The Lifestory of JSTOR Labs' Website

The Lifestory of JSTOR Labs' Website

I am Jane Mengtian Zhang, an intern at JSTOR Labs in Ann Arbor for the summer of 2015. As a web developer and UX designer, I have been working on the new JSTOR Labs website and have witnessed the site gradually coming into form. In about three months’ time, the site was designed, developed, and continuously revised to provide a smooth, unique, and responsive user experience. Here, I would like to share the building process of the website, as well as my own internship experience at JSTOR Labs.

The new JSTOR Labs website aims to convey the fact that JSTOR Labs is an innovative and forward-thinking team. Based on the initial ideas and modular designs for the site, my first step was to implement the Pattern Library, which served as a style guide and reference tool throughout the development process. Working with Kate, our visual designer, we envisioned the initial outline and interactive elements of the site. With the help of Jessica, my mentor, as well as the JSTOR UX team, we conducted coffee shop guerrilla user tests (a quick informal way of user testing with on-the-spot recruiting) with paper prototypes, as well as an online 5-second test, which allowed us to see the opportunities and issues with the current design both in terms of usability and branding effects.

coding and design, going hand-in-hand

The feedback from this round of user testing led to the first build of the website. Using Django CMS, I worked on models, views and templates to construct, store, and present website data. The CMS provided a user-friendly front-end content management interface, while also allowing customized design and creation. Combining the usage of HTML5, CSS, and JQuery, as well as third-party plugins such as Foundation, MixItUp, AddThis, and Google Analytics, I crafted the user interface and realize the pre-designed interactions step-by-step, gradually bringing our visions of the site to life.

design alternatives of module interactions

After deploying a working version of the site, we carried out another round of user testing on the University of Michigan campus. By letting users freely explore the site and then asking them to complete a series of tasks, we were able to see if the website was easy to learn and to use within a short amount of time. I also took part in user interviews with librarians and publishers, which granted us valuable feedback on the content and structure of the website.

The final step of developing the site involved lots of fine-tuning work on overall consistency, accessibility, and cross-platform compatibility. We nearly pulled our hair out positioning and balancing the site’s layout and debating over content presentation on every single page, striving to find the best design solutions through our iterations of experimenting and revising. With the new Labs site soon coming out, it is my hope that the values and visions of JSTOR Labs can be communicated to our users through an enjoyable browsing experience.

While spending most of my time doodling, coding, and debugging the Labs site, I was able to explore other JSTOR Labs projects as a member of the team, such as brainstorming designs for the Understanding Shakespeare API, guerrilla testing for the JSTOR Sustainability site with cupcake incentives, interviews with researchers and teachers, and so on. As a student specializing in library and information science, I especially enjoyed the interviews with librarians and publishers, which granted me a deeper understanding of the existing issues and concerns in online research and learning. The lively conversations and debates around these issues, which take place almost every day in JSTOR Labs, opened my mind to new ways of thinking in both UX and digital librarianship. This learning experience, both rich and diverse in nature, is sure to be valuable for years to come.

At the end of my internship, I would like to express my thanks to the JSTOR Labs team, with whom I have spent one of the greatest summers ever. I hope you enjoyed exploring this site, and stay tuned in with JSTOR Labs’ projects in the future, for their magic is real. :)