It would be great to design an outrageously fun layout for our digital pages, but the reality is that researchers need to find the information they are looking for in a simple, quick, concise and reliable way. Getting too fancy can make the page layout too confusing for patrons wanting information instantly at a click. The digital collection website is a collection of scanned items: photos, scanned journal texts, handwritten letters and notes, drawings, sculptures and buttons, that enhances researchers in their studies. The pages, called boutiques, contain links to these collections; these pages are comprised of mostly images. The point of this blog is to highlight some of the ways that have been attempted to streamline the pages over revisions to make them easier to navigate.

The collections are hosted on CONTENTdm servers. Originally, the goal was to design all the boutique pages within CONTENTdm, but for deep customization this was impossible and instead, boutiques were created with Adobe Dreamweaver, then uploaded onto the local server with embed CONTENTdm links within the pages. This allows relatively quick page changes without jumping through too many hoops to get it done. Several “home” page layouts were bandied about, but the final one was very basic and plain, and was released into the wild in late 2009. The idea was to at least get something presentable up on the servers for researchers to use.

Several revisions came after the first, and by April 2010, a more defined, cleaner and clearer layout started to emerge. The page was now separated vertically into two parts, splitting the digital collection’s description on the left and the featured collections on the right. The drop-down menu was directly below the banner, with the “Search all collections” to the right.

Additionally, the boutique pages were designed to be unique from each collection and consequently, each had their own theme.

While this was a wonderful idea at the time, there really was no consistency between the pages other than that banner at the top and the copyright at the bottom. The “wow” factor began slowly losing out to consistency, and a more unified approach was considered. Both lib.iastate.edu and the main iastate.edu page were looked at for inspiration; since the digital collection consisted primarily of images, it was decided that iastate.edu seemed the best layout on which to base future revisions.

At the time, this was lib.iastate.edu.

The page for iastate.edu seemed to provide a better model for the image-based collection.

By late in 2010, all the collections were easily identifiable on the left, while the thumbnails were smaller on the far right.  The site looked cleaner and functioned much better.

Further, this allowed the boutique pages to become more unified under the umbrella of the digital collections pages, because all the boutique pages had the identical drop-down menu on the left, with the collection information on the right.

On the boutique pages, enabled hover links allowed researchers to click instantly to specific points of interest on each collection (i.e. finding aid, direct link to CONTENTdm collection). The links initially appeared black unless you hovered over them:

It was inevitable that the iastate.edu would be upgrading, and fortunately when it did happen, the webmaster for the site allowed the public to go along the beta journey with them. It seemed like the perfect storm for the digital collections webpages. The lib.iastate.edu was also in the process of updating their site, but again, the iastate.edu layout held more appeal because of the visual emphasis on the page.

As it was, many changes were afoot in the background of digital collections, including a slight URL change, going from home.html to a more professional digital.html. In this revision, the highlighted collections became large dynamic images covering two thirds of the page and dissolved into the next image after a certain interval to engage the site visitor. By changing the font color, emphasis was placed on various parts of the page deemed important to researchers.

With this new implementation, which included use of HTML5 and css3 features, many older browsers were no longer able to view the pages. However, since CONTENTdm itself is image heavy, the conclusion was that only the more recent browsers would work reliably anyway. A note was placed on the front about this to draw visitors attention to this. [As an aside: there are around 15 browsers this site is tested on, including various Macs and PC (both XP and Windows 7) browsers, iPad, Kindle Fire and iPhone and Android cellphones. Although, cellphones are hardly worth using.] In addition, all the boutiques were again redesigned and upgraded and streamlined so that every page was fairly identical to the last. This allowed for a more consistent and aesthetically pleasing site.

Links on boutique pages are now distinguished by changing the font to cardinal to add emphasis. The drop-down menu itself also got a much needed update. For instance, hovering over the names in the menu gives researchers a clue as to the person’s significance:

While hovering over collection titles, such as “CYbrary: ISU Digital Archives”, the drop-down menu slides down to expose links that take patrons directly to boutiques [such as  Sketch (a literary magazine)] or, more likely, to the collection’s CONTENTdm page, bypassing the collection page completely:

Furthermore, within some boutique pages which share images with others, hovering over the images gives credits, as in the case of Iowa Connection’s boutique page:

It is these little things that help define the goals of the digital collection webpages. As the webpages continue to evolve, and more collections are added to the site, expect more changes coming. There are always new ways to engage researchers and yet give an overall pleasant experience. The pages are, after all, designed to be easily accessible and to allow researchers to quickly find the materials they seek.

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