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User-Centered Online Design Philosophy

Marchionini makes three assumptions about the characteristics of end-users in electronic environments (12). First, end-users are not interested in system characteristics such as design, elegance, or data structure. Instead, they want to get to the end of their work; they want answers, not pointers; they want document delivery, not information retrieval. A second assumption is that "end-users want to achieve their goals with a minimum of cognitive load and a maximum of enjoyment" (12)(p.156). This assumption echoes the law of least effort:

Moreover humans seek the path of least cognitive resistance and prefer recognition tasks to recall tasks; most people will trade time to minimize complexity. Finally, humans will perform better and continue to use systems that are pleasureful or interesting (12)(p.157-8).

Computer-augmented information seeking can create a more relaxed, less stressful, more pleasant search environment. In other words, if it is user-centered, it is affectively more benign. In the past, attempts at designing more user-friendly information systems have led to software interfaces known as "metaphors," such as the Desk Top metaphor for the operating system on Macintosh computers, and its competitor, the Windows metaphor. This approach has been applied more recently to developing alternatives to traditional command language interfaces. For example, Borgman and colleagues developed the "library metaphor" for an OPAC interface in elementary school that uses the Dewey system and allows students to browse hierarchical graphic bookshelves (13)(p.55-68). Some of the more recent search support innovations include the following, according to Marchionini's review:

* query-by-example (14);

* spatial database representations (15);

* online thesauri tied into the search command sequence (16);

* interfaces that offer suggestions to users, including dynamic queries that evolve as part of the interaction with the system (17);

* problem articulation as pruning (where users begin with all items in the database selected and each query results in a subset, e.g., Computer Library CD-ROM);

* problem articulation "on the fly" through active browsing and judicious navigation in hypertext systems (18).

Other developments include the addition of alternate input devices such as datagloves, gesture recognizers, speech recognizers, and eye trackers (12)(p.160). He quotes Gauch, saying that "In electronic environments, the IR problem is not finding information, it is filtering information" (12)(p.161). This comment reflects a fundamental dilemma of end-users in today's information environment. However, novice users still do have great difficulties finding information because of their inadequate of knowledge of search logic and vocabulary selection difficulties. Marchionini concludes that user-centered interfaces should accommodate individual differences, cultural diversity of individuals, and users' affective and cognitive characteristics.

Writing Affective Point-of-Use Instructions

The potential importance of Help instructions in influencing the user's affective information environment was demonstrated in an experimental study. Nahl showed that the stress and anxiety routinely experienced by novice searchers can be alleviated by adding a distinctly affective component to the instructions, consisting of providing additional orientation, advice, and reassurance (19). The importance of psychological factors in searching was examined by asking subjects to indicate on a self-efficacy scale how confident they were in their ability to achieve a successful search outcome. Subjects who felt more optimistic in predicting a positive outcome had significantly better outcome scores than those who predicted low success for their searches. This suggests that optimism and self-confidence as a searcher empower users to better cope with the information environment. For instance, they found the instructions more helpful and comprehensible, they expressed more satisfaction with search results, and spent less time per search. By contrast, searchers who expected low success, expressed more frustration during the search activity, tried out a greater number of unsuccessful strategies, found the instructions less helpful, and spent more time per search. Fortunately, the pessimistic user self-orientation appears to be modifiable:

Optimism in searching is a learnable affective skill that involves generating positive self-regulatory sentences throughout the searching process. Point-of-use instructions and online Help facilities can either ignore this aspect of the user's environment, or they can attempt to deal with it explicitly. Future research will have to discover the specific verbalizations that need to be added in the form of elaborations to the instructions so that searchers will come to expect probable success rather than probable failure. One approach might be to identify what verbalizations are used by novice searchers who operate under a positive role model through think-aloud protocols, and then to incorporate these sentences in point-of-use instructions. (19)(p.xx).

Since the affective information environment is dynamic and challenging, users need to be taught coping skills that reduce stress and errors.

Written point-of-use instructions and online Help screens provide good opportunities for user-centered interfaces to deliver both cognitive and affective information services. As reviewed by Nahl, (20) user-centered consciousness in the area of software documentation and Help instructions first took the form of "minimalism," advancing the principle that verbose text is tedious, confusing, and repelling to users in general. Shorter, well-organized, and indexed manuals are not only preferred by users but are also less costly to produce. This trend was beneficial since it enabled systems professionals to focus on what users prefer in terms of length or detail and easy to understand language.

