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10/3/2014 11:14:56 PM
Taking the New Lexis Advance Interface for a Usability Test-Drive
Usability – “Extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use.” ISO 9241-11:1998
After spending some time this year assessing the usability of Westlaw Next and Lexis Advance for users of assistive technology, I had high hopes when Lexis rolled out its new, streamlined interface. I was excited to see what improved usability features would better serve the growing population
of legal researchers with disabilities.
To get a feel for the new interface, I fired up my MacBook with its pre-installed VoiceOver software
(a screen reader) and took the new Lexis Advance for a test-drive. The verdict: Lexis’ new interface introduces some exciting new usability features and enhancements. More importantly, this new release suggests that Lexis is thinking about usability when designing its new products. This is a good start, but more improvements are needed.
Don’t take my word for it! You can recreate my test-drive experience yourself, and draw your own conclusions. I captured my browsing experience here
and invite you to take a look. I’ve also included several more videos below, highlighting particular aspects of my experience.
Here are my impressions of the usability features of Lexis’ new release:
Perhaps the largest stride forward for this new iteration of Lexis Advance is the use of responsive web design principles. “Responsive web design” is an approach that allows “for an optimal viewing experience, but embed[s] standards-based technologies into. . .designs to make them not only more flexible, but more adaptive to the media that renders them.” Responsive Web Design. When used effectively, responsive web design can address some of the usability issues faced by those requiring assistive technology. Interactive Accessibility.
Today, most legal research databases do not employ responsive web design, so this feature of the new Lexis interface is very encouraging.
- Expanding/Contracting Box Layout
In the first iteration of Lexis Advance the rotating carousels were difficult and confusing to navigate with a screen reader. The new version improves navigation through the use of boxes that expand and contract. This is an improvement that saves time for users of assistive technology.
For those who have never browsed a website using a screen reader, you may be surprised to learn that most websites contain more information than what is displayed to the end user on the screen. One common example is navigational content, which allows those browsing with a keyboard (instead of a mouse) to move around a web page more easily, jumping to designated areas of the page. This can save the user time navigating through static content, like the menu bars which stay the same each time the user moves to a new section of the same website. Navigational content, known as “roles,” or “landmarks,” are not as common as one might expect, given how important they are to users of assistive technology. WAI-ARIA Overview.
On the first Lexis Advance interface landmarks were sparse. With the new interface there was a slight increase in the use of landmarks. Check out what it’s like getting to the main content of a results page using landmarks and headings.
Before landmarks were commonly used, many websites contained an invisible link near the top of the page called “skip navigation” This allows users to bypass content that repeats on each page, like the menu bars. PennState AccessAbility. Even with the advent of landmarks, skip navigation remains important. Users with mobility issues may be unable to access landmarks if they don’t have expensive and often unnecessary screen reading software. HTML5 Accessibility.
In the first Lexis Advance interface the skip navigation was only partially effective. It allowed a user to jump directly into the search bar but still required navigation through all the cumbersome content below the search bar. Regrettably, with the new interface, skip navigation has been removed completely. In this case, Lexis has gone from something imperfect to nothing. It’s unclear why the decision was made to remove skip navigation from the Lexis Advance site or if users can expect to see this feature restored.
An issue that affects all users is the inability to close the top menus using the escape key on the keyboard. Ideally, the escape key should “close the submenu and restore focus.” Stanford Online Accessibility Program. To a sighted user this is a minor irritation requiring one additional mouse click. However, when using assistive technology the inability to easily control a menu complicates the browsing experience by either requiring the user to go back up through the whole menu to close it, or to browse behind the open menu. Want to see what this looks like? Check out browsing the Lexis Advance Research Menu with a screen reader.
In the first iteration of Lexis Advance, the drop down menus under the search box presented a number of problems when using a screen reader and was challenging and time consuming to navigate. Unfortunately, the new filter option presents many of the same challenges the old drop down menus did. The order in which information is conveyed is confusing, users end up browsing content that is behind open menus, and once a checkbox is selected users are automatically returned to the top of the page. Check out browsing the new filters menu with a screen reader.
While there are still improvements to be made, several of the new Lexis features are a positive indicator, suggesting that usability is being given consideration as platforms evolve. Hopefully, more thoughtful interface design will continue to make research materials more accessible to users of assistive technology.
© AJ Blechner, 2014. Reference/Outreach Librarian, University of Miami Law Library, Coral Gables, Florida. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted By 10/3/2014 11:14:56 PM
11/5/2012 8:59:32 AM
A Simple Solution
In the interest of full disclosure and to give readers a sense of my perspective, I start with this: I have no disability that impacts my ability to freely engage in all of the resources and services of any libraries in which I have ever been. My curiosity in looking at academic law libraries and their policies, or lack thereof, for patrons with disabilities stemmed from my general desire to get involved with and be a proactive member of the academic law library in which I had just started working. I did not want to show initiative just to add to my resume (and, in future years, my multipage CV); I wanted to participate in my new career field in a useful and meaningful way. I was looking for a problem I could help fix or a gap I could help fill.
Posted By 11/5/2012 8:59:32 AM