ANALYSIS & OPINION

Obstacles to authentication

Vee Rogacheva asks: is poor UX design becoming a barrier to content?

As a UX designer, much of my work with the team at OpenAthens focuses on placing the user at the centre of product and service development, bringing innovation to our identity and access management platform.

In a nutshell, positive user experience is when the user searches online, finds relevant content amongst the search results, clicks on a link and sources what I call the ‘golden’ content. It’s something that can and should happen in seconds.

I define ‘golden content’ as that which is of high academic quality and is easy to find. The design and functionality of the online platforms that host this content is critical to meeting the evolving needs of our digitally connected world.

If poor user experience becomes a barrier to accessing content, it really is bad news for everyone involved: users aren’t receiving the service they’re paying for; librarians struggle to justify investment in valuable resources; and publishers come under increasing pressure to provide open access to content.

For any online content platform, taking the time to fully appreciate users’ personal experiences of their service can be the key to success. However, it’s becoming apparent to me that online publishers are placing emphasis on the quality of the content to the detriment of accessibility for their users.

How are publishers working to improve the user journey?

From a UX perspective, there are a number of aspects I think should be considered to help deliver content seamlessly through an intuitive user-centred design. With more than 60 per cent of research now being carried out on mobile phones, it’s more important than ever to ensure publishing platforms are fully mobile optimised so content is easily found. For example, academic journals are often published in .pdf format and this makes for uncomfortable reading on a small screen.

As an initial step, usability testing to measure an online publisher’s capacity to deliver content to users could help these organisations understand which areas of the site are a challenge to navigate, the functionalities that are no longer needed or any accessibility issues.

Last year, OpenAthens launched Health Check, a review service led by experienced technical consultants. The service looks at the current single sign-on (SSO) set-up across an organisation to identify where digital resources can be simplified, ultimately aiming to enhance the user’s online journey.

The need for ‘simple’ access to content is something that comes up time and time again; modern user expectations dictate that the process must be quick and easy. Having to log in is often seen as a barrier to accessing content, with many people choosing not to invest the time and effort to establish their credentials and, instead, clicking the ‘back’ button to source another page in their search results list. Complex site navigation and unclear login buttons will also hinder the user experience.

Resource Access for the 21st Century (RA21) is a joint STM and NISO initiative that aims to make federated identity simpler and more standardised for the user. It’s a voluntary code that will allow providers to remember where users are from whilst still preserving their privacy, removing the need to keep re-entering credentials and facilitating a seamless experience that is intuitive and consistent.

OpenAthens has also been able to address some of these barriers to content through the introduction of the Redirector and Wayfinder products.

Redirector provides one-step access to subscription and other paid-for content by seamlessly requesting credentials when users are off-network and directly serving the content when they are in IP range. Redirector eases the burden of link management for librarians and provides a seamless experience for users, who are increasingly demanding off-site and mobile access.

Wayfinder simplifies the usual ‘Where Are You From’ (WAYF) steps for users, who no longer need to specify which access management federation they belong to. A combination of pre-fill technology and geolocation information quickly identifies the institutions a user might be from, minimising effort and, again, simplifying the user journey.

In summary

While many publishers place the quality of content at the heart of their services, I hope I’ve been able to explain how important it is that user experience is prioritised. Organisations need to be aware of the impact that a poor experience can have; usability is something that can make or break a publishing platform.

It’s exciting to see how technology is playing an ever-increasing role and is continuing to steer the publishing industry. By continuing to regularly review and examine user journey and user experience across publishing platforms, we can help ensure that a solution-based approach continues to drive technological advances in the publishing space for the benefit of everyone.

Vee Rogacheva is a UX designer at OpenAthens

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