Design Critique: Brooklyn Public Library – Immigrant Services

Brooklyn Public Library’s Immigrant Services page provides access to the library’s resources including social workers, legal aid, and printable documents. The homepage uses graphics, text in 21 languages, and paths to and from related pages throughout BPL’s website. BPL’s institutional pride is providing comprehensive community services and universal accessibility. The opportunity to utilize “radical innovation” (p. 281) in its public-facing technologies is not entirely matched to its rate of social innovation.

This critique will evaluate the Immigrant Services page through four selected attributes of Human-Centered-Design: discoverability, signifiers, feedback, and empathy.

Discoverability begins with the centrally located language drop-down menu. This feature affords access to services to most users quickly and easily. The welcome banner is an effective approach to empathetic design, recognizing the intimidating traits of Immigration Services departments. However, the translations would be more accessible as a top navigation bar or hyperlinked through the “Welcome!” image at the top of the page. This change would eliminate the need to for users to be familiar with the Google Translate icon or the English term “languages.” The use of English in the languages drop-down menu headings inhibits access and puts the burden of discovery on the user. Using english words as a signifier for alternative language affordances is unsuccessful and should be exchanged for headings listed in each language’s own words like the bottom of the side navigation bar (see image below). This oversight illustrates Norman’s point that a “lack of attention to customer needs in even simple things is often symptomatic of larger issues” (p. 163). To act empathetically is to consider the immense vulnerability of immigrants at this time and avoid any possible assumption of this issue.

Because of the broad scope of users and the confusing nature of government documents, signifiers must be explicit. Here signifiers include icons, images, and the universal underlined blue text of a hyperlink. Signifiers should be activity-centered, based less on institutional aesthetic standards and more on the simplification of bureaucratic processes. Designing for positive visceral reactions means adding welcome materials, easily accessible contact information, and a less formal site structure. Page headers like “Arts & Culture: World Language and Family Programs” should not be similar in color to the hyperlinks. This is creates a false signifier and confusion. Cultural differences and the inaccuracy of Google Translate complicate this further. The current design affords human error and is therefore bad. Designers should consider that “the idea that the person did something wrong is deeply entrenched in our society” (p. 66). The “Resources Guides” section houses a key function for the site that potentially proves more vital than “Books, movies and more” and should be positioned directly below the calendar. This builds a hierarchy of priority information. The Resources Guide has clearly labeled service categories with succinct descriptions that serve users of multiple languages and varying levels of literacy. This move also creates a natural mapping between Events like “Citizenship Class” and related resources.

Signifiers should work in tandem with feedback to comfortably lead users to the resources available to them. As Norman says, slips occur most often due to a distracted mind (p. 206). Feedback should match the industry standard of 0.1 seconds (p. 206) to ensure that users in high activity areas or experiencing increased emotions have the best possible experience. Interruptions in busy areas like public libraries require affirmation of actions and explicit directions. Errors are increasingly likely because of the sensitive nature of user needs (p. 163, 198). For this reason undo tools, checklists, and confirmation/error messages should be available for any registration or completion of applications. Undo capabilities to such actions provides comfort on the reflective level of evaluation. Signifiers should be clarified through the recommendations above and stock images should be chosen that relate more directly to the resources in each section. In the case of signifier-failure and feedback-failure due to system limitations physical constraints should be applied to prevent incorrect registration or submission of incomplete documents. Creating welcoming features is as essential as creating forgiving features specifically on translated pages (p. 171). Positive psychology should be incorporated into all feedback including affirmations, positive redirections, and avoidance of harsh language in added error messages of which there are currently none.