Not to be confused with the car pricing bible, The Bluebook is the nearly hundred-year-old legal citation standards manual established and maintained by Harvard Law Review, Columbia Law Review, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and The Yale Law Journal. We built a new subscription platform for users to quickly reference the reference manual online and a new ecommerce platform for them to sell the extremely popular print edition to individuals and bookstores all over the country.
Transforming from Physical to Digital
The de facto system of legal citation, The Bluebook has a steep learning curve, demanding a user sometimes consult many different sections, pages, and tables to build a single correct citation. Many law professionals have organized the book according to their own habits and needs – a “work hack” we observed during our research – while regular users, such as law librarians, have an uncanny physical memory of its contents.
Adapting to a Screen-Based Interface
Speed was the number one goal for the new platform. The Bluebook is a critical tool for legal students and professionals, but it’s often a very time consuming and frustrating one. So counterintuitively, we needed to optimize around getting users out of the tool and back into their work.
Many users preferred the print book over their former online platform because it felt faster. This kind of speed is about much more than just page render time and meant it was important for the new site to feel immediately clear to anyone familiar with the print book. Drawing from that physicality, we worked closely with The Bluebook team and a small army of real-world users to better adapt the ‘spirit’ and structure of the book to a screen-based interface.
Creating a New UI
With speed and familiarity as our north star, we designed a new system to make it easy for the user to find what they were looking for. This includes an easier-to-use table of contents that makes jumping around in the book fast and provides clear context on where they are at all times. Longer pages do a better job of grouping related content together and means less clicks.
A custom predictive search, perhaps the most significant update, includes rule previews to quickly help users discern important nuances between similar rules. Power users can use the keyboard shortcuts with search as a “command line interface” for the book to quickly jump to the exact rules they need. And finally, though complex, the digital Bluebook works seamlessly on mobile devices, useful as a quick reference guide or second screen for power users.
We also made some of the content free and made sure the paywalled content could be indexed easily by Google to help it rank highly for any related search terms. Users who find the site from search can take advantage of a new full-featured free trial, exposing the power of the platform to the widest audience possible. Once convinced in its value, they can easily purchase licenses for themselves or their entire organization at a discount.
An Enjoyable Digital Experience
All of this adds up to an experience that we hope for its mostly young, mostly stressed-out legal assistants, is – if not moderately enjoyable – at least significantly less onerous.