For Manc.hu I am responsible for the overal usability and interface design of the application. During the Qing dynasty of the old China, Manchu was the most important written and spoken language. The mission of Manc.hu is to place original Manchu sources at the fingertips of everyone with an interest in Qing autochthonous history, society and culture. Doing this online, with a system that is free, easy to use and ever improving is something new in the world of education and digital humanities.View this project on www.manc.hu
Manchu is the language of the last dynasty of China, the Qing (1636-1912). For many invalid reasons the world is to believe that the Manchus are Chinese. However, the Manchus - with their language and history - is an unique group of people. These people played a significant role in our world’s history during the last Chinese dynasty. Our aim is to give the Manchus their own place in our world heritage.
Manc.hu is the first platform in the world for researchers and learners of Manchu. Manc.hu’s aim is to make all facets of the Manchus visible and researchable. Their main motive for this is to prevent a nation - that is one of the largest land empires ever - from being erased from our collective memory. The online environment has shown to be the place to tell the Manchu story.
So how do you activate and support researchers and learners of an almost dead language? What do they need to learn the language and what do they need to research original materials?
In 2014 Manc.hu was founded by Fresco SAM-SIN and Léon RODENBURG. Because there was no funding for this (some call it crazy) project, they started this experiment in their own time. Fresco is responsible for the project management, Léon for the development and in 2015 they asked me to join their project. In Humanities it is very irregular to focus on usability and design, but especially for this project it is very important to empower and encourage students and researchers to study Manchu. And we see the good results!
Only a handful of people in the world study Manchu. Fresco - in his role as University teacher and doctoral candidate - has intensive contact with this community and is the connection to many of Manc.hu’s users across the world.
When we receive request from users or we have new ideas, I start brainstorming and sketching new (interface) solutions. Sometimes its neccessary to paper prototyping new interaction patterns. After sketching, wireframing and discussing the changes with Fresco and Léon I create the visual designs. When the changes are released, we monitor the usage closely.
I have worked on multiple aspects of this application. I here show the latest work I did for this project. In September ‘16 redesigned the website, optimized the login and sign up flow and changed the interaction and visual design of the reader search functionality and the reader itself.
At first there were two seperate environments; one logged out version (manc.hu) and one loggedin version (my.manc.hu). Next to that I optimized the login and sign up flow for users who enter the platform with a deeplink to a reader text. By changing this into one environment and by optimizing the login and sign up flows the amount of users increased by 15 users in 1 week - and that is a lot for this platform!
The platform’s success attracted the attention of the University’s expertise center for online learning, ECOLe. With their financial support we were able to improve the reader functionalities. In the old reader users weren’t able to filter on texts and we noticed that they didn’t use the search box efficiently. To understand what users are looking for in the reader I asked Fresco to come up with some complex user stories.
User stories (in Dutch):
- Als gebruiker ben ik niet op zoek naar tekst, maar naar objecten. Binnen de objecten wil ik alleen maar objecten uit de Qianlongperiode en binnen die collectie wil ik enkel objecten op steen.
- Als gebruiker ben ik op zoek naar teksten op koper uit de Kangxiperiode. Terwijl ik zoek wil ik er ook tekeningen op koper bij hebben.
- Als gebruiker ben ik op zoek naar Christelijke teksten geschreven door Verbiest. Terwijl ik zoek naar Verbiest, wil ik eigenlijk alle christelijke zendelingen selecteren.
These users stories made it possible to understand the type of queries a user should be able to make. Then I looked into the information architecture and distilled the type of content and the type of filters. After designing the search results, I looked into the filter mechanism. Does a user need to make multiple queries? Do we need to facilitate filtering or does the user need faceted navigation?
The result is a mix of both. Filtering within a filter (Period A and/or Period B) and between the filters a faceted navigation (Period A and/or B, only within the genre Historical Narrative). This interface design is the result:
The reader is the place where users study original documents. There are 4 main items in the reader: the orginal document, the transliteration, the dictionary and the annotations. In the previous version reader the screen was divided in four blocks, but we noticed it didn’t allow our users to get into an efficient workflow.
Example user story (in Dutch):
- Als gebruiker wil ik naar een keizerlijke robe kijken met een hele korte tekst erop. M'n Mantsjoe is goed, dus ik wil enkel de plaat bekijken en de annotaties die erbij geschreven zijn. Keizerlijke robes zijn mijn specialisme en ik zie dat ik iets aan kennis kan bijdragen. Ik zoek naar een knop waar ik direct een annotatie naar de curator kan sturen. Dat doe ik, en daarna wil ik uitloggen.
After researching other readers, I looked into the user stories and made a couple of quick paper prototypes. The end result is a reader that uses the horizontal scroll to make place for the elements the user needs the most. The users can select which panels they wants to see and they can organize the panels according to their preference. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback about this interaction design from our users.