Document Viewer

In the domain of legal research, few features hold as much importance as the humble document viewer. During my tenure at Bloomberg BNA, I had the opportunity to evaluate the performance of this region of our app. Through user testing, I discovered two major struggles plaguing our users – both related to the scale and complexity of the content:

  • Users frequently lost track of where they were within the larger context of structured content.
  • Users had difficulty understanding how to navigate within structured content and, to complicate matters, they had a variety of contexts within which they might want to navigate.

When I say structured content, think of a document called Vol. 1, Part 3, Chapter 10, Section IV - the table of contents for something like this would have multiple tiers, each with meaningful hierarchy.

Part of the challenge involved the means by which a user arrived at content like the document described above - sometimes by search results and sometimes by table of contents. For these reasons I knew we needed something flexible and modular, yet consistent and hierarchical.

After a few rounds of user testing and ideation we arrived at the following framework:

Each module had its own responsive logic that enabled us to include or remove functionality depending on the needs of the content or context.

Subsequent user testing yielded a dramatic improvement in user performance within the following areas:

  • User's confidence in where they were within a highly structured collection of content
  • User's ability to quickly navigate in a variety of directions and contexts

As new material and analaysis were added to our platform, we continued to optimize this framework and enhance the functionality to empower users to quickly access annotations, versioning data, and related content.

The versions feature reveals information about and access to different versions of the U.S. Code along a timeline.

Here are a few examples of the deployed version of the document viewer, optimized for different types of content.

© 2021 Timothy Reeder