Design & Discovery

The Design & Discovery department of the Library Information Technology (LIT) division provides expertise in program and project management, user experience research and design, web development, and digital accessibility. Our projects and initiatives involve staff from across LIT, the Library, the University of Michigan campus, and beyond. Contact the Design & Discovery team at

Our Values

Respect - We value one another’s expertise and contributions, support one another, form and nurture relationships both within the department and across the library, and practice inclusivity in everything we do.

Creativity - We make space for experimentation and the development of innovative practices. We take risks, learn from failure, and are open to any idea that comes our way.

Flexibility - We recognize that we are individuals with different needs for balancing our professional and personal lives and benefit from a work environment that supports many types of work schedules.

Integrity - We operate with the best intentions, are committed to transparency in our work, trust one another, and strive for honest and open communication.

Responsiveness - We empathize with the needs of our users, including them from the beginning, and we make usable and useful interfaces that comply with universal design, test-driven code, and accessibility guidelines. 

Productivity - We aim to put the right people on teams, are motivated to get work done quickly and efficiently, and produce work of the highest quality.

Our Portfolio

Program and Project Management

We support an intentional strategic collection of library services and technologies that span multiple departments and extended periods of time. We:

  • Provide long-term planning, prioritization of strategic and tactical initiatives
  • Coordinate among LIT projects and resources stewardship initiatives, such as the Front Door project intake process
  • Design user-centered IT service models and cross-division workflows
  • Promote the adoption of technology policies and standards
  • Provide analytics-driven guidance for public discovery, access, and content systems
  • Lead research efforts in the use of internal library data

User Experience Research and Design

We utilize a user-centered approach while providing leadership and expertise in UX strategy, user research, assessment, content creation and management. We:

  • Promote user-centered design
  • Design user interfaces for applications
  • Assess and improve user workflows across the web presence
  • Provide analysis of UX research and web analytics to improve services
  • Conduct quantitative and qualitative user research
  • Offer expertise information architecture and content strategy

Web Development

We create applications, build user interfaces and underlying infrastructures, use content management systems, and supporting applications. We:

  • Create user interfaces architecture and supporting frameworks for use across IT applications
  • Customize content management systems for online exhibits, Microsites, Michigan Publishing, and other library departments
  • Build and maintain the library website, Library Search, library staff intranet, and other library projects

Digital Accessibility

We care deeply about the accessibility of our services and web applications. We:

  • Provide accessibility expertise to designers, developers, stakeholders
  • Develop team expertise on digital accessibility standards (WCAG, 508, ATAG, ARIA, EPUB) and accessible design best practices
  • Provide consistent, understandable and actionable web accessibility evaluations for library staff as needed
  • Provide consultations for LIT staff and create, maintain, and contribute to resources that promote a culture of incorporating accessibility into all development
  • Work closely with the Library Accessibility Specialist and the campus Council for Disability Concerns

Our Team

  • Rachel Vacek, Head of Design & Discovery
  • Ken Varnum, Senior Program Manager for Discovery, Delivery, and Library Analytics
  • Heidi Burkhardt, Web Project Manager and Content Strategist
  • Robyn Ness, Senior User Experience Specialist
  • Albert Bertram, Web Applications Team Leader
  • Ben Howell, User Experience and Accessibility Specialist
  • Ellen Schlegelmilch, User Interface / User Experience Designer
  • Bridget Burke, Front-End Developer and Accessibility Specialist
  • Jonathan Earley, Front-End Developer and Accessibility Specialist
  • Eliot Scott, Drupal Developer
  • TBD Senior Developer (Posting coming in January)
  • TBD Developer (Posting coming in February)

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Last modified: 01/09/2019