Interface design matters. More and more, usability and user-focus are central themes in website design manuals such as Krug’s Dont Make Me Think, King’s Designing the Digital Experience, and Goto and Cotler’s Web Redesign 2.0: Workflow that Works. These successful popular works rely on a lot of serious user testing of the Jakob Nielsen variety, which tracks eye movement and identifies typical scanning patterns and optimal designs based on them.
If you have wondered why, then, the interfaces at WestlaweCarswell and Lexis-Nexis QL are so difficult to use, Julie Jones of Cornell has the answer for you. Her recent paper in the AALL’s Law Library Journal, Not Just Key Numbers and Keywords Anymore: How User Interface Design Affects Legal Research is an analysis of the (US) interfaces for LexisNexis and Westlaw legal research tools. She identifies the ways that these publishers guide users to certain types of searching and certain classes of databases, typically keyword searching of large databases of primary materials, rather than offering them what the experts know they need, which is early access to secondary materials, tables of contents, self-evident cues (using graphic design conventions), and “information scent.”
It would be great to know more about the use patterns of legal researchers in a variety of databases (both free and paid), to compare their success with a variety of user interfaces, but no legal publisher currently offers statistics to their customers in a standard manner that allows for comparison, such as COUNTER.
The need for innovation in the provision of legal research resources is again much in evidence.