What's behind Tripod's latest design

by Mary Marissen

The seeds of a new design for Tripod were planted back in the summer of 2014 when many librarians had an inkling that our catalog interface was due for an upgrade in order to make our collections and the interrelatedness of our systems more explicit.

   Assisted by Swarthmore College class of 1974 alum Demetrios Karis, we conducted user testing that summer, a process in which a user (after agreeing to be recorded) works through a handful of tasks using Tripod in order to demonstrate what aspects of our website are intuitive, and perhaps more importantly, what aspects are confusing or result in dead ends.

   The tasks we tested that summer ranged from the simple (find out if you have any overdue items) to the complex (find a performance of the Swarthmore College Wind Ensemble concert from the spring semester of 2011.)

   These initial tests confirmed some of what we already suspected - that some of our collections (Triceratops and Triptych especially) are a mystery to many of our users - but they also surprised us by demonstrating that many of our assumptions about what we thought users knew, were demonstrably not true. Some of the tests painfully showed us that quite a number of experienced Tripod users were unaware of many basic and powerful aspects of our catalog.

   Since Tripod is shared with Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, we formed a TriCollege Tripod Re-design committee, which worked along with professional web designers to reach consensus on a new design. Guided by a principle of “way finding,” we designed a unifying new logo for Tripod and design elements that would offer visual cues for more intuitive navigation to help users know where they are, how to search different collections and how to find their way back to where they began - whether they search the traditional Tripod catalog, within local collections of digitized scholarship and performances, one of the databases containing content we license, or a research guide created by a local librarian.

   Work on this project is far from complete. While the Tripod home page has obvious changes, the visual design elements have not yet been carried over to our digital collections of Institutional Scholarship and Art and Artifacts (formerly Triceratops and Triptych.)

   While we continue to move forward rolling out the new design in stages, we have agreed to continue user testing at regular intervals. In fact, user testing conducted in September demonstrated changes we should make already in the new design.

   But most importantly, we have changed our approach to Tripod development as a result of this process. Instead of rolling out a redesigned, updated website every few years and then leaving it alone, we have adopted a method of agile development. Regular user testing will inform incremental changes in Tripod moving forward.