I have to admit that when I read this piece from UX magazine I found myself recognising (and laughing at) scenarios like this one:
You obviously sell to a wide range of people. Who are your main customers?
Worst answer—Everybody. This site has to sell to everybody equally. You’re the designer. Make it happen.
Better answer—I’m not sure. I can dig out any information we have if that would help?
Best answer—We have a number of key target customers. Our marketing team has worked up some profiles if you’d like to see them? I can talk you through them and highlight who we sell to most at the moment and the customers we want to develop."
With something similar in mind, I thought I'd compile a list of what I think are the most common pitfalls I've come across in the development of user experience.
1. Defining users. In my experience this is actually something scholarly societies are quite good at, while much larger academic publishers often fail badly at it. When I meet with scholarly societies, the contact they have with their members generally means that they have at least a good basic understanding of their users and can describe them and their requirements pretty well, although the segments of their user base who aren't members can sometimes be a blindspot. Conversely, academic publishers without a society base don't tend to have much contact with their ultimate end users and often end up with blank expressions when asked about them. There are other pitfalls here too; publishers may have a good handle on the requirements of their authors but either overlook the needs of the same people as readers or when that community is not entirely identical to its readership base that can often leave many of its users and their needs overlooked (I often feel that something like PLOS suffers from being a service to authors rather than readers). All of which is why market research techniques are focus groups and user experience techniques like personas are invaluable tools.
2. Dwelling on bibliographic data. There's a very marked divide in publishing between researchers (who care about things like black holes, dyslexia and Charles Dickens) and publishers themselves (who care about series, volumes, collections and ISSNs). In practice, bibliographic metadata is important for librarians when configuring link resolvers (and needs to be incorporated with that end in mind) but much less so to end users; the site's navigation needs to be done with the user’s mental model in mind, not the structure of the data. Incidentally, the same also applies to designing around internal departments; the user is unlikely to be primarily concerned with who published what and can't reasonably be expected to know or care that the books division has one website while the journals division has another.
3. Focussing on features. Because academic publishing websites are sold as B2B packages, the temptation is to build in a large amount of 'value add' features that are intended to impress the librarian who will be purchasing a subscription. Publishers often look at features on other sites and seek to copy them, without understanding whether they were being used or not. Professor Alan Cooper has a somewhat unkind and blunt phrase for gimmicks that aren't based on user needs; he calls them dancing bearware. In practice, tools and features account for a small percentage of the user experience when compared to the nature of the content, the information architecture and the interaction design, with too many features over-complicating those aspects of the site.
4. Focussing on search at the expense of navigation. Given that researchers often have very precise queries that are best addressed through search, there's no doubt that this is a vital part of any site design, but this often seems to lead to a desire to over-complicate the search with advanced features that cater for types of searches that are far more involved than any look at a site's search analytics would suggest users actually wish to do. It also means the flipside of that, which is undervaluing navigation, which is why you see sites with anonymous links with helpful labels like 'Browse.' Browse by what? And aren't I browsing the site already? What am I going to see when I click on that striking example of mystery meat navigation, to use the term coined by usability expert Vincent Flanders.