By Sabreen Parveen with Ray Berger & Mek
A Forward from the Mentors
For book lovers who use openlibrary.org every day, it may be easy to forget what it felt like to visit the website for the first time. Some features which some were able to learn the hard way — through trial and error — may not be as easy or intuitive for others to understand. We feel like we’ve failed each time a patron leaves the library, frustrated, and before even having the chance to understand the value it may provide to them.
At Open Library, we strive to design a service which is accessible and easy for anyone to use and understand. We understand that everyone has different experiences and usability needs. Our mission is to make books as accessible and useful to the public as possible, and we’re unable to do this if patrons aren’t given the opportunity and resources to learn how our services work.
After polling dozens of patrons on video calls and through surveys, we started to get a good idea about which aspects of the website are most confusing to new patrons. The most common question was, “what is Open Library and what does it let you do?”. We tried to search for a clear explanation on our homepage, but there wasn’t one — just rows of books we assumed patrons would click on and somehow understand how it all worked. We also received useful questions concerning which books on Open Library are readable, borrowable, or what is meant when a book shows as unavailable or not in the library. We also received questions about how the Reading Log works. We decided to address some of these frequently asked questions at the earliest possible entry point: on our home page with a new Onboarding Carousel. Leading this project was 2021 Open Library Fellow, Sabreen, with the mentorship of Ray & Mek. We’re so excited and proud to showcase Sabreen’s hard work to you!
Designing a Simple-to-use Onboarding Experience
This summer I got this amazing opportunity to work with the Internet Archive as an Open Library Fellow where I contributed to the Onboarding Project.
My Journey with Open Library
I decided to join the Open Library community in 2020 because I was interested in contributing to an open source project and improving my abilities as a programmer and designer. Several things about Open Library stuck out to me while I was browsing projects on github. Firstly, I had the knowledge of the languages and frameworks it used. Secondly the documentation was very clear and easy to understand. Thirdly, the issue tracker contained many exciting ways for me to help. Most importantly the project had an active community and hosted calls every week where I could work with others and ask questions. Once I had familiarized myself with the project, I joined Open Library’s public gitter chatroom and asked questions about getting started. Shortly after, I attended my first community call, received a Slack invite, and later that week submitted my first contribution! I have joined almost all the community calls since. Gradually I started solving more and more issues, many of them related to web accessibility and SEO. I also started creating graphics for Open Library’s “monthly reads” pages. The community must have been excited about my contributions, because this year I was invited to be a 2021 Open Library Fellow and to team up with a mentor to lead a flexible, high-impact project to completion.
Selecting a Project: Onboarding Flow
The project I chose for my 2021 Open Library Fellowship was to add a new user onboarding experience to Openlibrary.org homepage to help new patrons get an overview of the website and how to use its features.
First time visitors to OpenLibrary.org often report getting confused because they don’t know how to use the service. We had several indicators this was the case:
- From my own experience, I had been confused when I first started using the website. I didn’t know what the “Want to read button” does? I came to know about the list feature while solving an issue.
- Bounce Rate: Open Library has a fairly high bounce rate, which is a measure of percentage of people who visit a website and leave without continuing to the other pages. We wondered if this is because patrons were confused about how to use the website and so we wanted to test this.
- Feedback: We received this feedback from patrons emailing us about their experience
So by adding onboarding flow many of the users will get an insight of what the website actually does.
While designing user onboarding, we wanted to create a system that was interactive, contextual, and easy to use and understand. As a result, we decided to start by adding an onboarding carousel to the homepage, the most common place patrons would land on when visiting the website for the first time. We designed the carousel to feature five cards: Read Free Library Books Online, Keep Track of Your Favourite Books, Try the virtual library explorer, Be an Open Librarian and Feedback form to receive feedback from the visitors.
We decided on a carousel as the format because they’re
- persistent, unlike other onboarding design patterns that only show up upon signup and are never seen again.
- easy to explore.
When clicked, each card redirects patrons to a FAQs page. In an upcoming version, the “keep track of your favourite books” card will instead trigger an onboarding modal with a step-by-step tutorial containing several slides explaining how we can add a book to our reading log, create a new list and view your reading log. Each feature is explained using a GIF, which is short and descriptive. You can close the modal at any step and any time. The modal creation was a long process of discussions and feedback, but finally we came up with a simple and attractive modal.
During implementation we kept following things in our mind:
- The icons for the home page cards. Their resemblance with the text.
- Eye catchy and easy to understand captions
- Links the card will redirect people to (currently FAQs page)
- GIFs should be contextual.
- Modal design should be such that the main focus should be on the GIF and not the modal itself. Also easy navigation between the slides was necessary.
To make this project successful, we had weekly meetings and discussions in the community channel to get everyone’s opinion. Designs were mocked up using Figma. I also had the chance to present my ideas before the Internet Archive’s product team. We used feedback from these meetings to review our previous decisions, our progress, and inform next steps.
- Alexa: The bounce rate is now reduced to 38.2%.
- Google Analytics: More than 5000 engagements with these cards.
- Infrastructure to continue building from which we can re-use in other situations.
- Doodles to bring more character to the homepage cards
- Include pop-up tutorials for more of the cards (other than just Reading Log + Lists)
- Ability to hide / show the carousel (for patrons who have already received the information)
I had a pretty good time working with experienced mentors Mek and Raymond Berger. They were very supportive during the entire program. Sometimes we spent our meeting time finding solutions to some problems together. Additionally, I learned more about project management and clarifying a plan by breaking issues into manageable steps. I got to spend time learning about new industry tools like Figma, which we used for presenting designs and Google Analytics for tracking key metrics. I also gained a deeper understanding of user experience. I learned to design by thinking as a patron of Open Library, what would she or he want? Will it be useful or easy to understand? I appreciated the flexibility of the Open Library Fellowship program, there was no pressure on me so that I could focus on my studies also. We tried to have clear next steps and homeworks at the end of each of our calls. The calls helped clarify what we were hoping to accomplish and provided direction and feedback. Finally, having the community available for regular feedback was really useful for tuning our designs.
About the OpenLibrary Fellowship Program
The Internet Archive’s Open Library Fellowship is a flexible, self-designed independent study which pairs volunteers with mentors to lead develop of a high impact feature for OpenLibrary.org. Most fellowship programs last one to two months and are flexible, according to the availability of contributors. We typically choose fellows based on their exemplary and active participation, conduct, and performance working within the Open Library community. The Open Library staff typically only accepts 1 or 2 fellows at a time to ensure participants receive plenty of support and mentor time. If you’re interested in volunteering as an Open Library Fellow and receiving mentorship, you can apply using this form or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.