Tech focus: Emerald sparkles in UX challenge

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Single sign-on provider OpenAthens announced the winner of its inaugural best publisher user experience (UX) award for 2020 earlier this year.

The identity and access management specialist chose Emerald Publishing and its Emerald Insight platform at its 2020 Access Lab conference which took place online in late March.

The publisher won the award after demonstrating how it has put the needs and experience of users at the heart of changes to digital services.

Emerald Publishing says it recognised a user-centred design was important to meet the needs of their users. The UK-based publisher founded in the UK in 1967 clearly demonstrated how it had worked to get closer to users to understand their needs and user journey. The organisation moved away from an existing vendor to directly manage its platform, employing a dedicated UX team to do this.

Speaking at the conference on the award, head of user experience at Emerald Publishing Damian Stewart, said: ‘It is a great honour to win this award and really validates that we are doing UX in the right way. It’s also recognition of the hard work that the team has put in to build a platform that makes the lives of researchers and readers easier.’

Emerald Insight’s design was praised for making research that benefits society easy to discover for the widest possible audience. Co-developed with 18 universities from around the world, the platform was described as invaluable for academics, librarians and students alike. Emerald’s communities tested and validated every design decision to make researchers’ and readers’ lives easier.

Judges highlighted Emerald’s simple search and enhanced filter together with crisp, clean UI and simple in-page navigation allowing users to move seamlessly between sections of articles and the various content types as stand-out features. It was also noted that the organisation is working towards latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.

Also taken into account as part of the tough selection process were plans for future development and a commitment to ongoing improvements, specifically the discoverability of content, development of the browse function and user behaviour analytics to give further insights.

Stewart continued: ‘We would like to give a special thanks to our network of librarians and end users who have continued to provide us with their time, allowing us to follow a user-centred approach, something that is really important to Emerald and what we do here.

‘I’d finally like to give thanks to our partners, particularly 67 Bricks, which has supported us in building this platform and will continue to support us moving forward.’

Marketing director of Emerald Publishing, Harriet Bell added: ‘We’re really honoured to win this Best Publisher User Experience Award, among other platforms of such high calibre.

‘Our mission is to make research accessible, digestible and enjoyable to discover and read. The experience we can offer users on the Emerald Insight platform is critical to achieving that. We've worked hard to try to get this right and it's a continual process as we learn and adapt to what users want.

‘The newly established award demonstrates OpenAthens’ ongoing commitment to the evolution of the information industry by providing simple access to knowledge for the benefit of all.’

Emerald Publishing’s ‘Emerald Insight’ was a shortlisted finalist alongside Bloomsbury Publishing’s ‘Bloomsbury Digital Resources’ and Cambridge University Press ‘Cambridge Core’.

Commenting on the awards, OpenAthens chief commercial officer Mike Brooksbank said: From everyone at OpenAthens we’d like to say a big congratulations to Emerald Publishing for winning this award, it is well deserved.

‘We’re thrilled to see how well received the Best Publisher User Experience Award has been in its first year and we look forward to continuing the award in the future.’

‘OpenAthens is committed to driving innovation in the information industry and to make access to knowledge as easy as possible for end users. With this award we hope to continue raising the awareness and importance of simplifying access to valuable digital resources.’

UX tips from the top

Vee Rogacheva, UX designer at OpenAthens, recently spoke to Research Information regarding user experience. She explained that, in scholarly publishing, UX is the interaction of learners, researchers, faculty staff and librarians with the ecosystem of tools and services they use to navigate to required digital resources and to achieve their goals.

She said: ‘Committed to empowering library users spanning a wide range of industries, OpenAthens plays a significant role in supporting institutions. Whether they are a PhD student, a hospital clinician or a research scientist, we provide quick, easy and secure access to online content for end-users from anywhere, at any time. The OpenAthens team works hard to ensure our products and services constitute a powerful tool which empowers both librarians and end-users.

‘Users’ expectations of their experiences have evolved rapidly and have been framed by the likes of Google, Facebook, Netflix and Amazon. They expect online tools and services to be simple and intuitive. These expectations have placed increasing pressure on publishers, libraries and academic institutions to bolster investment in digital services and improve the UX of their products. The focus is very much on users’ needs, rather than the technology itself.

‘The ecosystem and the overall student and researcher experience have to be the priorities, not the individual platforms or tools. RA21 and NISO are working towards that goal with the introduction of seamless access recommendations for both publishers and libraries. Their aim is to transform the industry and deliver safer and easier access to content. The most recent GDPR and accessibility regulations focus on protecting user rights, promoting inclusion and diversity, and advocating good UX design.

‘The sector will benefit from improved user experience. However, publishers and institutions will seemingly be the parties shouldering the cost, in terms of redesigning content platforms which embrace new technology and different ways of working. Larger publishers and well-funded institutions may not view this as a major disruption, but smaller institutions and independent publishers might struggle to prioritise the changes needed to deliver a seamless journey to content to end-users, and remain competitive.

‘In 2018, we conducted research into the challenges faced by the modern librarian in which 99 per cent of respondents reported an increase in demand for remote access to library resources among students and researchers. This has evidently driven educational institutions to place increasing emphasis on improving the student and researcher experience, leading to the better use of the rapidly advancing tools and technology.

‘This provides seamless access to valuable digital resources, as well as to analyse resource usage and student/researcher engagement. Increased focus on user experience within scholarly publishing might also inadvertently accelerate the process of redefining the value of education, in line with the changing ways of working in both academic and professional settings.’