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Libraries Could Use An Experience Design Hub

I never thought I’d be writing a post that points to something McDonald’s is doing, but I recently discovered they maintain an Innovation Center that allows the fast food company to study and potentially improve the McDonald’s user experience. It’s an idea worth exploring. I have had an occasional experience at McDonald’s, usually when there are no other options. For example, two years ago I was visiting a library and needed to take a break for lunch. Given the location and the time available there was not much else to choose. I ordered a salad (pre-made) and a cup of coffee.

As one might expect the experience was about convenience, speed of delivery and low cost. The most significant barrier to having a good customer experience at McDonald’s, I think – and there probably more than a few from which to choose – is the limited options and a “take it this way or go elsewhere” design. If I wanted a little milk for my coffee instead of the standard creamer packet I would need to buy a bottle of milk. For the customer, convenience comes at a cost.

Times have changed and McDonald’s is struggling to grapple with its longest sales decline in company history.Competition on one end of the spectrum from cheaper fast-food restaurants and on the other end from healthier restaurant options is putting the squeeze on McDonald’s profits. As many other organizations do, when competing on price or product alone isn’t working, look to improve the experience. That’s the gist of this article that was reprinted in Sunday newspapers around the country. To that end McDonald’s has run an Innovation Center since 2001.

What’s changed is that instead of simply finding ways to cut ten seconds off the time it takes to fry, package and deliver a burger, a diversified staff now works to improve the service experience. “The focus is really on what customers are looking for” said Melody Roberts, senior director of experience design innovation. I was looking for a small container of free milk for my coffee. Who knew that McDonald’s employs a senior director of experience design?

What I thought was interesting about this article, and I’m sure McDonald’s is not alone in developing such a facility, is the idea of creating an entire replica of the store and setting it up to maximize the testing of customer service options and the collection of data about customer experiences. Just imagine having the capacity to make on-the-fly modifications to experiment with a minor change and the ability to bring in real people, not paid actors, to engage with staff and the environment for the purpose of studying actual customer transactions.

Now imagine some type of design hub for libraries. What if we could create a working model of a library where we could invite in people to have service interactions, use the study spaces or work collaboratively, and openly capture information about how the library is being used. A lab-like setting could also allow for experimentation with new types of services. The people using the library could be instantly polled about their likes and dislikes, and we could ask them to try the service again after having made user-centered adjustments.

Harvard University operates the Library Innovation Lab, and the intent is to experiment with new ideas that could prove beneficial to libraries and their member communities. Most of the innovations tend to be technological in nature, such as new software to enhance the discovery process. It’s a lab that experiments with innovations that could be useful to all types of libraries. Have the folks who run it ever thought about using it as a hub for researching the library user experience? I doubt it’s set up to tackle that type of work.

Chicago’s public library received a Gates Foundation grant to explore new innovations and configurations that would improve the library experience. The Next Library 2014 Conference invited librarians from around the globe to learn more about service innovation. These two efforts are steps in the right direction, but they fall short of providing the library profession with a true experience design hub. The value of these initiatives is that they demonstrate we can put resources into experimental labs where the outcomes can benefit all librarians, not just those working in a single sphere of the profession.

I’m not suggesting that creating such a hub would be an easy thing to do. Creating, organizing and staffing a mock library innovation and experience center would be no simple task. It would require some sort of national effort and funding to set up, staff and maintain the operation. Perhaps it could be set up within an existing library and staff from different regional libraries would be tapped to participate in various experiments and service testing.

What’s learned could give librarians better insights into what community members are looking for from their library. That information could help libraries of all types to improve the customer experience, whether it was service at a desk, by virtual modes or through websites. Who knows what else could be accomplished with an experimental service design hub?

I would like to know what our community members’ “milk container” request is. What’s that minor but crucial element that could make the difference between a decent experience and a truly great one. Do we, as a profession, have the desire or grit to create a library experience design hub? I’d like to know what you think. Crazy idea or something worth pursuing?

Exploring IDEO’s Design Kit

If you are a librarian who is embracing design as a methodology or strategy for giving your community members a better library experience, you owe it to yourself to spend sometime exploring IDEO’s Design Kit. This totally free package of resources mixes text and video to deliver support and instruction to non-designers who want to incorporate design practices into their work. There are also ample case studies to help you understand how the design techniques are put into action.

