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Elsevier's ScienceDirect Announces Redesigned Interface
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Posted On May 30, 2006
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Elsevier's ScienceDirect (http://www.sciencedirect.com) announced that it is making significant enhancements to its Web interface over the course of the next 2 years, with Phase 1 of the redesign to be launched in August 2006. ScienceDirect, one of the leading science, technical, and medical (STM) resources available, claims it provides 25 percent of the world's full-text STM content. It will be providing easier and faster access with improved navigation, quicker searches, and personalization. Interface changes will facilitate access to content and make the user experience more efficient. Library and information centers will also see increased space for branding placement. Navigation in ScienceDirect will be streamlined to reduce the number of clicks required to get to the most commonly performed tasks. Central to this goal is a revamping of the home page to allow quick searches, browsing, and personalization upon entry.

The goal of the redesign is to increase researcher productivity with task-oriented features. To this end, ScienceDirect conducted extensive user testing including the use of observation labs to analyze researchers' interactions with interface prototypes. Andrew Davis, a longtime corporate researcher in the pharmaceutical industry, spoke of his experience in the observation lab as an opportunity for demonstrating how a fresh user without training on the new interface would conduct research. Davis, who has used ScienceDirect since its launch 7 years ago, described the changes as a much-needed facelift with a significant reduction in click-throughs. Echoing researchers' concerns about any product redesign, Davis used the opportunity to obtain reassurance that the core functionality, such as Boolean and proximity searching, would remain untouched.

The user data the company collected is in addition to that leveraged through Elsevier's experience with the creation and ultimate launch of Scopus in 2004. Amanda Spiteri, ScienceDirect's director of marketing, summarized the scope of the redesign by stating, "ScienceDirect is trying to take advantage of the best in class of Web technology," which will eventually include improved alert setups with RSS feeds. In describing the end results of the extensive user study, Spiteri continued: "The information display will have a user task-driven focus. If we focus on the task, the main result will be a more intuitive interface."

Christian Downton, senior consultant at Wood Mackenzie and another participant in the usability testing, commented: "I think it's quite intuitive and gives you all of the options that you might want."

The existing Quick Search, currently a one-box field available on all pages, is enhanced to include search terms in specific fields, author names, publication titles, and articles within a specified date range. Enhancing this feature will facilitate frequent user tasks, such as finding new articles in a familiar subject field, finding author-related information, getting an overview of a new subject field, and finding a specific article.

Improved personalization is another key feature of the redesign. In addition to accessing personal settings from the home page, users will be able to store and access recent tasks and add their own favorite quick links. Preset task links are also available and should prove quite useful considering the extent of user behavior analyses that went behind their creation.

In describing the look of the new design, Spiteri stated, "It's about calming things down and showing the most commonly used options such as searching for journals." Spiteri anticipates that the redesign will be well-received, referencing the success of Google with its simplistic home page with links to additional search options and information instead of overcrowding that critical first page. "It's a generic phenomenon whether it's STM or gaming," Spiteri continued. "It's about obtaining space to correspond with how users use information." Demonstrating insight into her understanding of ScienceDirect's user-base of serious searchers, Spiteri acknowledged that the new look may be less exciting visually but that it will be much more functional.

ScienceDirect offers more than 2,000 journal titles with a strong emphasis on its full-text article collection, which numbers more than 7 million. It also offers a growing number of reference works and 12 abstract databases covering the fields of biomedicine, physical sciences, earth sciences, and social and behavioral science. In total, ScienceDirect covers 24 fields in science, technology, and medicine.

Making science more accessible with technology is not new to ScienceDirect. Its collection already provides access to journals across publishers through CrossRef, supports federated searching, works with journal link resolvers, and fully links its online reference books to full-text journals. Defining features include saved search alerts and RSS feeds of its newsletter SDConnect and the SD Titles Alert to advise of new, discontinued, and changed content coverage.

Attendees of the American Library Association conference in New Orleans (June 24-27) will get a look at a live prototype; the global launch of the new interface is scheduled for mid-August. Phase 2 is scheduled for release early in 2007 and will incorporate feedback from the earlier rollout. Questions and training opportunities can be directed to account managers and account development managers, and new user guides are being created to incorporate the new revisions to the Web site. More information is available at http://info.sciencedirect.com.


Laura McBride Felter is an independent information consultant based in Washington state. She is a columnist for Searcher and is writing a review of DialogLink 5.0 for an upcoming Better Mousetrap column.

Email Laura McBride Felter
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