A sample of written point-of-use instructions for CD-ROM database searching typical of university library handouts was analyzed and found to be minimalist in both cognitive and affective information, but especially the latter (20). Breaking minimalist principles in user instructions, Nahl edited and lengthened an existing point-of-use instruction sheet by adding sentences that served as "affective speech acts" providing users with extra orientation, extra advice, and plenty of reassurances. The elaborated version was three times longer than the former, but was rated significantly more helpful and comprehensible to subjects in a controlled experiment.

Perceived Self-Efficacy as a Searcher

An interesting and unexpected finding from the preceding experiment was that novice users enter the search situation with definite beliefs about their probable success. Subjects were asked to review five search tasks they were about to perform and predict their probable success. The group was then divided for analysis into two sub-groups, namely, the upper and lower half in terms of self-confidence as a searcher. The results showed significant differences on all of the dependent measures of user behavior, despite the fact that the students in the two sub-groups did not differ in searching or computing experience. Novice users who had higher expectations of search success also had higher retrieval scores, expressed greater satisfaction with results, felt less frustrated during the searching, were more effective in their search strategies, and more efficient. Rather than viewing these features as permanent psychological or demographic differences, Nahl sees a searcher's self-efficacy beliefs as a learned mental habit that, with effort and instruction can be further developed.

Nahl relates these findings to prior research and theory on self-efficacy beliefs (21, 22) and speech act theory (23-25). As users engage in the act of searching, a continuous stream of silent verbalizations is produced as a means of making things understandable, and as a by-product of their affective involvement. By taking charge, users can consciously manage these sentences and use them to regulate their behavior.

One method of self-control involves the use of self-regulatory sentences thought to oneself. Self-regulatory sentences, viewed as habitual speech acts of users in a learning setting, can be witnessed and deliberately changed in self-modification attempts. "Learned optimism" (26)is an affective habit some users evolve by acquiring an "optimistic" style of talking to themselves during searching by expressing greater self-confidence in a successful search outcome. "Learned pessimism" on the other hand, is a habit of "helplessness" in the face of challenge and apparent constraint. Users who have low self-efficacy beliefs as searchers have acquired "pessimistic" habits of thinking and express lower self-confidence in their search success. Since habits can be retrained, Nahl suggests that instructions and Help assistance contain advice and reassurance that counteract negative self-talk and help users establish more adaptive self-regulatory speech acts while operating in the information environment.

Boolean Pitfalls

One of the stumbling blocks for novice users of online systems such as CD-ROM bibliographic and full text databases, is that search principles operate by Boolean logic which at first may seem counter-intuitive. For example, in ordinary language a query problem may state "Search for articles on the dangers and risks of caffeine and caffeine products to pregnant women." One possible solution might be the search statement:

(danger OR risk) AND caffeine AND pregnant women

Note that in Boolean logic, the "and" between "dangers and risks," requires a transformation to the OR operator. In "caffeine and caffeine products" the words "and" and "products" should be ignored. Transforming that "and" to OR would not be a fatal search logic error. But in ordinary language, it appears to novices as if the search statement should read:

dangers AND risks AND caffeine AND caffeine products AND pregnant women

In the words of one novice attempting to think in Boolean: "You need to find out about both caffeine and caffeine products, so you need to put AND between them." However, this search statement is not likely to produce the expected results.

There is evidence of the occurrence of a leakage between the semantic and the logical features of Boolean cognitions. Semantically, both caffeine and other caffeine related products are of interest here, and it is true; however, the operational logic of searching requires the OR operator if either subject is wanted. In order to block semantic leakage from influencing the logical requirement, a cognitive transition must take place in which the primary focus is on searching the text of records, rather than on the semantic features of the topic. This semantic to search logic transition may at first seem contrary to ordinary thinking.

As pointed out by Nahl, (27) composing valid Boolean search statements depends on an accurate understanding of both the semantic and logical features of the operation. Searchers must learn to keep intact the boundary between these two aspects. There must not be any 'leakage' in the rational 'membrane' that separates the semantic from the logical functions. The following example shows how one novice searcher, after reading the instructions, did not separate the semantic aspects from the purely logical features of a Boolean search statement. The task was to:

Circle the concept(s) that must appear in every article retrieved by this strategy:

(driving behavior OR drivers) AND risk-taking

The subject inaccurately circled "driving behavior," and wrote the following explanation:

Because the interest is in driving and correlation to behavior, style, motive, etc., I feel that the circled concept must be in every article.

