ACRL/NY UX discussion on Dark Patterns

ACRL/NY User Experience discussion group “Dark Patterns”

Tuesday November 10, 2015- 5:00pm-6:30pm

CUNY Graduate Center, Mina Rees Library


Attendees: Mark Aaron Polger, co-chair (CSI, CUNY), Lily Sacharow (Berkeley College), Chanitra Bishop (Hunter College, CUNY), Phoebe Stein (SVA)

Regrets: Albert Tablante, co-chair


Dark Patterns are when web designers purposely create user interfaces to confuse the user.  According to, they are “user interfaces that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.”


In the broadest sense, are our libraries designed to create confusing experiences? Are our libraries unintentionally designed like mazes for our users? Are we creating “Dark Patterns” unintentionally on our web sites and in our physical spaces?


Web Sites: Front page, Docutek e-reserves, LibGuides


Confusing, too much text, too much content, too many menus, overwhelming

Articles tab has “A-Z list of databases”, “Databases by subject”, Discovery layer

Librarians provide too much info

Must be selected and curated

Some libraries have a User Experience Committee, comes out of the Web Site committee. Sometimes, comes out of Access Services Committee.

User Experience should extend beyond web sites. UX even extends to building layout, entrance, furniture design, placement of reference desk, placement of staircase, stacks, etc


Docutek- e-reserves is confusing

Too many clicks



Confusing, buried, inconsistent design

LibGuides- subject specific of class specific

Can students find them?


Usability Testing:


May help prevent unintentional Dark Patterns

Testing should be done once per year

Observational, task based activities

Have Silverback usability testing software (v.3)

Read the task- ask library users to explain the process

Take digital video for playback using Quicktime or Camtasia (for analysis)

How many subjects? 5-10 people?

10-25 minutes

Try different user groups

Observe users’ behavior

Classroom testing may be effective


Web Site Re-Design


Librarian or Designer or Outsourced to Company?

Should be Library-Centric design

Librarians should collaborate and be part of the design process

Committee responsible for developing design, function, and hierarchy

Web Committee- students and systems staff in addition to librarians to help reduce web site navigational confusion


Content Management System or HTML web pages


Symphony or Drupal or WordPress, or HTML static pages

Building Design- Dark Patterns

Confusing array of staircases, entrances, elevators, directional signage

Not a branded building, Infrastructure restrictions, architecture features as limitations to access


Physical Spaces: building space, service design, directional signage, entrance, exit, staircase


Track users’ walking patterns

Circulation and Reference Desk? What floor are they located ?

Collection Spaces- confusing, library services without a collection

Reference, circulating/non circulating, film, oversize, main stacks

Directional Signage- should address confusion

Berkeley College Manhattan- e-Library (computer lab model), and Study Center (traditional library with physical books)

Hunter College- 9 floors, entrance is not on the 1st floor


Mission of the Library: Identity Crisis, Decreasing Reference Collection

With a decreasing reference collection, should it be integrated with the main circulating collection to reduce confusion

Are libraries confusing? Do they look like computer labs or school cafeterias?

Are librarians and libraries confusing our users by providing too many services, too much information?

Social space, study space, collection space, meeting space, technology space, are we having an identity crisis?

Librarians’ roles are confusing. Are we I.T. technicians? What are we?

Reference desk – should it be replaced with an I.T. help desk? Should reference desk be hidden and I.T. help desk more visible?

Libraries associated with books and Info/Learning Commons associated with computers


Library Computers: software, hardware expectations, open vs. locked down

Should library computers match software/hardware as regular computer labs

Open computers versus locked computers

Student HelpDesk phone at reference desk may reduce confusion if they cannot login to computers.

Reset password stations versus going to I.T. helpdesk to reset password

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