I just finished reading Tom and David Kelley’s latest book Creative Confidence – lots of great ideas and insight into what contributes to creativity – so I was curious to see what David Kelley had to say about creative confidence in under two minutes. Kelley’s video introduction into methods for building your confidence in your own ability to be creative, did a fine job of sharing the book’s key points – quickly. Every design kit video I watched was under two minutes.

One of the design processes that serves as the core of the kit is HCD – Human Centered Design – defined as a creative approach to problem solving that starts with people and ends with innovative solutions that meet their needs. It means designing from the perspective of the people you are trying to help. HCD consists of three phases: Inspiration; Ideation; Implementation.Libraries are getting into “making” activities in a big way and that’s an important part of the HCD process because you have to make things – that’s where prototyping comes in – to find out if the inspired ideas can lead to workable solutions. Above all, the people with the problem are the ones who have to embrace the solution. The important thing to know about HCD is that anyone can practice it. You don’t need to be a designer. You just need to start with the people.

There’s a lot to the toolkit site and you learn how to navigate it by poking around and exploring different areas. You might find it easiest to start with the three main areas: mindsets; methods; case studies. Drill down and explore in each one. This will give you a better idea of what the kit has to offer and how it’s delivered. But no matter how you tackle it, you can’t go wrong. No matter what path you follow in the toolkit you’ll be gaining lots of new ideas to share with colleagues.

And if your HCD process takes you into some ethnographic research, well there’s a new and free “Simple Introduction to the Practice of Ethnography and Guide to Ethnographic Field Notes It’s a good starting point for familizing yourself with the practice of ethnography.

Third Wave: Beyond User Experience to the Purist Experience

More librarians are taking an interest in exploring how user experience design, coupled with a design thinking mindset, can help them deliver a better library experience to their community members. This is evidenced by the increase in libraries adding user experience librarian positions and even UX units, going beyond user satisfaction surveys and into ethnographic research to truly understand the library experience from the user perspective. There is also an increase in the number of librarians writing articles about UX and giving presentations on related topics. Expect to see more conferences and workshops based on UX themes. This trend is moving the library profession beyond perceiving UX only as a method to improve the online experience to acknowledging that it applies, perhaps more importantly, to the total library experience.

As they grow more interested in adopting UX approaches, I hope librarians will take time to read and understand how UX evolved into a recognized dimension of competition in multiple industries. For example, reading Pine and Gilmore’s seminal work The Experience Economy, would offer perspective on how industry moved from competing on price and convenience to competing on the quality of the experience (e.g., convenience store coffee vs. starbucks). This demonstrated that people (not everyone but many) would be willing to pay a premium for a better experience – and that could be defined by taste, treatment, ambience, etc. The end result was to design an experience that exceeded expectations, created meaning and loyalty and gave the consumer a memorable experience that sparked the consumer’s desire to repeat it.

We may now be moving beyond the experience economy into the “purist economy.” Today, there are only a few industries exploring this territory and there are limited numbers of consumers who seek out this level of experience. More than a few experts believe that what is a small market today could be the next wave on which service and product industries compete, outdoing each other to deliver the purist possible experience. According to an article titled “Brewing the Perfect Cup” by Danielle Sacks in September 2014 issue of Fast Company, the third wave is a movement of purists who are committed to taking every part of an experience to the level of obsession with quality, uniqueness (not just being different – more than that) and quite possibly an elitism that sets the purist apart from the mere aficionado.

Just as Starbucks succeeded in moving coffee lovers from convenience store brands and office coffee pots to $4 expressos and frappucchinos, a new generation of firms want to tap into those coffee lovers and convert them into purists. One of those companies is called Joyride and its mission is to spread:

…coffee religion. It is one of a rising army of startups seizing on the financial opportunity to convert Keurig, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Starbucks drinkers into coffee purists. Known as the Third Wave, this movement started a decade ago by a splinter group of true believers who approach every part of the coffee life cycle with meticulous obsession…a cup of black coffee so dimensional, they believe, that there’s no need to pollute it with milk or sweeteners–and so valuable that it can earn a price tag as hefty as $7 a cup.