In operation is the act of reasoning by similarity instead of reasoning by search probability logic. The problem should have been solved purely from the perspective of formal Boolean logic, i.e., (A OR B) AND C, requiring that concept C appear in each of the retrieved records. Instead, semantic leakage from the topic "driving" led this novice to ignore the necessary logical implications of the Boolean connector. Data such as these indicate what aspects of Boolean reasoning need to be specifically explained and taught.

User-centered online design philosophy must take into account several dynamic factors. Some researchers point to the need for accommodating individual differences, cultural diversity, and affective and cognitive characteristics. Novices need different types of elaborations in oral and written instructions for using systems, especially those that provide orientation, advice, and reassurance. Even the self-confidence of novice searchers plays an influential role in their style, success, and satisfaction. Avoiding boolean pitfalls and understanding search logic cannot be left to self-instruction. The recognition that users require training that incorporates all of these dynamics has led to a change in public awareness.

The Public Sector

In the area of library management, one study refers to "a user-oriented approach" when priorities for library services are set through the use of survey data (28) comparing the budgets and opinions of three special library directors with the research staffs of three organizations as to their attitudes and priorities. Surveying users to get data relevant for planning information services is a response by the system to calls for becoming more user-centered. An early expression of the user-centered paradigm is found in Parks (29) who focused on information needs in the public library sector for the handicapped and the elderly. Parks identifies the passage of Titles IV-A and IV-B of the Library Services and Construction Act as the marking the beginning of a new community attitude and practice towards the institutionalized and the challenged in our society. This trend has seeped into the physical environment of libraries (e.g., signs, central floor plan, electric-eye doors, color, plants, fish tanks), the organizational environment (e.g., hours, formal teaching, special programs), and the human environment (e.g., social climate, group rituals, flexibility, individualized response, initiative, poise). The passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act continues and deepens this trend.

The Role of Technology

Two factors seem to drive the movement of the user-centered paradigm shift: the rapidly increasing number of novice end-users and changing technology. These two factors are interrelated. An increasing population of novice users and greater technological complexity combine to exert social pressure on the managers of information environments. The role of technology was described this way by a library educator:

In short, this is an era of stressful change brought on by convulsive waves of shifting values on every front. Change is not new to libraries, of course, but what is new is the collapsed time-scale of change. In the past change was faced as it happened, but lately social and technological alternatives have occurred at so great a rate that change must be dealt with continuously. The order of change is entirely different from anything which came before. Whether one calls this change revolutionary or evolutionary hardly matters; what counts is the degree to which such change will affect the library's role in society. As one librarian put it recently, "the trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be." (30, p.409.)

A recent review of Ranganathan's 1928 "Five Laws of Library Science" shows where these principles operate today within the new information technology. According to Sharma's analysis, new technology "is enabling the realization of Ranganathan's vision of user-centered, user-friendly information service implied in his Five Laws" (31)(p.258):

1. Books are for use.

2. Every reader his book.

3. Every book its reader.

4. Save the time of the reader.

5. The library is a growing organism.

The open access technology has enabled realization of the first law as embodied, for example, in online catalogs that "show whether a document is on the shelves of the library or not; and if charged out, when it is due back in the library" (31, (p.260) . Resource sharing and networking have helped validate the second law, and the third law is facilitated by cross-references and keyword search modes in online databases. Finding information in the shortest possible time with online searching, full text, and CD-ROM technology serve the fourth law, while planning and organization of libraries can promote the fifth law. Realistically, these laws are potentiated by new technology, but technology must assist users in more significant ways to fully achieve them.

With the new networking technology, "information space" has become so vast that new methods have been invented to allow users to "navigate cyberspace." Various "browsers" introduce their own problems in usability. Old skills for reading paper formats, and sequential paging habits have to be modified and applied to screen-presented text, scrolling, and hypertext linking within and across documents. Text formatting, color, highlighting, and speed of access have become important user-related considerations that influence the quality and success of "surfing sessions" on the Internet.

Futures Planning

Those who plan for library services for the next century have adopted a clear user-centered focus. For example, Shapiro (32, .(p.286) advocates the "reengineering" of user services in academic libraries by spelling out a number of principles:

(a) recognizing and dealing with the whole range of user needs, i.e., reference service, telecommunications software assistance, and searching difficulties;

(b) transforming services staff into information "case-workers" so that librarians try to maintain post-consultation follow-up procedures to track what happens to users after they have been referred to other specialists;

(c) processes or procedures must be developed to suit users rather than organizational structure, and continuous change based on feedback or evaluation is essential for effectiveness of information delivery;

(d) information technology must not be used merely to provide access through automation, but to assist users, such as automated problem tracking systems and information desks or kiosks;

(e) collaboration across the campus with faculty groups and the computing center is essential in producing "symbiotic" operations in support of users.

