Industry Recognized Case Study Featured in the Sidebar newsletter (40,000 readers), on May 5, 2021.
Published on Medium Read over 450 times on Medium, published on the Bootcamp blog.
Class Project This was completed as part of the Udacity UX Design Nanodegree course, Amazon was not involved in any way.
Avid readers want a single library for all of their ebooks (including audiobooks). By providing an easy and exceptional e-reading experience, users will be loyal to Amazon Kindle. However, there are several areas of frustration — particularly with large ebook libraries, that are pushing avid readers to other platforms.
My research found that readers don’t organize their ebook libraries. Users with large libraries have difficulty remembering what is in their library — which results in them browsing their library, but this too is cumbersome. Research also found that users read multiple books concurrently, selecting a book based on their current mood. Readers preferred to read different genes depending on their current mood—the current genre also determined if a user wanted to see their current reading progress. The last finding was that some users want to have one shared library for their whole family, similar to Netflix or other digital media accounts.
DESIGN BRIEF Users with large libraries containing 100's-1000's of books need features that help them more easily browse and sort their large ebook libraries so they can better plan reading time and have a better awareness of what is currently in their collection.
GOAL Update the Amazon Kindle app to better support avid readers.
UX Pain Point 1 Browsing large libraries
UX Pain Point 2 Reading 2 or more books in parallel
UX Pain Point 3 Downloading large libraries
In 2019, 25% of Americans read an ebook (source). The largest online ebook discussion forum, MobileRead, has nearly 300,000 users. In one poll on MobileRead, 50.91% of respondents stated they had purchased more than 200 ebooks (source). Assuming there are 332 million people in the US and Amazon has a 61% share of the ebook market, I estimate there are approximately 25.8 million Kindle customers who have more than 200 ebooks in their collections. This is a sizable market Amazon has previously seen value in as they purchased the social book platform GoodReads, in 2013.
As a “power-user” eBook reader, I have experienced firsthand the frustrations with the available apps.
I wanted to learn about the digital reading habits of adult Kindle ebook readers with libraries of significant volume (100+ books) — particularly how they like to organize and browse their eBook collections and any pain points they have in these areas. The goal was to determine what opportunities and needs aren’t being met by the current Kindle app.
Below is the data I collected from interviewing 5 Kindle users with libraries of at least 200 ebooks on their needs, pain points, and how they use apps to read eBooks.
Content recall for large libraries is challenging
"I downloaded a lot of my books a long time ago. When I look, I don't remember what it's about. I remember that at one point in time, I thought it would be a good read, but I don't remember why."
[UX Pain Point 1]
Readers don’t organize books into folders
"I don't enjoy the experience, so I don't organize. I just search for everything."
[UX Pain Point 1]
2–4 books are read in parallel; selected by mood
"I usually read at least 2-3 books at a time. I like to switch back and forth between them."
[UX Pain Point 2]
Sharing ebook libraries with a spouse is difficult
"Some self-help book topics are things I may not be ready to share with others."
Readers want genre-specific controls
"I want to turn off progress indicators for fiction books because I don't like to know that there are only three pages left. I just want to focus on what is being presented to me on the page. It's about immersion. But I do want progress indicators turned on in textbooks."
- Add support for multiple active books.
- Add mood-based book selection for active and inactive books.
- Add filters for genre with options for sorting (author, title, color).
- Add additional display types: large cover, small cover, list.
- Update flow so that book blurbs can be seen faster & are more findable.
- Consider rethinking the app’s home screen to include library discovery features like Roon
- Consider adding multi-user support for Kindle accounts; similar to Netflix.
- Add chapter & book progress at genre & book level; with default options.
I sourced relevant insights from 21 research articles, mostly academic papers. 14 additional academic papers were evaluated but determined to not be relevant.
Table of Contents, Book Description (Blurb), and Index are important features to users; particularly during book selection. Search is not an adequate replacement. [UX Pain Point 1]
Readers want support for viewing two pages from a book or separate books at the same time.
Print readers remember fiction story timelines better than digital readers; possibly due to tactile progress of page-turning.
- Provide a way of viewing/previewing a book’s Table of Contents, Index, and Blurb from the book list.
- Consider adding support for viewing two pages, of the same and separate books—this will likely work best in landscape orientation.
- Evaluate options for showing a visual progress indicator, such as a circle or digital version of the book’s spine, during reading, to aid the reader in visualizing plot points chronologically.
As part of my research I compared Kindle to 4 other major ebook apps on across 4 major categories: Organization, Filtering Options, Sorting Options, and General Features. I also compared their top level navigation structures.
