The Web Management Committee (WMC) -- in cooperation with the rest of the Libraries -- needs to decide exactly what we want the website to accomplish, and formulate a navigation scheme and information architecture to support those goals.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the Libraries sites content strategy (some excellent background is here: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/thedisciplineofcontentstrategy/).
The entire article is worth reading, but there are 2 closely related ideas mentioned that I think we should give serious thought to. Those are:
- key themes and messages
- content purpose
What is our message?
To find our message, let's look at the Mission Statement and part of the charge of the WMC:
Mission Statement: The University Libraries web site promotes the discoverability of information and resources in a variety of formats, provides on-line access to library collections, and supports research and self-sufficient use of resources by a wide variety of users.
To me, this says our primary goals are discovery, access, and instruction.
Charge: The UNLV Libraries public website is designed to serve the following multiple functions:
- serving as a repository of information about the libraries, their services and operations
- serving as a communication medium that allows library staff and users to exchange information [...]
- serving as a public relations tool to engage members of our community in the Libraries mission and activities and to publicize those activities to the world
This brings in the rest of what we do: communication and marketing.
With these in mind, the WMC needs to figure out what if anything might be missing here, and to decide which of all these things we think are most important in order to focus our structure and design on those areas. I'm not saying that we can't do all these things; rather, I believe we need to move away from the mostly flat structure we've maintained until now and create a site that more directly targets the needs of MOST users while still fulfilling the needs of everyone else.
Currently the site is quite flat. Looking at the home page, we don't necessarily give priority to any one area, and there's never been much discussion about the ones we do give priority to. The large main image is devoted primarily to marketing, the tabbed search box to discovery, subject-specific research is hidden in a drop-down box, services get a few links, instruction is very nearly ignored. Additionally, it's difficult to tell in a glance where the main navigation lies. Is it the tabs along the top, or at the top of the search box? The right side menu? The boxes under the search box? The right side?
The lack of clear navigation focus carries over into other parts of the site. We include identical top, bottom, and left side menus on every page, ignoring the fact that a user on the Services page probably wants to focus on services, or on the Computing page probably wants to focus on computing. We use contextual menus and marketing only very sparingly, and usually at the department level.
This isn't a criticism of the relatively new home page or template designs! The current design is a clear improvement aesthetically and usability-wise over previous ones. But the design reflects an information architecture that has developed accidentally, rather than one created purposefully and carefully.
Questions we should ask ourselves
Perhaps the most important question we should ask is, "What do we want users to see right away on the site?" What should the home page instantly convey? Should we push our services? If so, which ones? Ask a librarian? Instruction? Should we focus on discovery? If so, what resources should get top billing? Journals? Books?
What should our site be? A research tool? A marketing tool? A communications tool? All of these things? Are any more important than the others?
What about contextual navigation? To me, this is one of the great things about Whitehouse.gov. Go to The Administration and there's a menu to drill down into various Administration areas. Choose one of these links, and the menu remains (though in a different area). We saw the success of contextual menus on the Media site in the usability testing of that area; the redesign will let us greatly expand their use, but this in turn will require us to think carefully about the new site structure.
It's even possible that the current home page design -- tabbed search box with links all around it -- meets our goals for the website, but if so, that should be a conscious decision rather than something that evolved based on decisions made by other people years ago.
What about Usability?
There is no doubt that card sorting will help us with the new structure. But while it will inform us as to how our users would categorize our content, it won't tell us how we should prioritize this content -- only we can do that. Statistics will also help somewhat (for example, by showing us which content is most important to users). But we really need to decide what matters most to us as an organization so that we can focus the site on those things, and maybe weed out what we find less important or no longer relevant.
Putting it together
Drupal will help us a great deal in developing a sustainable and scalable content management strategy, but that's only half the battle. Creating a content strategy -- including a navigation scheme, information architecture, and site focus -- that is usable and useful to all our classes of users is a much more important challenge that needs to be addressed at the outset of this redesign.