Discovering the problem
The year was 2010. Our team gathered in a room in central London and watched through a one-way mirror as a chemist (let’s call him Thio) clicked around our new site. Thio was supposed to find his way to a chemistry article on Wiley Online Library, find the cool new features we were designing, and share his reactions with the User Researcher (let’s call her Ester) who was interviewing him.
This is a fairly typical exercise for Wiley’s User Experience (UX) team. We are responsible for understanding our customers’ needs, and ensuring that the digital products we design meet those needs. This means constantly talking with end users about the products we are designing.
We had several interviews with chemists set up that day and things were going great. That is, until Thio clicked directly to the PDF, bypassing the HTML version of the article and missing all the great new features we built. We weren’t prepared for that. And he wasn’t the only chemist to do this.
Ester asked each chemist to back up and explain why they chose the PDF, and after hearing their responses, we were left with a painful realization: they just didn’t like using the HTML version of the article. A look through our usage reports told the same story: given the choice, almost three out of four accesses to the article were to the PDF. This couldn’t be ignored.
So why bother with HTML?
The article is at the core of published science, and the PDF has long been a standard format for consuming, storing, and sorting articles. However, it’s not a technology that was built for delivery to the growing number of devices, platforms, and contexts in which research is consumed. As the needs of our customers change, publishers will rely on HTML as key to delivering research.
HTML allows for:
- Flexibility to optimize our content for new devices and channels, such as our iPad app
- Increased support by accessibility tools for users with disabilities or special needs
- Better metadata and structure, improving findability from search engines and indexing services
- Improved interlinking from articles to related content and commentary
- Enrichment of article content with videos, data, and interactive graphics
None of this will matter, of course, if the HTML experience is bad enough that nobody wants to use it.
And so our team started interviewing scientists around the world, trying to understand how to make the HTML article better. We designed and developed a prototype of the next generation HTML article, and showed it to members of many research communities. We watched over shoulders at a conference in Philadelphia, in co-working spaces in New York, via webcasts to Germany and Argentina, and in a lab in Beijing, until we were sure that we had built a usable, readable, enjoyable experience (to rival and replace the PDF).
Based on this research, next week we are delivering some exciting changes to our HTML article. The release of our Anywhere Article, an enhanced HTML version of articles, will deliver:
Improved readability. Content is now front-and-center, with distracting elements removed from the page. There is a strong focus on typography and layout, ensuring the page is as pleasurable and easy to read as the PDF.
Improved presentation of information. Figures are no longer small thumbnails, but core to the body of the article. Important metadata is now easier to find. We extensively tested our content to ensure that complex information is presented accurately and effectively.
New tools to navigate the page. A fixed article outline allows readers to jump to the most important parts of the article. References are available in a side panel, allowing users to read an inline citation and see the corresponding reference at the same time. Our new Figure Viewer gives users a “presentation mode,” allowing them to flip through and zoom in on large figures in the article.
Portability. We designed the article around the principles of responsive design, allowing for optimal presentation across many different screen sizes and devices. (Look out for a blog post next week on the responsive design of the Anywhere Article to find out more.)
Keeping the conversation going
Our team is constantly seeking ways to continuously improve Wiley’s products. With the forthcoming launch of the enhanced HTML article, we invite the community to send us your thoughts and ideas. You can share your feedback by:
- Clicking on the “Enhanced Article Feedback” button on the enhanced HTML article, or going directly to the User Voice page.
- Signing up to be contacted for future research studies by joining Wiley’s Research Panel