Jessica Keup, JSTOR

screenshot of Topicgraph prototype
screenshot of Topicgraph prototype


Monographs are increasingly making the print-to-digital shift that journals started twenty years ago, yet many of the popular platform options for accessing scholarly books simply mirror the existing discovery structure for journals: books are presented as a sequential list of “journal article”-sized chapter files for downloading, a practice that “journal”-izes the book and arguably fails to take full advantage of the rich long-form argument that unfolds across chapters.

JSTOR Labs, an experimental platform development group, convened at Columbia University a group of scholars, librarians, and publishers in October 2016. Together, they tackled this design question: if we applied data visualization and design thinking techniques to the existing corpus of digitized monograph files, how could we improve the discovery and user experience for scholars, students, and general readers? Over the course of two months, we conducted an ideation workshop with the scholars, librarians, and publishers; tested sketches of various ideas with more scholars to decide which concept to pursue; iteratively refined and tested alternate design ideas with increasing fidelity over time; wrote a whitepaper about our findings; and completed a working prototype during a “flash build” that aims to help users currently assess the relevance of books to their research and quickly navigate to the relevant parts.

This cross-/multi-/inter-/trans- disciplinary digital scholarship project presented many design challenges and opportunities. The bulk of the presentation will focus on the design principles and the lean, user-oriented product design processes used to carry one of the product ideas through from concept to working prototype. We will show how design activities and principles proved indispensable in the quick and lean creation of a useful, quality product. There will also be a demonstration of the Topicgraph prototype that was created in November.


Jessica Keup is a User Experience Prototyper on the JSTOR Labs team. The team experiments with new ways to present, explore, and discover scholarship and Jessica works to design, test, and implement the user interfaces they create. She formerly taught Human Computer Interaction and introductory programming at East Tennessee State University, and she moonlights as a pianist.