Volume 11 Number 11
Designing for Success
In this issue of D-Lib Magazine, you will find articles, and conference and workshop reports that discuss new digital library technologies and services emerging from recent research and development. How many of these new technologies and services will become widely used in digital libraries? Why will some of them become ubiquitous while others disappear? I suspect that, to some extent (at least for those technologies in which end users are directly involved), the difference may hinge on how much time was spent on usability design before and during the development of these tools and services.
What factors determine the uptake of new technology? There are many, certainly, but a few come immediately to mind. How much time must be spent learning how to use a new tool or service versus how much time will be saved using it? In the case of a digital device, has it been designed with ergonomics in mind? For example: how heavy is it to carry, how hard is it to read the screen, or are the function keys easy to see and manipulate? When it comes to using an online service, what amount of privacy and security, if any, must the user relinquish in order to take advantage of the service? Will the device or service be affordable to a great enough number of users to make it worthwhile to manufacture or maintain? Will automating a process require a tradeoff in the quality of results? If so, is the tradeoff worth it?
There is a parallel in the application development world where understandability and "usability" of the underlying libraries and specifications are key to the uptake and success of those applications. Just as end users need to understand what is in front of them in order to use it, so too do developers need to understand the how and why of the new technologies before they can integrate them into their development environments. Especially in distributed environments, simplicity and ease of adoption tend to yield sizable application dividends.
At the current pace of life and work in digital libraries, few things are as welcome as new, affordable, easy to use, and secure technologies and services, and it is apparent that more developers are taking usability into account in the early stages of their projects. Time spent considering users' needs early in the development phase of digital tools and services, and designing them accordingly, surely enhance the probability of their long-term success.
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