The article points to this as a growing food trend noting that “yogurt, chocolate, and juice have made this leap from commodity to mass delicacy”. Want to offend a coffee purist? Put milk in your java. One purist likened it to putting ketchup on a steak. No wonder some coffee drinkers regard purists as elitists or snobs – but snobs who will pay an even higher premium for an even better experience. And as they have their third wave experience, purists are not apologetic. Rather, they revel in their enjoyment of a higher form of experience.

It’s hard to predict if these third wave experiences will go mainstream or remain limited to a small cadre of purists. The firms bringing the products and services to the marketplace certainly hope they can convince coffee lovers to become purists who can tell the difference between obscure flavors with just a few sips of a black coffee. This movement, to my way of thinking, goes into territory beyond the superuser. The superuser is certainly passionate about a product, and can make the difference between its success or failure, but enjoying a product and discovering new ways to use it is not quite on the same as the purist’s insistence on only the best and being willing to pay a significant premium to get it.

Offering a higher quality experience can also have the affect of turning a community member into a more passionate library user. There are examples from other service providers that benefit from designing experiences for the passionate people who really thrive on what is being offered – usually something that cannot be easily obtained through the Internet. It may be the person in your community who eagerly anticipates new and unique acquisitions, seeks out historic artifacts found in special collections and archives or who appreciates cultural programming. We lack the capacity to reach every person in our communities. It may be wise to avoid expending effort to attract those who will never connect with librarians or who may believe that libraries no longer offer value to the community. Passionate library user. Yes, we can reach them and design experiences to create a bond. Purist library user? While it would no doubt be advantageous to have a core of such committed supporters, it is also possible that an obsessive community member could have a much higher level of expectation – and demands – than most libraries could meet.

It will be interesting to see if the third wave experience has a significant impact on our coffee consumption behavior. If it does, and there is evidence that a segment of any market desires the purist experience, expect to see similar types of movements in other services and products. Before Starbucks none of us would have thought it possible that people would routinely go out of their way for coffee beverages at double or triple the price. Now no one thinks twice about it. Never underestimate the power of the human desire for unique and memorable experiences, and where it will lead.

Convenience Trumps Qual..Wait…Library Experiences Should Transcend Fast Food

When Ranganathan stated his fourth law of library science, “Save the Time of the Reader” he probably did not intend for us to create a library experience that operates under the same principles as a fast food restaurant – whose fourth law just happens to be “Save the Time of the Eater”.

What Ranganathan most likely intended was for us to be efficient and knowledgeable so as to avoid squandering the time of our community members, yet not be so overly hurried that we deliver a rushed and impersonalized interaction – one that might seem more at home at a fast food restaurant.

Ranganathan lived in a rather different world than our own. In 1931, when he developed his theory of the five laws, the world moved at a much slower pace. “Save the time of the reader” was an encouragement to be well organized and efficient so the reader would be able to efficiently access needed resources. We live in a world where people expect instant gratification, instant access and instant support. Their lack of tolerance for waiting almost demands that libraries are designed to save time.

Perhaps we ought to give this some thought. Maybe the library should look for exceptions to the fourth law. Quite possibly there are times when we should break the fourth law and do things to encourage users to expend and not save time.Libraries could offer a different experience that encourages slowing down, being leisurely – forgetting to check the clock for a while.

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that the presence (and patronage) of fast food restaurants can contribute to a heightened impatience and a lowered tolerance for waiting. Their experiments, which prompted participants just to think about or see reminders of fast food chains, revealed that these stimuli cause people to rush through their reading, express a desire for timesaving products and express less happiness from certain types of slow music. While acknowledging there are multiple factors in our lives that contribute to our impatience and need for speed, they believe we can take steps to improve our patience and appreciation for taking more time to savor life – such as avoiding stimuli like fast food joints or intentionally seeking out spaces or experiences that reward slowing down the pace.

It’s been said that convenience trumps quality every time. That may explain why fast food restaurants stay in business. I’m not suggesting we can improve the library experience by making it inconvenient. I do believe there might be something of value in being the place in our communities where people can get that counter-stimulus, the one that contributes to an appreciation that it takes time and some effort to achieve high quality outcomes.

