User Research Insights

The recommendations for the Seamless Access experiences are informed by best practice research as well as multiple usability studies, interviews and surveys of representative users.   

The goal of this research was

  1. to understand the source of frustration and challenges users encounter when they are presented with barriers to access full content in the midst of their research process and

  2. to test different solutions for removing and minimizing those challenges and provide an informed optimum user experience and recommendations.

User Needs and Frustrations 

Remote Access.  A majority of researchers do not have a good understanding of how remote scholarly content access works. Users expressed a desire for an easy remote access solution to scholarly information:

This is always a tricky thing to do, to be able to get access to online journals when you are off campus which I commonly do.”

“We have monthly study groups and they are off campus.”

“Very applicable to me and very glad that people are continuing to work on providing these features.”

Access tasks disrupt research workflow.  Users express frustration when they are interrupted in their research flow and are forced to shift their attention to figuring out how to get access to full text.  The number of steps required to complete the process (often 6 or more clicks) and the uncertainty of the outcome is off-putting to many users, leading them to abandon the attempt.  Even users who understand federated access and are motivated to complete the process, still often experience a lot of difficulty getting access. 

It never works 100% of the time, sometimes the system just doesn’t work.” 

“A number of times when I click on the institutional logins, there are a number of options, I think Shibboleth is one where not every institution is listed there. So, although that is the most intuitive button on a website, typically when I click on it, I find that my institution is not listed among those with that option. Typically, the best option for me is login through my institution externally and then go back to the article link and just click PDF.”

Key Insights and Findings

Using a consistent visual cue reduces friction and cognitive load.

User testing showed that users start recognizing the pattern (text, button, icon) as a primary call to action quickly. Users expect the familiar button to have the same functionality from site to site. This reduces the demands on users’ memory, removes hesitations and allows users to remain in their flow.

User testing also showed that none of the users had a strong feeling about the color of the button. They have stronger feelings about the location of the button and their ability to get access.

“I actually read what the words say. I am not too concerned about the color. I would say if it was a consistent color, it would make no difference to me across journals because I think I would still read what the button is telling me to do.”

“I do like something that helps it [the call to action] stand out, doesn't matter if it's the same or different colors or if there are even colors. The words help, the icon helps, color helps but what it comes down to its just the ability to access it through the university subscription.”

In the same vein, adding a previously selected institution name to the call to action, increased users’ understanding and trust of the button. 

Placement, grouping and hierarchy of access options are essential for recognition.

Users took >20 seconds longer to locate the “Access through your institution” button when they had to scroll down to find it and when it was separated from other access options.

A/B testing revealed that users were 4 times more likely to choose the wrong access option when all access choices are presented as equivalent.

Placement, or the location of the primary call to action, is the most important factor for recognition.

User testing showed that when the primary call to action is placed in the initial page view and (1) on the top right of the page or (2) between the title of the article and the abstract, users are able to easily and quickly spot it and both placements have similar effectiveness.  However, when the primary call to action is placed lower on the page, it is significantly less effective.

Offering access options on an overlay or page layer is not desirable.

Some sites place their access options in an overlay or separate page that is presented when the user clicks on a pdf, full text or Log in link.  Users expressed that they prefer to see the institutional access options directly on the page, as opposed to presented in this way.  

“It encourages you to know you can access the article as you have an institution to log in to. Also, some people will be looking for that option immediately and it makes it easier to find.”

“Seeing the access button on the page “cuts out a step and it tells me that I automatically have to be logged into my school account or have an offline account so that I don’t waste time trying to view the article when it only gives me the abstract.”

“Say you are a new student and you didn't know that you could login through your institution on that website. It will help them recognize that they have that option to access full text, oh I can do that!”

User research also showed that, presenting access options in a layer added 25 seconds to the average task time over presenting options directly on the page.  While successfully identifying the correct access option in a layer is high (88%), the median total task time from landing on the abstract page to clicking on the primary call to action was 48 seconds (33 seconds for identifying the initial call to action and 16 seconds for selecting “Access through your institution”). 

A PDF icon or label distracts users from other access options.

When a PDF icon or label is present, a majority of users do not explore alternative calls to action on the page.  In testing, users were annoyed with the experience when they were presented with a PDF icon but did not actually have access to the PDF, particularly if they are presented with a no access error message.

“It was confusing since it showed PDF link even though I didn’t have access yet. The last two templates were more intuitive because the [PDF] links didn’t appear until I was signed in.”

Entering institution name is preferred over entering institutional email address. 

For IdP discovery, users more strongly identified with entering an institution name than with email address or domain when searching for institution.

“I associate access with my institution. I don’t associate myself having the access individually. The relationship is with my institution, not me as an individual.”

“I have experience doing this elsewhere--I look for the institution name first, then I go to my university website to enter my email and password.”

Additional Research Data

User Research Summary Report


Click Test Research Report