted by COVID-19)
- approximately 350 responses to online surveys
- around 20 online testing sessions, with new sessions occurring weekly
- countless staff consultation sessions and workshops.
We’ve made an effort to test the catalogue with a wide range of readers, including different age groups, professions, frequency of usage and visitation, geographic location, familiarity with library language and services, digital skill levels and cultural backgrounds.
How are we using your feedback?
We are continually reviewing the feedback we receive, hoping to identify patterns among reader groups, as well as prioritising feedback based on how critical it is to user experience. We’ve changed lots of features as a result of feedback – some changes are small and others involve more major design or functionality changes. Below are a couple of examples.
Our catalogue’s image viewer is a central feature because many people use it to access digital material. The original design of our image viewer looked like this:
We received strong feedback that readers didn’t like having the thumbnail strip of images overlaid across the main image. They found it very distracting and felt that the strip was getting in the way of viewing the selected item. We experimented with a few ways of improving this, such as having the thumbnail strip fade out when the screen was inactive, but this didn’t solve readers’ frustration.
In our Digital Collections section of the catalogue, which displays digital files held in the collection, we tried a different approach. We configured the images to be zoomed in by default rather than showing the entire frame. We felt that making the image the 'hero' of the page might have more impact in showcasing our digital collections and also serve the function of giving the two areas of the catalogue a clear point of visual difference.
Boy did we get that wrong! Almost no one seemed to respond well to this feature, with all types of readers preferring that the image was zoomed out by default so they could see the whole image. Some comments we received about this from readers included:
- 'I find it very strange that the images start zoomed in. Particularly if you're scrolling through a large collection you have to hit un-zoom on every image'
- 'It is like someone else is deciding what is interesting about the image rather than letting me decide'
- 'Hate it!'
Ultimately, we decided to change the image viewer on Digital Collections to be zoomed out by default and we designed a new version of the image viewer that incorporates some of the feedback we received, including moving the thumbnail strip underneath the image:
Digital Collections homepage
Another design of our new catalogue that has changed dramatically based on reader feedback is the feature gallery or 'masthead' at the top of the Digital Collections homepage.
With much experimentation, this page went through many design variations to find something that was beautiful, impactful and invited readers to explore more. The first version of the masthead looked like this:
In this design the masthead is meant to act like a concertina that could feature multiple images. It would be ‘open’ by default to the first image, but you could click on the other images to slide them out and view them in full. This function didn't come across strongly to readers and most didn’t understand that the masthead was interactive. Readers felt it looked too ‘squished’ and ‘busy’.
So we modified the concertina to be wider and (hopefully) more obviously interactive:
This design was still not intuitive to readers. The main point of frustration was that we hadn’t made the search box front and centre. This had been an intentional design choice as we wanted to encourage readers to explore and browse the page rather than just jump straight into a search. There was a search box on the page, but it wasn’t immediately visible when you first landed there. Our readers weren’t happy about this, though, with one saying: ‘I know what I want to do, I want the search box – don't make me go looking for it, this annoys me with lots of websites.’
After several rounds of testing and lots of feedback on this feature, we redesigned the masthead again and came up with the version you can see on the site today:
Now only one feature image is displayed at a time, but each time you refresh the page a different image is displayed to keep the page fresh and interesting. And, of course, the search bar now takes centre stage.
We value your feedback – truly
These are two examples from a long list of features that have been redesigned in response to reader feedback. Our work in building the best catalogue we can is far from over, and we're incredibly appreciative of all readers who have taken the time to let us know their thoughts – the good, the bad and the ugly!
If you're frustrated or confused by a feature we’ve built, chances are other readers are too. The more people who let us know about their experiences in using our catalogue, the more likely it is that we will be able to make changes to improve it.
And of course, not all feedback has been negative or uncertain! We've also received lots of constructive, positive and reaffirming comments that have continued to encourage us along the way. For example:
'I just wanted to say that, as someone who works with HSC students who have a range of disabilities but still want to do subjects like Legal Studies, Society and Culture, and Modern History, this is amazing. It's a lot less overwhelming and is easier to navigate. I want to be on this site and I'm not scared to approach it in the fear of spending hours trying to work out the settings (even as a sociology student that spends too much time on databases). Thank you and well done.'
Take a look at our new catalogue preview and please continue to send through your feedback - we'd love to hear from you!
Digital Projects Leader