Interaction Design | Research


With libraries transforming into the digital era and patrons reminiscing the experience of wandering among the physical stacks, can we imagine something more engaging and exploratory to inspire and nurture serendipity in digital environments?


Thesis Capstone


14 weeks
(Jan - May 2017)


  • User Research
  • Market Research
  • Interaction Design
  • Visual Design
  • Front-end Development


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How do libraries stay relevant in the digital age?

In contrast to online search engines, what is essential to the library experience is the kind of exploration that offers something beyond what the user is looking for. Effective discovery should not only provide precise target, but also help user to stay aware of adjacent areas of interest or potential unknown research, and to provide unsought resources that would satisfy their needs.

My Paths of Exploration throughout the Project

Discovery is one of the core value for libraries. However, with the transformation of physical spaces and the increasing amount of resources only available in the digital format, the need of having a sophisticated digital browsing environment in library systems is greater than ever.

On the other side, library patrons are also reminiscing the experience of wandering around the shelves, stumbling upon that perfect book for them, which is still largely missing from current discovery tools.


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Project Timeline

ExplorationDigging Deeper into Discovery Services

At the beginning of the project, my foremost goal was to explore the space broadly trying to identify design opportunities or directions that could have most impact and would be most appropriate for the capstone.

Some preliminary design proposals were made based on findings from

Early Proposals

Early exploration coupled with my own interests and beliefs in the future of library led to the insight that discovery goes beyond just search. Serendipity has a significant role for discoveries in multiple areas, and library should spend more efforts on supporting users uncovering needs that are even unknown to them.

The last proposal of looking into the interplay between browsing and serendipitous discovery therefore became my sole focus going into next phase after considering the potential of each proposals.

Problem FramingDesigning for Serendipitous Discoveries Online

Early research has shown that serendipity and browsing are essentially two sides of the same coin. My goal at this stage was to understand how serendipity can be manifested under different situations, especially in a digital environment. In order to do so, following researches were conducted.

Affinity Diagram of Researches on Serendipity

After creating an affinity diagram of findings from past researches on serendipitous discoveries and user sessions, it was clear that we can not engineer serendipity, but there are certainly ways of facilitating its happening.

Directions to Design for Serendipity

In addition to deconstructing experiences of serendipitous discovery, I’ve also identified some areas where it plays a significant role. Among them, leisure reading with a focus on book discovery online was decided to be the direction going into the next phase due to the inevitable trend of discovery largely happening online, and accessibility of conducting further user researches.

Areas where Serendipity is Significant

Serendipity in Book Discoveries

So how are people discovering something new to read? What kind of platform do they use? What are some behaviors they exhibited and methods that were frequently used?

Turned out, avid readers in general prefer browsing when discovering new books but are largely unsatisfied with the experience of browsing online with the following pain points.

Pain Points of Browsing Online

IdeationDesigning for Serendipitous Discoveries Online

What are some unique characteristics and experience of browsing physical shelves? How do we compare those to the ones that take place at some digital environment people have grown used to and based their expectation of user experience on? Moreover, the problem of browsing shelves in a digital environment is not new to the library community. What were some approaches that has been adopted, and how do we improve beyond them?

As of ideation, I started out with brainstorming different components that may contribute to a system achieving said goals, and then mixed and matched those components to explore alternative results.

Prototyping & EvaluationBuilding an Intuitive & Engaging Digital Browsing Experience

Design Directions for VirtualShelf

Due to the nature of the user experience being largely about moving through pieces in the system, and that, as researches has shown, was contingent on the performance of certain micro-interactions and motion design, the final prototype was created with HTML/CSS/ JavaScript to achieve the fidelity I need for testing and presenting the concept.

The design went through multiple rounds of iterations and evaluations with the mockups and interactive prototype respectively. Below is a breakdown of these iterations and evaluations.


Future Directions

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Incorporating More Physical Characteristics

In reality, the information one can get from interacting with a physical copy is abundant. From its title, size to even aesthetics, texture, or how worn out it is, each entail something about the book from a different perspective. It’s a shame and lost of opportunities that these tangible cues which play significant roles in physical browsing is lost in a digital environment.

Alternatives of Presenting Exploration


More Effective Social Rating System

Research has shown that people largely rely on social recommendation when discovering new books. However, today’s rating system is too arbitrary and not effective. A four-star rating between different people or even the same person under different situations entail different meaning. On the other hand, a lot of times, what readers are looking for is certain emotional effect they can get from a book, and that has been largely missing from most rating mechanisms too.

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