Web Design Evaluation: Seattle Public Library

Navigation

Visiting this website immediately after Multnomah County Library’s, I was jolted by how colorful it is. Let’s table that for now and concentrate on navigation. The layout of Seattle Public Library’s website is quite consistent. When I clicked through the different titles on the image map successively, I had visual proof that the structure, the “bones” of the pages stay pretty much the same. Good news for a new visitor.

It’s a good thing that the image map is located at the top and not to the side; it would get lost amongst all the color. I understand that the designer(s) wanted to emphasize each of the sections instead of the image map but since it is the main vehicle of navigation, it would help if the font was bigger or if it was more prominent. The baby blue shade makes it blend into the background and appear “shy.” Luckily, the image map titles change color to show the user where he/she is.

In the home page, there are two navigation lists adjacent to each other that confused me at first. Which one was my primary road map? I felt a bit abandoned. On exploring them, I noticed how different they were. The “Quick Links” list offered fast access to popular information while “Audiences” was a list that caters to specific user groups. I wonder why the “Audiences” list is present on the home page when this section has a prominent place on the image map already. I believe that removing the “Audiences” list would be best. It would reduce the confusion and clear up a busy home page.

Visual Design

Learning the visual design of  Seattle Public Library‘s webpage requires patience and persistence. I am worried that some first-time users would be turned away by this aspect. That would be too bad because someone put in much work to color-code the site.  The colors chosen for each page intuitively make sense. “Audiences” (orange) made me think of skin tone, “Using the Library” (lavender) brought to mind the calming effect of this institution, “Library Collection” (hunter green) made me think of old encyclopedias and “Calendar of Events” (grey) is appropriately an executive color. I could go on but now I am thinking that each user brings his/her own background and they may not make the same connections I did.

While the colors are nice on the eyes, they are not always consistent. The yellow of the “Library Locator” box present in almost every page is not always the avocado-green of the “Location” section that it relates to. On most of the pages, this little box is a corn-yellow instead. Compare this to the “Search the Library” catalog box. It is always a teal-shade of green and this shade connects it to the “Library Collection” page. It is possible that I am just being nitpicky about this but it’s the little things that make a difference.

Accessibility

Accessibility is an area where Seattle Public Library’s page could be improved. The website design is consistent but it is not simple. The background is busy with colors, lists, graphics, etc. Granted, this is a big library and they have much information to share. However, some users can only access part of it. I’m thinking of people with low vision primarily. There is so much for them to absorb at once. Luckily, Seattle Public Library’s ADA/Special Services offerings are easily accessible through the “Audiences” list present on their home page.  I changed my mind about it. It can stay.

That same “Audiences” list serves the needs of diverse populations such as Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Soomaali and Spanish speakers. Here they can find library programs in their native languages and information pertinent to their community. I can’t speak for the other languages but, as a native Spanish speaker, the Spanish sections are like a mini-website within the greater Seattle Public Library site. They don’t share the same image map titles as the English version but it is accessible and appropriate to Latinos.

Web Design Evaluation: Multnomah County Library

Navigation

Full disclosure: I live 30 minutes away from a branch of the Multnomah County Library and yet I have never visited their website. Well, I can say that it is fairly easy to navigate. The first thing that caught my attention was the image map. It is a super handy “home base” to have while visiting. Since it is present in every page, I never needed to click on the actual homepage to find my way around; I could just click on one of the seven offerings present on the image map.

The body (content) of the website is not grouped into long paragraphs that are hard to scan. Rather there are many hyperlinks, with descriptive sentences underneath, that one can scroll through.  I found one problematic area under the “Services” tab: a comprehensive list of hyperlinks organized alphabetically but with no subheadings. The list would be more efficient if users were offered alphabetical groups under which to look.

Interestingly, the navigation lists are on the right-hand side. I am used to seeing them on the left. And yet, this makes sense. According to M.K. Holder, an affiliated scientist in the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior at Indiana University, 70 to 95 percent of us are right-handed.

After some initial bumps, I became familiar with this set-up. Only to have to change again when I visited the “Kids” section. Here the initial list is on the left-hand side again…but switches to the right once you click on the hyperlinks. Kids need consistency.

Visual Design

I’m quite a visual person and love good design. This website has a simple layout that my eyes became fond of. Calm colors like blue and brown brought back fond memories of the Pacific Northwest. I commend Multnomah County Library for not being afraid to use a white background. So many websites feel that they have to dazzle visitors with jazzy wallpaper that distracts from the content.

Visitors that would prefer some jazziness, children mainly, are given a lovely yet calming “effervescent” background in the “Kids” section. More color is present here but a consistent palette is used. I expected that the “Teens” section would receive a similar treatment but was pleasantly surprised to find that, design-wise, it was indistinguishable from the “adult” sections. I feel that this sends a clear message to teens: we won’t treat you like children. Nice.

With all the beautiful simplicity in their site, I wonder why Multnomah County Library did not make their logo larger. Maybe they reason that the user already knows where they are or maybe this was a measure necessary in order to fit additional information in the heading. Remembering the importance of touting one’s brand, I feel that they should more prominently display their nifty logo and name.

Accessibility

How exciting to see that this website is bilingual. On the right hand side of the heading, a link titled “Español “ is present. When I clicked on it, the language of the whole website became Spanish. I am personally familiar with the growing Latino population of the Northwestern US and their Internet disadvantage. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, “Just one in three Latinos who speak only Spanish go online.”

By providing a safe reliable website in their native language, Multnomah County Library increases the likelihood that their Spanish-speaking patrons will learn skills that they can then use to venture out into the greater web. While the Spanish website is almost a twin copy of the English one, I was sad to see that the “Niños” (Kids) section here does not follow the design layout of the “Kids” section in English. All little ones like color and to have the same things other kids have regardless of their language.

Multnomah County Library’s website meets many accessibility guidelines. It offers a simple, consistent layout with plenty of contrast and descriptive links. Ironically, the link to learn more about accessibility services is hard to find. It is indistinguishable from other hyperlinks in the vast list found under the “Services” tab. This is one link that I would place right next to the “Español” link on the heading. Even better would be a special icon representing accessibility, present on the main page, that would quickly direct users to the pertinent section.