I write this blogpost at a crucial point in the Spacefinder project. We have a user interface that has been tested and is working (let’s just agree to forget about that dodgy bitly link at the English Faculty roadshow!) and contains an initial dataset comprising spaces in 4 libraries as well as many of Cambridge’s coffee shops and bars. The next stage relies on librarians across Cambridge to firstly agree to having their library spaces become part of the Spacefinder pilot, and secondly to describe these spaces in such a way that they can be fed in to the system consistently. Thanks are due to all of those librarians who have already agreed. I will be in touch again soon with full details of how we need to receive your space data. We recognise that you are the very best people to describe and record the features of your own spaces, but also that you will be very shortly gearing up for the new academic year. However, we estimate that it will take you no more than half an hour, probably a lot less to do this for us. And help is at hand should you get stuck.

New logo and roadshows

Last Thursday we held the second Spacefinder roadshow and unveiled the new Spacefinder logo for the first time. It ties in with the Futurelib logo and is meant to suggest navigation and direction. Expect to see a lot more of this on posters and other materials as we gear up towards the launch of the pilot in the first week of October.

The new Spacefinder logo

The new Spacefinder logo

We hope that those that attended the roadshow found it a useful experience and now understand why we are pursuing this project. For those that couldn’t attend there were an awful lot of sticky notes and presentations from most of the project team (no free riders in this outfit!).


Two of the project team (Amy and Tom) sorting sticky notes about activities in library spaces during the roadshow.

Tom presents to a full house

Tom presents to a full house

Thank you to Tom Sykes, Emma Etteridge, Amy Theobald, Rose Giles and Georgina Cronin for giving their time to Spacedfinder and for presenting so well. The slides are now available via SlideShare below.

Designing Spacefinder

Part of the roadshow saw Paul-Jervis Heath focus on the design of the Spacefinder user interface (UI) and I thought it would be valuable to hand over to him in this blogpost to describe the design process he and his colleagues chose. Over to Paul…

Paul presenting on the design process at the roadshow

Paul presenting on the design process at the roadshow

When we started to design Spacefinder we focused on two facts:

1. there is an abundance of different types of spaces where people can work
2. there is almost infinite variety in people’s preferences for places to work

People will chose different spaces based on their preferences and the study activity they have to complete. They might chose somewhere deathly silent for revision but they might prefer somewhere with background noise when they’re reading. We set out to create a user interface (UI) that allowed people to easily match their preferences to the right space.

We wanted to keep the UI simple and fast so that students could find a space, work out how to get there and then get to work. It was a natural decision to create a capsule interface: an interface designed to fit on a single screen. Our objective with Spacefinder is to encourage people to select different options until they find the perfect work space.

Technically, the design is achieved using a web coding technique know as responsive web design. That means the site adapts to the size of the screen it is being viewed on.

Spacefinder mockups.002

On a larger screen the user interface is made up of three panels: search, list and map all visible at once. Selecting a pin on the map gives you a call out and selecting a space causes a fourth panel to slide up from the bottom of the screen.

On a mobile screen, we were never going to be able to show more than one panel at a time so the 3 panels become 2 views: a map or a list. The search becomes an overlay that slides in from the left. The space panel slides up from the bottom. Animating the panels is just a little detail but it helps the user understand where they are in Spacefinder, particularly on a mobile device. The effect is to give the interface depth. More importantly it makes it feel fast to search; a student can quickly look at a few spaces and find one perfect for their needs.

Spacefinder mockups.001

Map view, list view and search panel

Search was a real focus area for our design process. The search panel has been particularly carefully designed. The co-design activities with students and librarians gave us a real insight into the factors that were important in choosing a space to work. They also gave us insight into the language people used to describe spaces. We incorporated both insights to design an intuitive faceted search that allows people to filter spaces based on the type of work they want to complete, the atmosphere, the noise levels and the facilities.

Atmosphere was very important to many students. The terms we’ve used were taken from words they used to describe spaces even if they were slightly subjective. Noise levels were also considered significant. They consider some activities to be silent activities but for some activities background noise is an aid to concentration. Students want to work together or discuss solutions to the problems they are set.

Students told us photos helped them to choose spaces. The space panel features an image carousel so that students can see the space, the desks, the views before they choose to go and work there.

Spacefinder mockups.002

Space panel with photo carousel

For the visual design of Spacefinder we adopted the University colour palette and made it feel part of the same family by using the same pared back visual elements and giving the information room to breathe. We adopted the University’s palette of rich, quite regal colours, selecting teal as the primary colour and supporting it with accents of cyan, and purple with 5%, 9% and 100% black.

Through just four panels the user interface facilitates a infinite variety of different searches and enables people to express precise preferences. Time has been spent carefully crafting a user interface that appears simple and feels fast.

Whatever happened to WhoHas?

Andy here again. I just wanted to finish this blog update by saying that for those of you wondering what has come out of the WhoHas sub-lending project, a full report will be made available on this blog soon and we hope to follow-up on the findings through various routes in due course. As you will have heard, or may have read previously on this blog, the WhoHas pilot was a failure in terms of actual sub-lending transactions taking place, but what we have learned from student diaries that recorded their study experiences during the project and the final exit interviews has been extremely illuminating making the project a very worthwhile endeavour.

More on all things Futurelib, including news on some brand new and exciting projects on which we will be embarking in the new 2015-16 academic year, very soon.

Hope you all had a great summer!