Research Results: Two Usability Tests Improve Virgo GIS

  • User Experience Project ID: UX-236, Geoblacklight User Research and Design
  • Purpose: Assess usability and clarity of the GIS Virgo (Geoblacklight) interface, redesign, test again
  • Stakeholders: U.Va. Library Geoblacklight project team and Virgo GIS users

First test comparing two interface designs

    • Test dates: 9/18-9/25/15
    • Test participants:
      • 2 GIS professionals
      • 4 students taking GIS classes
    • Methodology: In-person, individual testing on existing interface. Users were asked to complete a broad range of tasks relating to searching for,
      Wireframe redesign of GIS Virgo

      fig. 1: Wireframe redesign of GIS Virgo

      downloading, and emailing datasets. The user was left to decide to search with keywords in the search box or by zooming in on the map to narrow search results. Other tasks included identifying dataset attributes and layers, and using facets and search history. A new wireframe design was then shown (fig. 1) and feedback requested.

Summary of findings

  • Branding (UVA or Library) matters. “GeoBlacklight” meant nothing to testers and was not associated with Virgo or U.Va. Library. Testers want to understand scope/holdings of the database they’re searching.
  • Make it clear how to use the bounding box to search the map. 5/6 (all students) did not find the bounding box feature on their own.
  • Subject facet was used often but not successfully due to spotty metadata.

fig. 2: Virgo GIS with tutorial modal

Interim outcome: The interface was redesigned with a tutorial modal (fig. 2) and U.Va. branding. Facets were eliminated.

Second test, post-launch

  • Test dates: 2/23-2/25/16
  • Test participants:
    • 2 expert staff (Office of the Architect; Facilities Management)
    • 1 graduate student expert (Landscape Architecture)
    • 1 beginner graduate student (American Studies)
  • Methodology: In-person, individual testing after soft launch (Virgo GIS portal linked
    New Virgo GIS

    fig. 3: Virgo GIS

    into Virgo navigation header). The users were tested on navigation, search, download, and understanding of terminology. Tasks targeted map searching more so than previous test. See fig. 3.

Summary of findings

  • All 4 testers found the newest interface easy to use.
  • 3 out of 4 testers correctly used History, Saved Searches, and the tutorial modals.
  • The beginner tester was initially confused by some features but grasped concepts quickly.
  • Final observations on this interface:
    • “Easy to use. A lot of good data.”
    • “Straightforward. Impressed. Happy to see this. Will tell others to use.”
    • “Nice. Has everything I would want. Best GIS portal that I have used. Incredible. Impressed. Great job. Love it.”
    • “Nice, open, interesting, more tools and data than expected. Very cool, easy to use.”

Project status: Virgo GIS had a soft launch in January 2016 and a phase two is planned to implement more features. Based on the post-launch testing, the recommendation was made to create a Help page with definitions, explanation of features, and anomalies in data and presentation.

Project Files: and

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