Beta website usability testing: What have we learned?

In April, the web team here in ITS conducted usability testing on the beta version of the new main library website. We talked to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as librarians and library staff members, about the new site and asked them to complete a series of tasks and offer feedback. In addition, we conducted roving feedback sessions, where we physically met with users across the St. George campus and asked them what they thought of the redesign. What did we learn?

Searching from the Homepage

On a positive note, people liked the simple search box and the additional search options on the right-hand side. This was well-received on both traditional computers and mobile devices.

Search Results Page

Users don't notice the number of search results by resource type when it appears at the bottom of the pane.

The fix: We're moving the number of search results next to the item type and making the icon clickable.

Research Guides

While people were happy that research guides were included in the search results, they did not like that the guides were at the bottom of the search results page. Generally, the search results that they are most interested in are books, articles, and research guides.

The fix: Keep research guides in the bottom row of results, but move it to the left, so users notice the guides more quickly. The guides will be followed by the next facet - organized dynamically by the number of results - and lastly, "More Formats."

Finding Articles

Some users found the divisions in “Articles” somewhat awkward. Two users pointed out that separating “Scholarly” articles from other articles may lead students to ignore other options in that section. Another thought that it was counterintuitive to group scholarly articles and newspaper articles in the same section.

The fix: After exploring these issues more deeply, the team decided to retain the divisions as tested. Further testing with students and input from reference librarians revealed that most users are looking for "Scholarly" articles in an exploratory search, which is often started from the homepage.


Refining Search Results

Most users found the facets in the left-hand menu a bit sensitive. When looking to change their search results to show scholarly articles instead of newspaper articles, they experienced one of two situations:

  1. They did not deselect the “Newspaper Article” facet quickly enough, and instantly received results in publications that were classified as both scholarly journals and newspapers. The user became confused.
  2. They did not select “Scholarly journals” quickly enough after deselecting “Newspaper Article,” and instantly received results in all formats.

This occurred in both Firefox and Chrome.


Some users did not notice the filters at the top of the search results. These users recommended making the filters larger, in order to make them easier to find.

The fix: Delay the response time after a user clicks a facet to allow for a smoother transition. Improving colour contrast on the facet titles to draw the eye more quickly to these options.

Searching Web Content

Users assumed that the left-hand search box would search library materials, while the search tool in the top right-hand corner would search web content. Users aren’t accustomed to looking for web content and library materials using the same search tool, so they need more effective cues to indicate that they can do so on our website.

The fix: Change the title of the search box from just "Search" to "Start Your Search." Add a checkbox that will limit a search to library web content, if desired. Update the helper text in the homepage search tool to include "web content."

(Where users look for library materials.)


(Where users look for web content on our site.)


Featured Content

Students particularly noticed the "Featured" box, repeatedly asking what type of content would appear here. They would like to see the "Featured" section focus on library-related news and learning opportunities, weather alerts, University news, free library programs, tutorials, and videos featuring students in the library.

The fix: Coordinate sustainable content creation, including UofT news stories.

What's next?

ITS will use these findings to inform the final changes that will be made before the site is formally launched in mid-May.

We will be running another round of usability testing after the new site launches, so don’t worry – you’ll still be able to get involved. Check Twitter for regular updates or contact us for more information.

In the meantime, you can provide feedback on the beta version of our website using the “Share your feedback” flag (in the bottom right-hand corner) or by completing this brief online testing tool.

Thank you for all of the feedback that you have offered so far, and please keep it coming. We all look forward to a fresh new face for the main library website!


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