Main Navigation Comparison (Information Architecture)
Home | Library | CURRENT BOOK | Discover | More
Reading Now | Library | Book Store | Audiobooks | Search
Home | Library
Library | CURRENT BOOK | Shelf
Avid readers, who actively switch between 2-4 books depending on mood, have 100's or 1000's of books and get frustrated when they can't find a book or remember why they added a book to their library. They want to spend their time reading their books, not sorting them into folders. Readers also have genre-specific needs and preferences that are not being met.
Travis the Student Traveler
“Fiction is my leisure reading. Nonfiction, I have to be in the headspace for it.”
Travis wants to be able to easily switch between reading his class textbook, science fiction novel, travel guide, and self-improvement book depending on his current activity and the time of the school year. Travis likes to be surprised when a fictional book ends, so doesn’t want to know how many pages or percentage is left in the book. But he also needs powerful annotation, memory, and navigational tools for his textbooks — and wants to know how much time a textbook chapter will take to read.
Natasha the Mystery Sleuth
“A lot of the time, as I have so many books, I forget exactly what it might be called. So I have to go line by line to find the book that I want.”
Natasha wants to read more of the books in her existing library, keep track of the books she’s read, and discuss the books she and her husband are reading together. She also wants to easily switch from reading a fantasy novel to a historical memoir depending on how tired she is.
How Might We
With the key research findings and personas in mind I generated several HMW questions which were then consolidated into the following question:
How Might We improve the offline reading experience for avid readers with large quantities of books, within the library and within the book, to address the unique needs of different genres so that users can read more books with better recall?
How Might We help readers find a book to read for their current mood from their large libraries so they can read more books?
How Might We help readers navigate within their library and individual books so that they can more easily locate information?
How Might We improve the annotation toolset so that readers can more easily learn and remember book content?
How Might We improve spacial context for reader so that they can better remember and find the location of annotations and story events?
How Might We improve social reading and sharing of books so that readers can discuss, discover, and express themselves?
How Might We improve the reading experience for different genres?
How Might We improve the reading experience for travelers so that they can read in low-connectivity areas?
With the HMW question in mind I generated dozens of ideas using the Crazy Eights method of rapid idea generation.
Using a Complexity-Value matrix, I mapped out all of my ideas to prioritize which to validate. With the needs and goals of my user personas in mind I selected 4 top priority ideas to implement and several secondary ideas to keep in mind.
Value vs Complexity Matrix, Concept Evaluation
Primary Goals for Design Phase
Add support for readers who have several active books that they are switching between depending on mood throughout the day and week.
Redesign library view to support easier find-ability through sorting, filtering, and additional book metadata.
Add support for automatically downloading existing and new user content.
Secondary Goals for Design Phase
Explore a spine-based progress and contents UI to improve memory of book chronology (through increased spacial awareness) and to improve in-book navigation.
Add support for controlling book and chapter progress indicators at genre and book levels.
As an avid reader I want to switch between multiple active books so that I can read whichever genre I’m currently in the mood for.
As a traveling reader I want automatically download all of my books so that I can read any book in my library when on an airplane without having to think about which book to download ahead of time.
As an avid reader with a large ebook library I want better sorting and filtering options so that I can more easily and quickly find books.
Crazy-8 Paper Sketch Concepts
Using Figma and Zoom I conducted remote moderated usability tests with participants for a clickable low-fidelity prototype.
3 Main Pain Points
UX Pain Point 1: Browsing large libraries
Redesigned library view to support easier find-ability by automatically categorizing books, increasing sorting and filtering options, and adding book blurb and time-to-read metadata to book list view.
Automatic Organization Amazon’s existing book meta-data is used to automatically organize purchases and user content.
Book Blurb Added The beginning of each book’s descriptions has been added to remind users what each book is about.
Time-to-Read Added Time-to-Read (based on each user’s past reading speed) and a progress bar help communicate this important information used for reading-time planning.
Improved Filtering Users can quickly browse large libraries and rediscover old purchases using the additional filtering and sorting options — including the option to randomly sort their books or open a random book with one tap.
UX Pain Point 2: Reading 2 or more books in parallel
Users are able to switch between active books and plan their next reads in the Bookshelf by creating queues: ordered lists of books around any theme or topic the user wants.
The existing recently read/opened collection on the home screen becomes a smart queue always shown first in the Bookshelf; this smart collection contains books not added to a queue manually.
UX Pain Point 3: Downloading large libraries
Readers want to have access to all of their books when in low internet-access areas. The existing app offers the option to auto-download audio books; adding an additional control to automatically download all ebooks removes the need for users to manually download every book in the library and remember to download all new books.
One user commented that they wanted purchases made on one device to automatically be downloaded on their other devices saying, “I don’t want to deal with storage of the eBooks”. Kindle on iOS requires purchases be made in a browser. It would be a better experience if users could make purchase on a laptop and know that those books would be automatically downloaded and ready to read on their phone.
3 ADDITIONAL UX IMPROVEMENT AREAS
Area 1: User-Focused Home Screen
Update the home screen to increase focus on user’s library and reading goals while still balancing business goals.
