Misconceptions About Our Users

Here in DUX, we try to remember that everything we do should be for the benefit of library users and should be designed with those people in mind. (After all, the “User” is literally at the center of “Digital User Experience”!) What is sometimes harder to remember is that we don’t always know our users as well as we think we do.

For example, we think of undergrads as being tech-savvy, computer-literate, comfortable with maneuvering online. Right? To some extent this is true, but what we mean by “computer-literate” may not match up with the reality of the typical undergrad’s experience. I was working at the reference desk once while there were some general network issues on campus – specifically, due to some Microsoft updates, IE wasn’t working right as I recall. The workaround for this was, of course, to use Firefox instead of IE. But when undergrads came to the reference desk to report that “the internet isn’t working,” telling them to “use a different browser” was met with a completely blank stare more often than not. They knew how to maneuver around the Internet just fine, but the concept of “a browser” didn’t quite make sense to them. (And, 99 times out of 100, why should it? They sit down at the computer, the Internet is there, they get what they need…)

So it makes sense, when thinking about the people using your website or other electronic resources, to ask not only how “computer-savvy” they are but also to find out what terms they use and how they verbalize their understanding of how things work. Also, it’s helpful to find out how they use the tools they use. They may be perfectly comfortable clicking on links and moving from page to page on a website, but can we assume, for example, that most users will use control+F to locate specific words on a page? According to this enlightening article from Fast Company, we absolutely cannot – in fact, 90 percent of web users do not know how to use this helpful shortcut. (Thanks to IU’s IT Training folks for tweeting a link to this article!)

The moral of this story is: before you throw a huge long list of titles up on your web page, think about how people will actually use this list, and don’t assume they will just control+F their way through it. If you want them to stick around long enough to find what they need, offer some other way to search and navigate the list – perhaps a menu of anchor links at the top, or a Google custom search box, or something else that will work for the actual pepole who will be trying to use your site. In fact, before you put ANY content on your site, think about the people who will be using it and how they will be using it. It’s as simple – and as complicated – as that!

Author- Anne Haines

Web Content Specialist in the Discovery & User Experience Department, IU Libraries. I've spoken at events including edUi, Confab Central, Confab Higher Ed, IOLUG, ILF, the IU Libraries' Digital Library Brown Bag series, and the Libraries' In-House Institute. You can find me hanging out at the intersection of content strategy and librarianship, singing a doo-wop song under the streetlight. Follow me on Twitter: @annehaines