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Quick and <del>Dirty</del> Clean Usability: Rapid Prototyping with Bootstrap - Shaun Ellis

Quick and Dirty Clean Usability: Rapid Prototyping with Bootstrap

  • Shaun Ellis, Princeton University Libraries,

code4lib 2012, Thursday 9 February 2012, 11:20-11:40

"The code itself is unimportant; a project is only as useful as people actually find it." - Linus Torvalds [1]

Usability has been a buzzword for some time now, but what is the process for making the the transition toward a better user experience, and hence, better designed library sites? I will discuss the one facet of the process my team is using to redesign the Finding Aids site for Princeton University Libraries (still in development). The approach involves the use of rapid prototyping, with Bootstrap [2], to make sure we are on track with what users and stakeholders expect up front, and throughout the development process.

Because Bootstrap allows for early and iterative user feedback, it is more effective than the historic Photoshop mockups/wireframe technique. The Photoshop approach allows stakeholders to test the look, but not the feel -- and often leaves developers scratching their heads. Being a CSS/HTML/Javascript grid-based framework, Bootstrap makes it easy for anyone with a bit of HTML/CSS chops to quickly build slick, interactive prototypes right in the browser -- tangible solutions which can be shared, evaluated, revised, and followed by all stakeholders (see Minimum Viable Products [3]). Efficiency is multiplied because the customized prototypes can flow directly into production use, as is the goal with iterative development approaches, such as the Agile methodology.

While Bootstrap is not the only framework that offers grid-based layout, development is expedited and usability is enhanced by Bootstraps use of of "prefabbed" conventional UI patterns, clean typography, and lean Javascript for interactivity. Furthermore, out-of-the box Bootstrap comes in a fairly neutral palette, so focus remains on usability, and does not devolve into premature discussions of color or branding choices. Finally, using Less can be a powerful tool in conjunction with Bootstrap, but is not necessary. I will discuss the pros and cons, and offer examples for how to getting up and running with or without Less.