Thorium Reader is a EPUB reader created by EDRLab, an international non-profit development laboratory focused around the deployment of an open, interoperable and accessible digital publishing ecosystem in Europe. Thorium Reader's goal is to allow easy and large access to EPUB 3 publications.
EDRLab reached out to me in 2018 to be the only product designer on the creation of the Thorium Reader desktop application, on which I worked as a freelance designer.
I started by trying to determine the main functionalities for the app, by creating a set of user journeys focused on navigating through the software : from uploading an EPUB book and navigating through the library, to getting insights and informations about this particular book and laying out the different actions required once the reading actually starts.
This step was fairly important to grasp the essence of what the software would eventually be about, and allowed me to brainstorm and discuss journeys and functionalities with people from EDRLab as well as developers who would down the line work on the project.
Those insights allowed me to start working on an actual flow map of all the different screens, contents, actions and interactions needed across the software and how they would all be linked together.
A software that seemed pretty straight-forward at first ended up being pretty complex, with a main focus on accessibility : one of the biggest challenges on this project was to emphasize the different reading and accessibility parameters for everyone to use, considering all the edge cases (from dyslexic people to the elderly), which meant using EDRLab's research and testings on the subject to figure out the most relevant functionalities.
To bring this Flow Map to life, I started working on a set of wireframes, laying out all the different screens and how to visually demonstrate them in an accessible way. Key screens then included the main library, book informations, reading, global settings, accessibility settings...
The whole process took place with constant feedback from EDRLab, as well as Front-End and Back-End engineers, in a collaborative effort, through daily stand-ups.
Focused around accessibility
As previously mentioned, one of the main challenges for the reading experience was to provide a large access to accessibility settings, on any EPUB book previously imported. Those settings were discussed in length with EDRLab, and needed to accommodate to any person with disabilities, for example :
➔ Ability to change size and spacings for the elderly
➔ Changing colors and fonts for people with vision issues or color-blindness
➔ Other settings according to the reader preferences, with the options to save a specific theme that would apply to all books.
Before being regularly user tested throughout the process, these functionalities and our thinking were based on all of EDRLab researches and scientific publications. One of the key goals was then to display a lot of information while keeping everything easy to use and well-hierarchized.
The next step was the production and delivery of all the User Interfaces for the rest of the software, keeping a clean visual language overall : the idea visually was to focus on the books cover, which themselves contains plenty of imagery, colours, and therefore not to overwhelm the user with unnecessary visual elements.
The main features of the softwares then focused those 4 actions :
➔ Upload a book
➔ Informations on a book
➔ Read a book
➔ General settings
As for the library , it sorts books by the three categories we determined to be the most relevant through our user testing, in addition to a search bar to go directly to a specific book:
➔ Continue reading
➔ Categories (including favorites)
➔ Latest books added
The production of those User Interfaces meant a constant back and forth with the engineers, to sort out the best way to achieve things technically, and make sure the UI demonstrated that. We also made sure to book in several Design reviews to make sure the Front-End development of the software matched the designs as best as possible.
The end of the wireframing phase didn't mean the stop of user testing as well : we continued to do so, and working with EDRLab we constantly re-evaluated the different points of friction during the journey to make sure the software - in its MVP version - was as easy to use and fluid as possible.
This project still being an MVP, there are several opportunities ahead that EDRLab are interested in : the possibility of incorporation again more accessibility features in the future, as well as focusing on more customization of the library and personal space.
Personally, this was a great experience to work on a project as product owner, and being able to organize regular catch-ups with every member of the team.