Assessing the User Experience on Gale Products

3 min read

|By Heather Hedden |

As senior vocabulary editor, I’ve worked on editing the Gale Subject thesaurus since we’ve had a web interface for our databases in the late 1990s, and there have been so many changes since then. The web user interface of Gale database products is key to making the research databases usable and satisfying to our library patron customers. We have a dedicated user experience team, which researches user behavior, workflows, and needs to better inform interface design.

Recently, I spoke to a colleague on our user experience team, Senior User Experience Specialist Kyle Stewart, to learn more about the process of assessing user experience:

Our user experience research typically begins with observation and interviews. Researchers observe students, instructors, and librarians in their natural environment, learning more about the context of library database usage. Better understanding these behaviors and context allow us to design solutions that fit into the researcher’s workflow more seamlessly.

Persona Development
After observation, we conduct story mapping and develop personas based on those interviews—we may develop as many as 30 personas! We classify those personas into primary, secondary, and tertiary personas. We consider how the persona does research step-by-step and what we need to do to support those persona’s tasks. Prioritizing our design and development work around the primary persona keeps us laser-focused on their user experience.

We then bring this information into the design phase—creating wireframes, mockups, and prototypes. Conducting user research early in the project leads to more confidence in our decision-making process during the design and development phases. Our initial round of wireframes and mockups typically present more features than intended. These prototypes are brought before test-users who are asked questions intended to elicit feedback about initial impressions, intuitiveness, and look and feel.

Features have been promoted based on user experience research. Supporting integrations with services like Google Drive has made a significant positive impact on users, especially those in K-12 classrooms. As a result, we have made the option to save an article to Google Drive more prominent in the interface. We’ve also been making significant upgrades aimed at improving the user experience for users with disabilities.

We have also learned that parts of older, more traditional library interfaces no longer work with today’s student user. Google shapes the modern search experience and traditional database interfaces require a level of information literacy that Google doesn’t teach.

Gale bridges this gap in information literacy skills by focusing on curating information around popular topics. The use of metadata and controlled vocabulary is important for providing such curated search results, and this is what I work on.

About the Author

Heather Hedden is a senior vocabulary editor at Gale, where she edits the subject thesaurus and other metadata for the indexing and retrieval of Gale research database content and develops discipline taxonomies for educational products. Heather is currently a member of the board of the American Society for Indexing, is author of The Accidental Taxonomist (Information Today Inc., 2010, 2016), and blogs at



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