Website Navigation + Tiny Café

We conducted usability tests on a proposed website navigational system to decide if it was good enough to launch in March, 2019. Tests showed the new system, with a few tweaks, was ready.


By 2018, the Libraries’ website had a navigational system that had become outdated; see Find, Get Help, Services, etc. in the website header in figure 1 below. The User Experience department worked with stakeholders throughout the Libraries to create a new navigational system that fit our new content and services; see figures 2 and 3 below.

Our old website header with a red background, white logo, and navigational headings that read "Find", "Get Help", "Services", "Libraries", and "About"
Figure 1 - Our old website header
A website header with a white background, a red and black logo, and navigational options that read "Find & Borrow", "Study & Learn", "Research & Teaching", "Media & Making", "Data & Visualization", and "About"
Figure 2 - Our proposed new website header
The same website header as in Figure 2, with the "Find & Borrow" navigational option expanded into a dropdown menu with navigational links grouped under the headings "Search", "Find", "Borrow & Request", and "Help"
Figure 3 - Our proposed new website header with the dropdown menu for one of the primary navigation options, "Find & Borrow" expanded.

In March, 2019, we planned to change two other aspects our website header: our name from "NCSU Libraries" to "NC State University Libraries" and our logo.

Research Question

Was the proposed navigational system usable enough to launch in March, 2019, at the same time as the name and logo changes?

What We Found

We had 8 usability test questions. The Tiny Café method got us 15 participants, each of whom answered about 3 questions, leading to 41 short usability tests. We are throwing out the results from 6 of those short usability tests because 1 of our questions was too confusing (see “‘text mining’ problem” below). Of the 35 remaining tests, participants went quickly to the intended target 26 times, a 74% success rate.  

The success rate for half our questions was 4/5 or 5/5.

One of the least successful questions was “Imagine you are doing research for an English class. Find information about meeting with a librarian to help you with your research.” We expected them to find “Request a Research Consultation” under the primary heading “Study & Learn,” but 3 of 5 participants instead went to the primary heading “Research & Teaching.” This is understandable. This led to change #1 below.

“Text mining” problem: We meant for this prompt -- “Find information about text mining for an assignment your professor has given you” -- to lead participants to “Text & Data Mining” under the primary heading “Data & Visualization.” It confused 4 of the 5 participants we showed it to. They thought they needed to understand what text mining is or how to do it. They tried fruitless paths such as searching for articles on text mining and trying to find course reserves.

Some participants revealed themselves to be searchers, not navigators. When we asked them to use navigational headings to browse to relevant content, they first looked for and asked for ways to search. 

Changes Made after Usability Testing

  1. We added “Request a Research Consultation” and other relevant options under the secondary “Help” headings within several primary headings. Some duplication of items across primary headings is OK. We understand that not all users will know exactly what we mean by the words in our primary headings, and we should increase their chances of success when they pick a primary heading we did not expect.

  2. We added "Workshops" as a secondary heading under both "Media & Making" and "Data & Visualization."

  3. We launched the new website navigational system (and the name and logo changes) in March, 2019.


How We Did It

We held a Tiny Café in the lobby of the D. H. Hill Jr. Library in February, 2019. We showed participants a version of our Libraries’ website with nothing but the new proposed navigational headings -- Find & Borrow, Study & Learn, etc (see figures 2 and 3 below). We instructed participants to use the navigation and not to try other methods such as Google searching or searching with other tools.

We had 8 usability test prompts, e.g., “reserve a group study room at the D. H. Hill Jr. Library.” The Tiny Café brought in 15 participants who each answered about 3 questions, leading to 41 short usability tests.