Announcing the new Copac interface and design…

A tremendous amount has been going on behind the scenes of Copac for quite a period of time now.  Like everyone across the sector we’re working at what feels like full tilt  —  tackling multiple projects, and figuring out as a team how to juggle and prioritise it all.  We’re undertaking quite a few JISC innovations projects, including the work with developing a shared service prototype for a recommender API based on aggregated circulation data, a considerable amount of effort is being invested in the Copac Collections Management project, we’ve been collaborating with our colleagues across the office on Linked Data research and development, working closely with the Discovery initiative, and our developers (namely Ashley Sanders) have just about cracked the new database design and algorithms that will address some of the major duplication issues we are currently challenged with as a national aggregator of bibliographic records.

Image of the Copac websiteIn order to understand and meet the needs of our current user-base (800,000 search sessions per month, and counting) we’ve also been conducting market research in the form of surveys, focus groups and interviews with our users and stakeholders. We’ve amassed a lot of knowledge about how Copac is used, its benefit to academics and librarians, the features most valued in the interface, and what we could be doing better (deduplication! Ebook records and access!) We still have a way to go to meet all these needs, and as a service with a ‘perpetual beta ethos,’ committed to innovation, we know we’ll never be ‘done’ with this work.

But the launch of the new interface and design today is a very significant milestone, and one we want to mark.  These changes are the product of a great deal of committed work to the principles of market research and user-centred design. Thanks to the efforts of Mimas web developers Leigh Morris and Shiraz Anwar, the new application interface positively reflects the real world user-journeys of Copac users, and has been rigorously tested to ensure it’s in line with those needs. The new graphic design has been developed to communicate the value proposition of Copac as a JISC service representing Research Libraries, and also as a tool to Research Libraries.  Mimas’ new graphic designer has done an excellent job of transforming a site that was out of date, (‘lacked depth’ and ‘cold’ I believe are words used) into something more engaging, reflecting the breadth and richness of the libraries that make up Copac.  Certainly, beyond providing an excellent resource discovery experience for end users (and this is why the simplicity and ease of use of the search and personalisation tools are our primary focus) it is important for us to communicate on behalf of JISC that Copac is a community-driven initiative, made possible by its contributors and representative bodies like RLUK. We hope that the new elements of the website represent this community feel, giving Copac a bit more of an engaging voice than perhaps we’ve previously had.

A big vote of thanks to my fantastic Copac and Mimas colleagues, and particularly those who have worked quite a few late nights and weekends lately: Shirley Cousins, Ashley Sanders, Leigh Morris, Lisa Jeskins, and Beth Ruddock. Thanks to Shiraz Anwar for his work earlier in this project in ensuring every detail of the interface design reflected user needs. Thanks also to Janine Rigby and Lisa Charnock from the Mimas Marketing team for the market research work, and working with us to identify the value proposition and identity of Copac, and to Ben Perry for translating that so swiftly into a design we all instantly agreed on.

Spotlight on the team behind the new Copac website and design: interface design

Creating the new Copac interface.

As you might be aware the Copac team have been hard at work transforming the Copac service. We have been busy re-engineering the database and creating a new user interface and website. A couple of weeks ago my colleague Beth and I went to chat to our user experience (UX) designers Shiraz Anwar and Leigh Morris.

How did the process start?

We asked Shiraz, “Where on earth do you begin when you’re tasked with a project to redesign a web interface”? The answer? You start with the user! His first question to the Copac team was “What information have you got on your users?” Shiraz wanted to see all of the information we had on Copac users, along with our strategic aims and objectives. He also wanted to work closely with the rest of the Copac team, so they were involved from a very early stage.

To create a new interface they needed strong and current information about users, and they had to work out if there were any gaps in our current information. They asked Copac team member Ashley Sanders to plug some of these gaps with further analysis of site data and Copac Coordinator Shirley Cousins sent out a questionnaire to our users.

This enabled Shiraz to identify and prioritise our user groups, setting in place a foundation for more informed decision making following a user-centred design process. This helped the team prioritise resources towards creating a usable, sustainable and scalable Copac.

A strong message from the user feedback is that ‘Copac saves time and is easy to use’, and our designers were very aware of the need to increase functionality but still keep it simple to use. A challenge, but one that they relished!

Shiraz’s post-it notes of the key messages.

Research on search

Leigh began work on looking for comparators to Copac and analysed what they were doing, what they were doing well and what we could learn from them. He looked at navigation, functionality and learnability of the comparator sites and also did heuristic evaluation and cognitive walkthroughs. Leigh felt that the usability studies that Lorraine Patterson from Edinburgh University did were invaluable to their work on the design.  (She was involved in a JISC project: and performed usability studies on five digital libraries.)

Leigh and Shiraz also did a lot of designing around the tasks that users perform on Copac, to get them as streamlined as possible. Leigh researched user search behaviour and found these resources really useful in informing his design work:


The next step was paper prototyping , a quick and low-tech way of testing the interface. It was easy to show the different elements on a page but it was also easy and quick to change them. They found using Balsamiq: to be really helpful for creating prototypes and wireframes.

Leigh’s low fidelity prototype – results screen

They then began work on the HTML prototype, using a flexible grid approach which they will be able to adapt to different devices. The team were inspired by the work they’d been doing on the Mobile Mimas project. As research shows that most of Copac’s use currently comes through desktop access (though the Mobile Mimas work suggests that this may change in the future), the prototyping so far has been concentrated on the desktop version. Mobile and tablet versions will be part of a phased release: this project won’t end with the launch of the new interface, and future developments will be driven by user needs.

User testing – test early and often!

Although the HTML prototype wasn’t actually attached to the database,it enabled them to start user testing.

They tested the site with University of Manchester academics. It was individual one-to-one testing, using the ‘talk aloud’ protocol, where the user narrates their actions and thoughts. They had to tell Leigh and Shiraz three positives and three negatives about the site, plus what features they would like to see. The results from this testing reinforced the messages from earlier research (new Copac still saves time and is easy to use!)and Leigh and Shiraz felt that the prototype satisfied project expectations and validated their investment in the initial research stage.

User Interface design is an iterative process so they have repeated and repeated testing and design –going from a paper prototype to html prototype to a low fidelity prototype based on the actual database. This time it meant that testers could do real world searches and answered the question – does the new interface actually work with the data?

Thankfully, the answer was ‘yes!’ and they were able to release the design for wider testing. An Alpha version of copac was launched at the 2011CILIP Umbrella conference. Overall, the feedback was positive and was useful in identifying bugs which they were then able to resolve.

Feedback from the Alpha release was used to inform the development of the Beta, including the new feature of listing the holding libraries on the brief results page. This was a major change and something that users had long been keen to see.

They also added the login functionality so that users could try out ‘Search History’ and ‘My References’.  Again, the feedback from the Beta release was very positive and most negative responses mentioned colours, fonts, and text. Shiraz and Leigh were pleased with the feedback because they knew they’d been working on a service that users trusted and they didn’t want to destroy that trust. Leigh quoted Steve Krug  and said “you don’t want to deplete the reservoir of goodwill of your users”. (

What next?

The feedback from the Alpha and Beta releases will allow Leigh and Shiraz to plan more structured user testing in future. They and the Copac team are committed to continually improving the service and, from a user centred design point of view, more testing can only be a good thing!

The new Copac interface will be made public next month. We’d love to hear your feedback, so please contact if you have any questions or comments about the interface.

(Our beta interface can be find here: