Design Principles of Help Systems for Digital Libraries

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In this paper we present and discuss a set of principles for the design of help systems for digital libraries. Previously a user study (Xie and Cool, 2009) was performed by two of the authors in order to identify a number of Help Seeking Situations encountered by novice users of digital libraries. In this paper we continue that work as we examine those help-seeking situations and, based on them, propose a set of principles and guidelines for the design of help systems for digital libraries. Some of the design principles discussed here may have been proposed by other researchers or may have been used in previous user-interfaces but the contribution of this paper is that it validates and connects the design principles with specific help-seeking situations encountered by users observed and categorized in our user study. Further user studies of other digital libraries as well as user interfaces that implement the proposed principles may provide evidence that could be used to modify and refine the design principles

INTRODUCTION

The problem addressed by this project is that help-seeking situations are not well understood and at the same time, the design of help functionalities has proceeded without the benefit of such knowledge. The consequence is that the standard help features present on most digital library systems, are often not very effective (Xie, 2006; Xie & Cool, 2009) and particularly not helpful for novices.

The first steps of the project were to identify the types of problems novice digital library users experience for which they require help and to better understand the nature of these help-seeking situations. We conducted a user study (Xie & Cool, 2009) in order to identify the Help Seeking Situations (HSSs) encountered by novice users of digital libraries (see section "The User Study"). In this paper we examine the HSSs identified in the study (op. cit.) and propose a set of principles and guidelines for the design of help systems for a digital library (DL) that are intended to address those specific HSSs. Some of the design principles that we discuss here have been proposed also by other researchers or used in previous user-interfaces. What this paper does is to validate and connect those principles with specific help-seeking situations encountered by users observed and categorized in our user study.

In order to design a usable help system it is necessary to understand what lead users to use help. The user study that we conducted (op. cit.) identifies the kinds of situation that cause users to consult an online help system. The same study also illustrates the cases in which users failed to find the help information they needed. Understanding of users' Help Seeking Situations allows the designer to put effort and resources in the areas that will result in the highest pay-off for users.

In our user study we identify 15 Help Seeking Situations (HSSs). The HSSs and the corresponding user interface features are listed below (see Table 1). For each situation in the list of HSS, the design features that would be relevant are listed.

PREVIOUS WORK

Previous research has evaluated a variety of help features in different types of Information Retrieval (IR) systems. Our approach is to study users first, in order to understand the help-seeking situations that give rise to help-seeking interactions and then, based on those situations, propose a set of design principles and guidelines to build online support systems.

Several collections of design guidelines and principles for the design of user interfaces have been proposed. For example, Shneiderman offers a list of principles in his book (Shneiderman, 1997). Other examples are the MITRE design guidelines (Smith & Mosier, 1986) and similar documents from Apple (Apple Inc., 2009), Microsoft (Microsoft n.d.), and Yahoo (Yahoo !,2010). The latter is an example of a growing trend to publish user interface design patters, in this case for web pages. …