Personalized Recommendations Best selling books section has been replaced with personalized recommendations of recently released titles with quick Wishlist action.
Optimized Thumb Zone Search, library suggestions, and recently read books are all moved into the lower third of the screen for easy thumb taps.Search, library suggestions, and recently read books are all moved into the lower third of the screen for easy thumb taps.
Reading Goals with 🌲 The Reading Tree Brand Reinforcement & Positive Habit Building
I see an opportunity to reinforce the Kindle’s brand, build positive reading habits for users, create a new revenue stream for Amazon, and differentiate the Kindle app from competition through the introduction of what I have named The Reading Tree.
The current app’s home screen puts a heavy emphasis on recently opened books in the From Your Library section. With recently opened books moved into the bottom nav Bookshelf, the space can be used to more help users build a reading habit and track their reading goals. Part of this includes the introduction of The Reading Tree—whose leaves take on the colors of read books and helps reinforce the Kindle’s brand (a child reading under a tree). When a user is maintaining their reading habit the child appears under the tree. Each year’s tree will be unique because the colors of the book covers read that year will vary.
If they’ve completed their reading goal at the end of the year readers can order a free poster of their tree from the previous year (via Amazon’s existing Amazon Prints service)—the poster would also show the reader’s trees from previous years as well. The Reading Tree poster is a way of showing friends and family what Kindle users have read recently. The ability to have a bookshelf of their favorite books which serves both as personal expression and as a conversation starter is something missing in the ebook reader’s experience.
As Peter Fernandez writes, in “Books online: e-books, e-paper, and e-readers.” Library Hi Tech News (2020), print books are “cultural artifacts. People often associate printed books with certain meals and as expressive objects that indicate intellect and serious focused attention.” There are even companies that have turned this insight into a business and will sell books by-the-foot for decorating your office or home (see BooksByTheFoot.com to learn more). The Reading Tree poster brings this aspect of physical books to the digital reader’s life.
A minimum of 12 completed books are required so there’s enough content to print and this also encourages more ebook purchases. Additional posters after the first would require users to pay for printing and shipping. For each tree poster ordered Amazon could plant an actual tree which further reinforces the Kindle brand and helps build positive association with the Kindle brand.
Amazon could offer free downloadable wallpaper images of a user’s Reading Tree at the end of the year for free as well as homescreen widgets that show the user’s current tree and reading habit streak. Throughout the year the tree could change based on the user’s current time-of-day, season, and local weather. Presents could appear under the tree on the reader’s birthday and Christmas (including actual digital gifts such as Amazon ebook credit!).
Upon finishing a book an animation might show the book’s cover with text flowing out of the cover. As the words flow out of the book the cover slowly disappears from top to bottom. The words flow to the tree becoming leaves on the tree. Text appears below the tree with a message from The Reading Tree thanking the reader for saving one of its real-world siblings from being cut down.
🌲Reading ebooks saves trees. 🌲
Area 2: In-Book Overlay Menu
The in-book overlay menu needed to be updated to include the Bookshelf for quickly switching books. In the process I found one-handed usability issues and felt that the book cover should be included as that is such a key part of a book’s identity.
Optimized Thumb Zone All common actions are moved to the bottom of the screen for easier tapping; modern phones have grown in size and touch targets at the top of the screen are more difficult to tap with one hand.
Author and Cover Added The book’s cover and author text have been added to the in-book menu to help readers recognize the book they are reading and builds a stronger association between the text of the book and its cover image.
Added Menu Icon Labels Research shows that most icon usability is poor without labels.
Area 3: Search Empty State
This empty state for search in the current app is…rather empty.
Recent Searches By adding recent searches users can quickly find a book again. This applies the principle of recognition over recall. Users now only need to recognize a recent search term rather than recall it and type it in again.
Trending Searches Another addition to the empty state is providing suggestions for possible terms a user might be about to type manually by using recent top search terms by other similar users.
In the process of completing this case study for the Udacity UX Design Nanodegree course I learned the value of using Figma, Miro, and secondary research in my UX design process.
Previously I used Sketch for UI design and have now migrated to Figma for it’s superior built-in prototyping, collaboration, and developer inspection tools. I now use Figma for designing client projects and have mentored junior UXers in using it as well.
Miro is an excellent infinite digital whiteboard tool that made the process of analyzing my research data easy; even though it took a huge amount of time to go through the data itself (which was another take away: processing data from just 5 users and 2 dozen research papers will take a single UXer several hours or more).
Reading research papers empowered me with additional insights into user needs and the ebook market. This is a technique I will keep in my UX toolkit going forward and encourage others to use as well when appropriate. I learned some fascinating insights beyond what was included in this case study — I encourage you to read the cited papers if you want to continue exploring this topic.
