A Librarian’s Take on Good Web Design

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“How may I help you?” It was a phrase I reiterated numerous times throughout the course of a day. As a librarian, I listened to the patron’s request and tried to decipher what the patron desired.

Sometimes the patrons needed a little help. “Are you sure that the recipe you want is for something called ‘wedgies.’ I think that they are called ‘pootato’ I mean ‘potato wedges.’” Cough and slight smile. Once I clarified with the patron what he or she wanted, then it was easier to provide the desired information.

The User Side of Web Design

As a librarian I searched through thousands of websites and learned which ones did not work so well for both staff and patrons. The best sites boiled down to ease of use in finding relevant and credible content. Most people wanted the information now and many did not have the patience to wait for us while we did extensive searches.

Others glommed on to the first site that they found and then argued when we tried to point out that the information on a particular site may not be as credible as they had hoped. I saw firsthand how unclear or irrelevant content could bring out the “beast” in people. Many patrons expected the librarians to magically provide the desired information now.

What Makes a Good Website?

After being laid off from my librarian job, I am back in school, studying how to make websites accessible for users. I was surprised by the amount of work that goes into making a good website, particularly in planning and writing content that not only meets the need of the business, but also acts as a bridge between what the site offers and how it draws the potential user to that site and then guides them to the target information.

Meeting the needs of all users, including those who are challenged with physical and mental disabilities also factors in to building good websites. Creating title fields for links and writing alternative text for web images, audio and video is considered good practice in helping all users to be able to navigate the web.

With needing to find credible and relevant information, often in pressure situations, I learned the value of clear and concise content. On the good sites, clear, descriptive links took me to where I expected.  Information was not wordy, nor overly verbose, or vaguely cute. It was short and to the point and allowed people to hone in on what they needed within a very short period of time.

First Impressions Really Do Matter

Research by user design specialist, Jarod Spool indicates that people make the decision to stay on a site within just a  few seconds of landing in the homepage. In The Secret Lives of Links, Spool delineates user patterns in navigating websites. People scan the document for keywords that they expect to see, and if they do not find the desired word, they often turn to the search function on the webpage. Spool also found  search-boxes on websites often did not lead the user to what they wanted to find.

Spool’s observations proved true for me with my search-box  experiences on webpages as a librarian. According to Spool’s research, the initial reaction is crucial in keeping users– even those well-versed in effective searching techniques–engaged on a page. Creating content that is useful and easy to access is paramount in designing effective websites. No one wants to scratch their head over potato wedgies when they want to bake some edible food.

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