Redesigning the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library Site Part 1 — User Research

The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library site (LTDL) is undergoing a user-centered redesign.  A user-centered design process (a key feature of user experience, or UX) is pretty much what it sounds like: every decision about how the site will work starts from the point of view of the target user’s needs.

As a UX designer, my job begins with user research to identify the target users, and engaging with these users to identify their actual needs (versus what we might assume they want).

Prior to my arrival, the LTDL team had already identified three target users: the novice (a newbie with little or no experience searching our site), the motivated user (someone who has not been trained in how to search our site, but is determined to dig in and get what they need. Unlike the novice, the motivated user won’t abandon their search efforts), and the super user (someone who has gone through LTDL search training and knows how to construct complex search queries).

Given this head start, I spent a few weeks conducting extensive user research with a handful of volunteers representing all three user types.  I used a combination of hands-off observation, casual interviews, and user testing of the existing site to discover:

    • what the user expects from the LTDL search experience
    • what they actually need to feel successful in their search efforts
    • what they like about the current site
    • what they’d like to change about the current site

Lessons learned will guide my design decisions for the rest of the process.  Below you’ll find excerpts from the User Research Overview presentation I delivered to my team:


In addition to engaging directly with users, I did a deep dive into the site analytics.  The data revealed the surprising statistic that most of the LTDL site traffic (75%) originated from external search engines like Google.  The data further revealed that once these users got to our site, they were plugging in broad search terms (like tobacco or cancer) that were guaranteed to return an overwhelming number of results.  This meant that most of our users were novices and motivated users, not the super users we were used to thinking about and catering to.

This information exposed the key problem to be solved with the LTDL redesign: how to build an easy-to-use search engine that teaches the user how to return quality results, without dumbing down the experience for our super users.

2 thoughts on “Redesigning the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library Site Part 1 — User Research”

  1. Yes, this is going to be a a complete overhaul of the system to modernize it. The index will be built on Solr and the UI will be most likely built with Blacklight (Ruby on Rails). We have some blog posts on working with Blacklight too 🙂

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