Participating in Search Design: Users as Designers

The AHRC-funded project ‘Participating in Search Design: a study of George Thomason’s newsbooks’ is a collaboration between the Humanities Research Institute and the departments of History, English and Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield. The principal aim of the project is to investigate and understand how search is used within humanities research methodology and to apply this knowledge in the design of better search interfaces for online resources, which genuinely meet the needs of the research community. We are exploring the use of a Participatory Design approach in developing search tools, which will ensure that potential end users are actively engaged at every stage of the technical design process as creative agents rather than reactive consultants. Our test dataset is a sample of the Thomason tracts, currently only available as facsimiles through Early English Books Online.

Participatory design does not have a set method. By its very nature, it involves tailoring the approach specifically to the subject matter, the types of users involved and the expected outcomes. We have gathered five participants to take part in Design Groups, all academics at varying career stages and from different disciplinary backgrounds. By the end of the project, they will have attended four physical meetings and also remotely discussed HRI prototypes and issues raised pre and post group meetings on a purpose-built community forum run by Ning.

We will explain how we went about the Design Groups; the outcomes and lessons from each session and how these fed into evolving our approach at each stage. We will also discuss the mediation process between the Design Group and HRI technical developers to translate their ideas into practice – a crucial, but little researched, aspect of Participatory Design.

The paper will also briefly recap the key findings from our initial survey and focus groups and explore what we have learned from interviews with content providers and initial testing of the Design stage on a pilot group at the National Library of Wales.