When asked about my job I normally say that I work as a website manager for the Library of the European Parliament. If I am lucky I get these two follow-up questions: “Oh, are you one of those few female programmers?” Me: “No.” “Ah, yes, a graphic designer, then?” Again, “no.” To turn an awkward silence into a stunned one, I smile and add that I am part of a small team working on “user experience design”, UX for short. So, what is UX for the EP Library, and why is it part of our website redesign project? Read on and – since it is mainly about you – leave a comment and learn how you can play a part.
The Library website: from “channel” to “experience”
I think an intrinsic limitation of the current Library Intranet site (for MEPs and EP staff) is that it has primarily been used as merely a channel to deliver Library products and services. It was not really designed to be more than the sum of its parts. Then the New Concept programme came along to focus on increasing the value of Library services to Members. A turning point there was to start on the Internet with social media and the EP Library blog. With this the Library came to realise that it had to design a true “online experience” strategy for its web presence, both Intranet and Internet. And so the time was finally right for me to come out with the full range of user experience activities.
What is user experience and why should you care?
User experience design is the practice of developing a better experience for people using an application or an interface. “Is this website easy and pleasant to use? What is its value to me?” UX designers work to get a “yes” to these questions from users. Why does it matter? With the ever-increasing volume of information and the ever-faster development of technologies, there is no time to waste on badly-designed pages or tools. Simplicity and selectivity are imperative. So user experience designers help make the site not only usable and valuable, but also easy to adopt and engaging.
None of this is new, in fact. But UX is now everywhere. The term was coined by Don Norman in the 1990s to “cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system“. Yes, graphic design is important, but only one element. Content strategy, information architecture, usability and emotional design all play a role in UX.
Why UX at the EP Library?
In our recent Focus Group, users of the Library said that our content is great, and that there are some nice features on our site, but that it is too complicated. So our clients do not make the best use of our content. Worse, some content remains hidden and unused. Worse still, some users may never come back, and miss out on our products and services, not because of poor quality, but because of the interface. Seen that way, who could say that UX is not core business for the Library?
What is the Library UX team doing?
The website redesign project was launched last February. We have plenty of data from the current site to analyse: usage statistics, reports from experts in Library business and usability, and our own content review and usability tests. We are now entering the “strategic design” phase: the UX team is working on information architecture, defining how the new site should be organised. And the whole Library is reviewing its product strategy, with “online products” as one element.
A Game of… cards?
Our project team counts two board games enthusiasts, so no “7 wonders” our next step is to invite you to a fun UX game known as “Card sorting”. Want to play? If you work for the EP contact us (link for MEPs and EP staff).