Designing Mapping the Medieval Countryside

As the designer for the Mapping the Medieval Countryside project website I'm interested in how we can create a resource that both answers the key project research questions and is also useful to the wider research community.

In order to make sure we're creating something that will be of use to a wider community we're engaging with potential users from a range of disciplines who currently use the Inquisitions Post Mortem as sources for their research. The key groups we're talking to include:

    • Academic historians

    • Local historians

    • Genealogists

    • Archaeologists

    • Historical geographers

The first exploratory stage of our user-centred design (UCD) process has involved contacting a range of participants and asking them to complete a short questionnaire to find out more their working methods, how they currently use the IPMs (or if indeed if they do not use them and why this might be), how they might use an online version and what kind of functionalities would help them in their research.

By analysing the results we were able to identify some trends emerging from the different user groups which we will be able to use to inform the next stage of the design process. Using the questionnaire we were able to capture both quantitative and qualitative information; the former has helped shaped our ideas on how to prioritise design of particular feature sets and the latter has given us an insight into some interesting research agendas that an online resource could support.

One technique we have employed for understanding the motivations of different types of users in using the IPMs is user stories. These are short and simple descriptions of the kind of functionality that a particular user group might look for. These will no doubt be finessed as the project progresses and we learn more about different types of users and their information seeking behaviours. Some of the user stories we've established so far are:

    • As an academic historian I want to be able to track ownership of manorial properties to support my research

    • As a genealogist I want to be able to be able to establish family relationships of the families I am researching so that I can use the information to construct a family history.

    • As an economic historian I want to be able to establish values of manors and properties over time

    • As a social historian I want to be able to develop an understanding of local agricultural systems

These user stories highlight some of the paths into the information we'll need to take into consideration when designing the search interface. These paths might translate to defined search and browse options or more complex features such as the use of data visualisation techniques in returned sets of search results.

The next stage will be drawing up a set of low-fidelity prototypes known as wireframes which we can in turn use to inform the creation of some functional prototypes which we will then test with users. The feedback gained from this testing will be fed back into the design, allowing us to further refine it.

We'd like to involve a good cross-section of users in the design process so if you'd like to be involved by helping us test our prototypes then please get in contact by dropping me an email at