Observations on managing big interface changes in electronic resources

Dec 31 2009 Published by under Information Science, publishing

In the past few years a number of large electronic resources have gone through rather dramatic interface changes - mostly for the better, mostly desperately needed. Some typical things added are faceted presentation of search results, more personalization options, better ways to save and share items, cleaner design, green. I don't know why but everyone is changing their logo and site theme to some combination of green (kelly or lime), orange, and blue.(ok, I can't wait for this phase to be over!). We could talk about the various qualities of each of these design choices, but instead, I want to point out some differences in how these companies manage the big interface change.

The companies really differ in how they are doing the work, managing the change, and engaging with the users (both librarian and end user).

Planning: The most comprehensive of these organizations have librarian and end user focus groups, librarian advisory committees, brainstorming sessions with customers, and mockups to be tested with these groups. Others just outsource the whole deal, and then take what their contractor gives them, make sure it looks pretty, and then throw it online.

Testing: Some vendors bring beta versions to conferences to have people test them either on the floor or in a special session. Some send out special passwords to selected users to test. Most provide the library acquisitions folks access to the version in advance (and they're supposed to share with systems and public services - ours do, but others may not). Some run the old and new interface in parallel for as much as 6 months to get everyone adjusted and also to find any other problems in the complex system (this is also a training thing). Some of these organizations will engage with the systems folks at the libraries and walk them through any changes.

Customer conversations: If the company has been engaging with customers throughout the planning process, then this is a part of that. Some of these companies provide detailed and explicit information on what changes will happen to the interface that might impact other services (open URL resolvers or federated search). OTOH, for companies who have not shared anything with customers, the only notification is often *afterward* in an e-mail to the acquisitions person, sometimes after users have already complained, links are broken, meta-type services are broken, etc. In one case, we got no notice of the change to the interface at all, but discovered one day that we could no longer figure out how to get the full text of an article!

Training: The most comprehensive of these organizations offer training at multiple levels (administrator, librarian, user), live, via web conferencing, pre-recorded, as a pdf handout, etc.


Ok, so I'm not saying that for every tweak to a website you need to go through this whole thing, but I'm surprised that some of the electronic resources with major, major changes aren't more transparent about their process. Maybe transparency isn't the right term, maybe there is nothing to share because it's all outsourced?

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