How can a library make good user experience decisions?

Establishing a program of user research at NCSU Libraries

How can a library make good user experience decisions?


Following the creation of the NCSU Libraries’ first User Experience Department, I was asked to lead the Libraries’ first official User Research Team. The team’s charge was to promote UX design principles and processes amongst the Libraries, hammer out infrastructure for a continuous program of user studies, and serve as a resource for staff wishing to undertake user studies.


For the Team’s first year, we followed Steve Krug’s formula for undertaking monthly lightweight usability studies. We operated using a client consultation model, where we partnered with interested Libraries staff to devise, design, and execute tests and studies.

In order to inform the design of websites, apps, services, wayfinding systems, and in-building touchscreen kiosks, we used methods such as:

  • usability testing
  • interviews
  • observational studies
  • A/B testing


We used a variety of methods for analyzing study data and reporting on the results, depending on the scope and nature of the study. For lightweight usability testing, we would facilitate group viewing sessions of the usability test videos or simply give the product team access to the videos with a brief summary of the results.

Other study analysis and reporting methods include:

  • Affinity diagramming of interview content
  • Full/formal reports
  • Data visualizations



Changes made to the Libraries also varied from no changes at all (“do-no-harm” tests, where the client wanted to learn whether smaller proposed changes to a page would cause diminished usability) to complete reconsideration of project priorities.

An example of a typical small change made after user research is the dialog box that appears when a user wants to cancel a hold they have put on a book. The repeated use of the word “cancel” (see “Before” photo below) confused the meaning of the conventional “cancel” button (if I press it, does it cancel the action or cancel the hold?) Revised wording (see “After” photo below) helps to clarify the user’s options.

Dialog box for canceling a hold - before
Before usability testing
Dialog box that appears when a library user wants to cancel a hold, after testing
After usability testing