One study investigated what users of a university library think libraries of the future should be like. The most frequently cited "critical" use of the ideal library of the future was "speedy retrieval and simplicity of use" (33)(p. 307). Other desired uses included computerized catalog, online searching of databases, full-text retrieval, wide availability of terminals, remote access, 24-hour availability, and personal library assistance services. Another commentator on types of services that would be offered in "user-responsive research libraries" warns that:

Some futurists foresee them becoming outmoded storehouses of printed materials, repositories that lie outside of the mainstream of academic life. Others predict that they will become vital information centers, growing more central to research and teaching as the information world becomes even more complex. A cogent case can be argued for either of these opposing extremes, but the final outcome is still beyond our field of vision" (34)(p. 59).

To ensure a positive final outcome to the user-centered revolution, the following system features are recommended for the electronic information environment:

* more access-oriented, less size-oriented

* universal adaptation to technology by entire library staff

* give up the myth that researchers and scholars are skilled users

Dougherty calls for "a significant overhaul of the duties of most reference librarians and bibliographers" to assist them in developing a better understanding of faculty information needs, their information gathering habits, and their service preferences.

Customer Service Philosophy

The knowledge needed by information workers to deliver adequate services has become quite broad, according to a recent textbook that addresses "customer service in the information environment:"

It is Mr. St Clair's premise that the information services practitioner must be broadly defined to include persons engaged in every aspect of information service from records management to technology-based information transfer. The connecting link in all of this information work and the basis for this book is that user needs determine the nature of the information service and that the user's knowledge of the subject area is a critical component in determining how the information services practitioner will organize the information and make it accessible in the most efficient manner possible (35, from the Forward by John Ganly).

The recognition that information systems should represent how users think rather than how librarians organize information has become the cornerstone of the new paradigm. The "New Philosophy of Service" aims for "the provision of quality information to its customers" including such customer service mottoes as:

1. People come first.

2. We give accurate and reliable information.

3. We are serious about our high level of service.

4. We cannot afford to give one wrong answer.

5. We are accessible and easy to approach.

6. We are doers - we work hard.

7. We are often pleased but never satisfied.

8. We want our staff to be happy working for us.

9. Service is a state of mind. People must care and have a desire to do it right and to do it now.

10. The client is always right.

11. Everyone must be thinking about how to do his/her job better and more effectively.

12. Enthusiasm and faith are necessary to remove barriers and increase productivity and decrease costs. (35, (p. 5-6, attributed to Meg Paul) .

This new philosophy of information service strikes some librarians as a model more appropriate for commercial settings than academic and public libraries (36). This conflict illustrates how the new user-centered paradigm is being extended. It appears that new technology, in such forms as the Internet and World Wide Web, has deepened the connection between marketing principles and library and information services. This shift is reflected in the historical sequence of designations referring to recipients of library and information services: readers, patrons, clients, end-users, customers. "Customer" service in the information environment brings marketing principles to librarians and information specialists.

Central to the new marketing attitude of information provision, whether for the corporate library or public school multimedia lab, is the "information audit" or user survey. Needs analysis identifies the character of the constituent user groups. Focus groups can help determine what kind of information delivery users prefer. Test runs reveal which procedures users resist, are reluctant to follow, or produce errors. User surveys elicit responses and comments by potential users. In considering the question of why the wishes of the information consumers have not been better taken care of in the past, St Clair points out that:

We have been remarkably successful in using technology in the organization of information, and we are justifiably proud of our long history in using information technology in creating information products and services for our customers. What we haven't done is to use the same technology for creating programs to help us learn more about our customers. We haven't taken the time because we've been so busy developing the information products that we forgot who we were developing the products for. (35, p.93).

"User-oriented evaluation" (UOE ) has been promoted as action research "carried out with the aim of generating information which may be used, in some way, to improve information systems and services" (37, p.93.) UOE methods include test searches, user attitudes, failure analysis, case study, micro-evaluation, and other forms of situation-specific qualitative and quantitative analyses. The complexities of studying the user in the information environment require new and more intensive methods (38).

The user-centered trend is creating a basic revision of library management and operation in the form of incorporating user input at various levels as a structural component of the management process. One expert advises a phasing-in process starting with the creation of a collection development committee with liaisons to faculty and jointly established written procedures (39). Collection vendors would be invited to receive input from the joint committee. Similarly, faculty would serve on a serials development committee and initiate procedures for campus wide departmental input. The structural integration of users into the management fabric itself creates the "client-centered library" (39)(p.351).

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