The library as the place that invites you to slow down and enjoy some browsing. Come in and talk to a librarian about your reading or research interests. Sit in on a lecture or book club discussion. Get absorbed in a new idea and immerse yourself in the literature. There will no doubt be times when efficiency and saving the time of the reader takes priority. I think we can aspire to be the place where there’s more to life than getting the fast food treatment.

How about a library law for that? Give the reader quality time.

If IDEO Was Hired to Design a Library System

One of the early design thinking influences for me and other librarians was the Maya Design Project for the Carnegie Libraries in Pittsburgh. In 2004 the Carnegie Library moved into some unprecendented territory when it hired Maya Design to totally rethink and redesign the library from the user experience perspective. This being the early days of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community, we were tremendously interested in learning more about how design was being used as a technique to understand user needs and expectations, and how the design process was being applied to the work of reshaping that library.

We were also fascinated that non-librarians were invited to do all this work. That type of work would seemingly fall within the domain of librarian expertise. What did the designers know about libraries and those who used them? What special skills did they bring to the project? The answers came from Aradhana Goel, one of the MAYA Design experts leading the project. As our guest for a Blended Librarians webcast (unfortunately the archive is no longer available) Goel gave us some great insights into the design process as she shared some visuals and explained how the designers were taking a systematic design approach to understand the customer journey at Carnegie. We learned that designers like Goel didn’t need to be library experts. They only needed to be experts in the design process and using it to improve the library experience. That said, Goel emphasized the importance of working closely with subject matter experts.

It was a great learning example to understand the value of design thinking for “reinventing the customer experience”, as Carnegie Libraries described it. What if we could take what Maya Design did for just one library and instead ask a design firm to apply its design thinking process to the entire ecosystem of libraries. An interesting idea no doubt, but given the breadth and depth of that system, inclusive of all the different types of libraries and many different member communities it almost seems like an overwhelming and impossible project.

But according to an article in the New York Times about some recent projects by IDEO, the design industry’s most globally recognized firm, there is a movement from designing specific products and services to tackling entire systems and re-designing them from the ground up. In this particular article, IDEO’s work for a Peruvian entrepreneur to design a low-cost network of private schools is profiled. Though IDEO has experience in helping some health care and education organizations to re-design their operations for efficiency and a better user experience, the Peru project is far more ambitious in its scale. IDEO needed to design every component of the school system, from the buildings, to the classrooms to the teaching training and even what happens in the classrooms. In the three years since IDEO began the project, it now includes 23 schools.

It got me to thinking, what if IDEO was asked to build a library system from scratch, using no preconceived notions from the current system. Whatever it ended up being, I imagine it would probably be radically different from the way our libraries work now. Two things would happen at the start.

First, the team that IDEO would assemble to work on the project would have one librarian. Everyone else would represent different disciplines such as business, anthropology, marketing, engineering, health care and more. IDEO often brings together a truly diverse squad of individuals to bring many different perspectives to a project. One librarian would bring some expertise, but would eliminate preconceived notions about what the library should be or a host of reasons why certain things wouldn’t work (e.g., “But how would we get the books back to the shelves…”).

Second, the research process would be user centric. The team would probably have less interest in talking to the librarians, except as subject expertise is needed. They would primarily seek out individuals who use libraries as well as those who never do. Observation, conversation and journey mapping are techniques employed to gather data to inform a deep dive about library use. Out of that process would emerge ideas for a library system that would break the mold of the traditional model.

It’s hard to imagine exactly what a design firm like IDEO would come up with for a completely new library system. Perhaps it would be less fragmented than our current structure, and we’d have public, academic and corporate libraries working more as a system, sharing resources and offering more interchangeable services. Library facilities might undergo some dramatic change in ways that would make them more intuitive to the community members and less reflective of librarian practices. IDEO might see a natural fit between libraries and publishing, thus encouraging more libraries to serve as vehicles for writing and publishing.

What I do know is that IDEO would spend time prototyping new versions of any library system they’d design, and that would give both librarians and community members the opportunity to weigh in on how well that system met their needs. While we may never find IDEO tackling the American library system, it is possible that we will see individual libraries connecting with design firms to guide them in totally rethinking what it means to deliver library services. Then again, what if IDEO taught librarians how to do their own systemic redesign? I think more us would discover that design thinking is a path to improving the quality of the library user experience. That would be rewarding for both librarians and their community members.