Why good process is essential to design

All designers are flattered when they are asked to design something from scratch, and the team at Black Pepper is no exception. But the truth is, creating something from nothing can be intimidating, especially when you’re translating a familiar offline experience to an online one and expectations are high. These are the moments when a good process is essential.

We were all about the process when the Harvard Library team asked us to design a prototype user interface for their public digital collections. Harvard University has one of the largest private collections of books and artefacts on the planet. As a leader in learning and technology, the Harvard Library system has made a huge effort in recent years to digitize its collections and make those digital collections available to the public (when copyrights permit such sharing). Presenting and explaining those digital collections and all the rights and reservations regarding each book, page, photo, audio clip, and video is another huge effort.

We started by collecting the Harvard Library team’s requirements. And then we asked for a list of peers they like. The list included public libraries and universities with large digital collections and nice user interfaces which gave us a great starting point for our designs. But we didn’t start by copying and pasting the features we liked. We conducted a thorough competitive analysis, compiling every relevant feature and content type and mapping out which peers included which features. This process allowed us to score the peers against each other and to measure them against our requirements wish list. Before we even started sketching, we had a 1-3 year road map for future releases of the digital library interface.

Then we started designing the features the Harvard Library team prioritized for the prototype.

Meanwhile, in parallel Black Pepper has provided the Harvard Library’s internal usability team with tasks for usability testing the “winning” competitive site to hear from users how useful the key features are and what they would use differently. Our team will be writing personas based on the Library’s user research output and then iterating the requirements to gain an additional measure on the features: desirability per persona. The plan is to complete the personas and update the requirements before designing the MVP version of the new digital collections interface with prioritized input from every angle: stakeholders, peers, and users.