Researching Usability

Posts Tagged ‘Scran

Scran Background

Scran is a multimedia digital library providing a database of items from museums, galleries, archives and media across Scotland. It provides limited access to users for free. Those who pay a fee to subscribe can have full access to all services including the social network, Scribble.


Resource discovery

Scran provide another search feature in addition to the advanced search called ‘Fielded’ search. This appears to be similar to the advanced search but it is not made clear to the user what the purpose of this search is and how it differs from advanced search.  This does not meet Heuristic 2: Match between the system and the real world which recommends that words and phrases should be used that are familiar to the user. In addition, the links within both search forms that start a new search are not clearly identifiable. The design of the ‘Go’ link means that it does not look like a link and could be overlooked (see image). The close proximity of a ‘Clear’ link could cause users to accidentally wipe their search and force them to start again. The design of the forms are not forgiving for the user as highlighted by ISO heuristics and do not prevent potential errors from happening as recommended in Heuristic 5.Scran design


Scran also does not use faceted navigation, instead providing paginated results which users can navigate. This alternative system does not allow users to manipulate the results in the same way as other navigation systems, limiting user control (Heuristic 3). Scran does allow users to re-order results and increase the number of results presented per page. This helps to speed up time on task and therefore meets the ISO heuristics which recommend controllability and customisation.

Presentation of search results

The results are displayed in a ‘gallery’ presentation style with thumbnail images and text displayed in a grid formation. Where images are not available a replacement graphic is provided to categorise the type of information e.g. pathfinder pack. Unlike WDL and Europeana, Scran does not provide users with the option to change the view of results from gallery for list. Instead, drop-down menus are provided to allow users to alter the order of results. However, these options are hidden beneath a link titled ‘Search options’ and could therefore benefit from being more visible. Providing this service means that it meets Heuristic 3: User Control and Freedom but does not meet ISO heuristic which asks if it is clear what the user should do next.

Presentation of results in a gallery format can speed up time spent searching but DLs should be weary of a possible disadvantage to this system; the hierarchy of results is less clear, meaning that users may be unsure which results are most relevant. This can potentially conflict with Heuristic 2 (Match between the system and the real world) if the information does not appear in a logical order. Where possible users should be given to choice to display results by list if they wish.

Help and guidance

The help section within Scran can only be located via the Site map when a user is not logged in. Even for members who are logged in, the help section is difficult to find. This makes it harder for users to get help when they need it. This does not meet Heuristic 10: Help documentation which states that help information should be easy to search.  However, if a user does locate the help section, Scran provides useful video tutorials which communicate information in an engaging way and reduce the size of help documentation as also suggested by Heuristic 10.

When a search returns no results, Scran provide sufficient help for users to complete their task. Suggested spelling is provided as well as advice and tips on recovering from an error (see image). As a result, Scran provide a forgiving dialogue (ISO heuristic) which is successful in helping users diagnose and recover from errors (Heuristic 10).Scran tips

Interactive tools

Scran provide a ‘Create’ link next to each image which allows users to interact with images in a unique way. Users can manipulate the image to create a variety of media such as calendars, posters or greeting cards. A step-by-step form allows the users to step through the each option and customise their design (as recommended in Heuristic 3). Creations can then be saved to the site or downloaded in a PDF format. Providing such interactive tools helps to engage the users and allows users to customise information to suit their needs as recommended by the ISO heuristic on individualism.

Social Interaction

The online community service provided by Scran is called Scribble. It is not immediately recognisable from the title what Scribble is and there is very little information for users  to explain Scribble and how it benefits users. Limited information on labels and services means that Scribble does not meet Heuristic 4: Consistency and standards.

Access to Scribble requires a separate password to that used to log in to Scran. It currently uses the login details from ‘Stuff’ which is the service for creating calendars etc.  A link is provided to allow users to do register for Stuff if they have not already done so. However, if a user is already registered and logged into My Stuff, they are still required to log in again for Scribble. This is potentially confusing for users. By conforming to a minimalist design as recommended in Heuristic 8, a streamlined service would be created with one log in required for all Scran services.

Finally, if a user forgets their Scran ‘Stuff’ login a ‘Forgotten Password’ link is provided. However, when this is selected a message is returned that password changing has been disabled. No other information if provided to help users remember their user name and password. This makes it very difficult for those users to be able to log in to Scribble and does not meet Heuristic 9: Help users diagnose and recover from errors.

Personalisation and customisation

My Stuff is the users’ personal section of Scran and opens in a new window. This is potentially confusing for users, especially those using assisted technology such as screen readers. It can cause disorientation for those who are unaware that a new window has opened and prevent them from navigating back to the previous page. Limiting control for the users conflicts with Heuristic 3 (User control and freedom) and providing insufficient feedback to keep users informed of what is going on conflicts with Heuristic 1 (Visibility of system status).

When a user wants to save what they are working on in Scran, they must select the ‘Save’ link below the relevant item. However, when this happens a new window opens and if the user already has the Stuff section open in another window, nothing appears to happen. Users are not provided with sufficient feedback to indicate a change has happened so are less likely to know if their action was completed. Visibility of system status should be maintained to avoid confusion (Heuristic 1). It should also be made clear to users what they should do next (ISO standard: self descriptiveness).

On the whole, the  customisation tools provided by Scran are engaging and increase the usefulness of the material available.  Making some changes to improve the interface would ensure that the tools are intuitive to use and consequently encourage more members to utilise them. bookmarks

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