Case Study 2- Redesigning the San Francisco Public Library

Abbe Fortune
4 min readOct 3, 2020

For this project, our team was tasked with redesigning the San Francisco Public Library. Over the course of a week, our team began analyzing the market space our client operates within in addition to the Information Architecture of the site using research techniques such as

  • Tree Testing
  • Open & Closed Card Sorting
  • Business Model Canvas
  • Competitive and Comparative Analyses
  • Heuristic Evaluation
  • Site Maps
  • User Flows

Through each of the processes we can begin to gather data on the current navigation of the site and propose a new primary navigation.

First we began by thinking about who the SFPL is and who is their target user?

The San Francisco Public Library is dedicated to free and equal access to information, knowledge, independent learning and the joys of reading for its diverse community.

From there, we were provided with a pre-existing persona from SFPL, that allowed us to learn more about their user, their goals, frustrations and pain points. This would allow us to ensure that we focused this first round of design on the users key pages on the site. For instance, one of Kelly’s frustrations was wishing she still

had time to wander around the stacks for hours.

With a general scope of who SFPL and their user is, we developed a problem space, hypothesis and assumptions based on the users current frustrations and what we would need to address in the proposed navigation.


We believe that creating a cohesive layout and categories between primary, secondary, and tertiary navigation pages for SFPL’s audience will allow users to find the information and resources they need.

To begin our research, we conducted a Heuristic Evaluation based on the current navigation using something in the industry called Abby’s Method. This includes evaluating the site based off ten industry based principles. You can see the results below:

During the research process, our team conducted open and closed card sorting with 5 participants to understand how our users group content and label each category.

Open Card Sorting

As you can see, our team saw users grouping the SFPL content under more vague category names such as “Books” and wanted their own section for Alternate Media. From there, we conducted Closed Card Sorting, to see if users would categorize the content similarly to the SFPL’s original page.

Closed Card Sorting

Through this research process, we saw some general themes occur such as “e” titles being grouped together, and pages with the word “resource” being grouped together despite content not being similar.

From these research processes, we created some key takeaways to keep in mind during our redesign for the project.

  • Reoccurring pages within multiple primary navigation pages
  • Secondary navigation of pop-up menu does not correlate with the extended secondary page once you click “See All”
  • Users grouped categories with more general labels such as “Help”, “General Info”, “Visit us”
  • A full secondary menu is only available once you leave the home page; inconsistent layouts between pages leads to the user becoming lost/confused
  • Users had trouble differentiating the purpose of the “Research & Learn” and “Support & Services Tab

From here, we revised our initial problem statement to ensure we address the most prevalent problems.

Libraries can serve as a wealth of knowledge and resources for their community, but if the online platform is not cohesive and comprehensible, users can become overwhelmed and disengage.
Kelley is an avid reader, and regular at the San Francisco Public Library. Due to her schedule, she prefers to find book suggestions and upcoming events online quickly, but is having a hard time navigating the site.
How might we restructure the site that assist new and loyal users while creating an experience that feels custom to them?

From there, based on our research, we began brainstorming on a proposed navigation and a layout that would assist new and old users. Once we decided a new layout and the new category names, we created a second round of closed card sorting to test our new navigation system. Using the data to inform our research, we decided to create the new primary navigation system as such:

  • General Info
  • Find a Library Book
  • Alternate Media
  • Calendar & Events
  • Research & Services

In addition, to solve one of the original problems for users, we decided to create the layout. that would allow all of the secondary and tertiary. navigation to appear as a pop up menu on the home page.

Closed Card Sorting

For instance, we combined Research & Learn with Support & Services to create Research & Services. As you can see from the results, we saw a drastic increase in success.

In addition, we conducted a second round of Tree Testing with the proposed navigation with the original three tasks for our user to complete. During this process, we saw a 50% increase in success after combining categories to create the “Research & Services”.

From there, we created a high-fidelity prototype of the proposed navigation and layout.