The Faces of DRS presents : Rachael Cohen

The Discovery and Research Services (DRS) department is the new kid on the block in the Wells Library, so we’re pretty keen to show everyone who we are and what we do. The Faces of DRS (formerly DUX), reDUX’s recurring feature, is intended to do just that. Each post will introduce one department member to give the readers some insight into what the department is all about and how we fit into library world. So without further ado, let’s find out what makes DRS tick!
Rachael Cohen, Digital User Experience Librarian
Rachael Cohen
Digital User Experience Librarian

Rachael Cohen is the Digital User Experience Librarian, which is a brand new position here in Discovery and Research Services. A Minnesota native, Rachael was first trained in the arts of educational media and technology combined with computer science and information systems.  This gave her both the technical skills and foundational experience in public services that would guide her towards her epic journey into Library Land.

Her greatest adventures in discovery-swordsmanship training first took place in the mystical realm of the Wells Library, where she met many of the wisest library wizards, elves, and catladies. An MLS/MIS student of the-then School of Library and Information Science at IU, Rachael tailored her graduate school experience to engage in a variety of practical applications of patron-focused academic librarianship. From serving as a gateway of knowledge for library visitors as a reference assistant, instruction assistant, and cataloger, to supporting manuscript preparation and running an RPS library, Rachael bridged all of these experiences when she joined our formally-named Digital User Experience department to help develop the new IUCAT and OneSearch@IU. She was perfect for this thanks to her keen ability to translate techspeak into a patron-driven design and implementation.

Then, she graduated from SLIS, and was swept away to the land of bitter cold Grand Forks. For a year, Rachael operated the Grand Forks Air Force Base Library as the Library Director. Not only did she do everything under the sun as collection manager, instructor, technology specialist, marketing and outreach extraordinaire, Rachael also commanded the troops for transforming the library into an information commons. Working with military personnel, she faced the challenge of learning a new language and set of sensibilities, which has helped prepare her for future battles.

In January, Rachael came back home to Indiana University. Now, along with her tech-wizardstaff, she wields a sharp(ened) sword that is forged with the magic of discovery to slay (troubleshoot) any enemy (problem) to ensure the digital livelihood of library patrons. We couldn’t be happier for Return of the Rachael at DRS, especially as we endure through the Age of Web Migration.

Mindfulness for a New Website

Mindfulness

 

Earlier this month, Harvard Business Review published “Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity,” an interview with Ellen Langer, who has researched for decades on the effects of mindful thinking across a wide range of fields. Langer defines mindfulness through a psychological lens, as a “process of actively noticing new things.” She argues that this makes us actively engaged in the present, so that we’re “more sensitive to context and perspective.” In other words, we become more open-minded and focused with what’s in front of us in each individual moment, experience, and interaction.

While reading the article, I thought about our hands-on Drupal training sessions, which we began holding a couple of weeks ago. Though still in development, we’ve been unveiling the new IU Libraries website to content managers, walking through the whats and how-tos. One of our hopes is that these introductions will ease the transition from the old-and-familiar to the new-and-very-different. With these training sessions, it seems to me that we are priming users for mindfulness. They’re presented the Drupal environment in ways that give them a sense of the guts of it and how it comes together. And, since the site is, again, still in development, we’re asking for a sense of open-mindedness, indeed an aspect of mindfulness, since new bugs, wrenches, and general Huh?s pop up daily.

Mindfulness begets openness to all things new. Many of the features in the Drupal environment are intuitive, but others are less so, which means there are many new things for users to figure out and become accustomed to. Luckily, most people have seemed open and actively look for new things, as they poke and click around to discover how to do things on their own. From this, I’m reminded of mindfulness in the sense that, as Langer points out, there’s no one way to do something. We can instruct with basic directions for library branch mangers on how to add department pages, or for subject librarians on how to create feature posts, but really, there’s some flexibility in how it makes sense for users once they’re elbows deep in creating and adding content to the site.

Along these lines, by being mindful, the rules, routines, and goals will guide us rather than govern us, so that we’re not restricted to having new things reflecting the legacy site, so that we’re not solving “today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions.” So, in applying mindfulness to learning/working with/teaching the new IUB Libraries’ website in Drupal, I think it all comes down to mindfulness teaching flexibility, which in our case, leads to a better user experience both on the front- and back-ends of our website.

The Aesthetic Usability Effect

Surely, you’ve utilized a web search engine, saw a relevant result and clicked the link to what seemed like a good, relevant website based on its title, only to gasp in horror and immediately hit the back button to escape a hideous sight (pun totally intended). I’m not referring to explicit content, but instead seemingly ugly websites that have egregious amounts of content, 13 different font styles, and color palettes from 1996, where it just

Professor Cat Likes Your Golden Ratio
Professor Cat Likes Your Golden Ratio

didn’t seem like you could find what you’re looking for. You know, something like Electrifying Times for all your needs on the latest news about electric cars.

Conversely, take a look at Green Car Reports. Sure, it’s not perfect by any means (for instance, I’m not one who likes to scroll below the fold…), but at least I didn’t fear for epileptic shock when I first landed on the homepage. This is because the site follows some basic design principles, such as consistency (what a concept!) in terms of alignment and fonts, contrast to direct the eyes and assist with navigation, and organization. Functionally, it has some issues, but because it’s (mostly) easier on the eyes, users are more likely to continue perusing this site than Electrifying Times.

When a website is ugly, we often assume that its inherent usability is lacking. In other words, strictly functionally speaking, a website might be completely user-friendly with user-centric architecture, but if its interface overwhelms users with unorganized content or antiquated aesthetics, it can override the sense of navigability. Ultimately, poor visual design of a website negatively affects both usability and discovery.

This concept is called aesthetic usability effect. When websites appear attractive, users make unintentional concessions and ignore usability deficiencies. Aesthetically pleasing sites also appear to be higher quality, which improves users’ perceived discoverability of information and authority of that information. What makes a website aesthetic? This can vary, but it’s important to keep in mind that users generally quickly scan websites, keeping their eyes above the fold, are attracted to and directed by areas of contrast, and prefer symmetry and alignment that reflect “the golden ratio” of divine proportions.

This is all not to say that it’s okay for your website to be absolutely difficult to use but still the coolest looking site ever known to man. As the saying goes, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig” (thanks for this one, Anne H.!). Instead, know that looks do matter, and first impressions most certainly count when it comes to user experience and information discovery.

To learn more about good visual design, check out User Focus’ guidelines.