The next step in this project would be to run usability testing on the high fidelity prototype.
In my ideation phase I generated many additional solutions to user needs beyond the 3 main areas I chose to focus on in this case study. The ones I chose were low complexity and high value: solutions I felt could be implemented quickly and improve the user experience greatly. I would to develop and test some of my other ideas as I believe there is a lot of untapped potential in the Kindle app.
A Brief Post-Script Comment on Amazon's Kindle Strategy
As avid readers influence the purchase decisions of casual readers in their social circle, Amazon should work to address the pain points of ebook power-users. The existing Kindle app is designed to push readers towards purchasing more books rather than reading their existing library - this strategy may have been effective at the Kindle's birth but, with strong competition in 2021, Amazon must work to strengthen its platform to keep customers loyal to the Kindle ecosystem.
Kindle is an iOS app for reading ebooks.
Users with large libraries containing 100's-1000's of books need features that help them more easily browse and sort their large ebook libraries so that they can better plan reading time and have a better awareness of what is currently in their collection.
Researched, designed, and tested solutions to 3 major UX problems in Amazon's iOS Kindle app.
✅ User Research
✅ Competitor Analysis
✅ Empathy Mapping
✅ Task Flows
APPENDIX A: Primary Research
Special thanks to Maya Wagoner for her industry insight
APPENDIX B: Secondary Research
Insights were collected from the following 21 sources; mostly scientific research articles.
- Browne, Glenda, and Mary Coe. “Ebook navigation: Browse, search and index.” The Indexer: The International Journal of Indexing 31.1 (2013): 26–33.
- Chong, Pei Fen, Yan Peng Lim, and Siew Woei Ling. “On the design preferences for ebooks.” IETE Technical Review 26.3 (2009): 213–222.
- EBONI Electronic Textbook Design Guidelines (2002)
- Fernandez, Peter. “Books online: e-books, e-paper, and e-readers.” Library Hi Tech News (2020).
- Golovchinsky, Gene. “Reading in the office.” Proceedings of the 2008 ACM workshop on Research advances in large digital book repositories. 2008.
- Henke, Harold. “Survey on electronic book features.” Open eBook Forum, online. 2002.
- Hoffelder, Nate. How Many EBooks Do You Have on Your Kindle? 24 July 2016, the-digital-reader.com/2016/07/23/how-many-ebooks-do-you-have-on-your-kindle/.
- Huang, Jiao. How interface elements for page turning in ebooks affect reader preference. Diss. University of Waikato, 2017.
- Jardina, Jo R., and Barbara S. Chaparro. “Usability of e-readers for book navigation tasks.” Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting. Vol. 56. №1. Sage CA: Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications, 2012.
- Landoni, Monica, Ruth Wilson, and Forbes Gibb. “Looking for guidelines for the production of electronic textbooks.” Online information review (2001).
- Liu, Qihua, Xiaoyu Zhang, and Yiran Li. “The influence of information cascades on online reading behaviors of free and paid e-books.” Library & Information Science Research 42.1 (2020): 101001.
- Malama, Chrysanthi, Monica Landoni, and Ruth Wilson. “Fiction electronic books: A usability study.” International Conference on Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2004.
- Matraf, Munya Saleh Ba, and Azham Hussain. “Usability evaluation model for mobile e-book applications.” AIP Conference Proceedings. Vol. 1891. №1. AIP Publishing LLC, 2017.
- Muir, Laura, and Graeme Hawes. “The case for e-book literacy: Undergraduate students’ experience with e-books for course work.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 39.3 (2013): 260–274.
- Richardson, John V., and Khalid Mahmood. “eBook readers: user satisfaction and usability issues.” Library Hi Tech (2012).
- Sheen, Kimberly Anne, Yan Luximon, and Jiaxin Zhang. “Reading Task Investigation of the Kindle app in Three Mediums.” International Conference on Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics. Springer, Cham, 2017.
- Vanderschantz, Nicholas, Claire Timpany, and Annika Hinze. “Design exploration of ebook interfaces for personal digital libraries on tablet devices.” Proceedings of the 15th New Zealand Conference on Human-Computer Interaction. 2015.
- Vanderschantz, Nicholas, Claire Timpany, and Chun Feng. “Tertiary students’ preferences for library search results pages on a mobile device.” International Conference on Asian Digital Libraries. Springer, Cham, 2018.
- Vanderschantz, Nicholas, et al. “How to take a book off the shelf: Learning about ebooks from using a physical library.” (2011).
- Yi, Wooyong, Eunil Park, and Kwangsu Cho. “E-book readability, comprehensibility and satisfaction.” Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Ubiquitous Information Management and Communication. 2011.
- Zhang, Yin, and Sonali Kudva. “Ebooks vs. print books: Readers’ choices and preferences across contexts.” Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 50.1 (2013): 1–4.