The Age Of The User Experience – Part One

In case you didn’t know it we are now in the Age of the User Experience. As a result, we will all be reading and hearing much more about the user experience. It is all the rage in this new age to talk about developing organizations and services that provide great user experiences. But does anyone really know what the heck that means. If you go to a store to buy something and you get what you want without a hassle did you have a good experience? Or does something really different and special have to happen for it to be a good experience? Or do you just have to pay extra money to enjoy a unique atmosphere that is part of the purchase in order to have a true user experience? It reminds me of a Ziggy cartoon in which he is ordering lunch. The sign promoting the daily special lists two items. One is “Chili – $3.95”. The other item is “The Chili Experience – $4.95”. Those cynical about the concept of a user experience might indeed claim it’s nothing more than paying extra money for the same thing with a bit of heighted ambience. And you know what? According to some experts that might be right.

In Brian’s first post he discussed empathetic design and referenced an article in Harvard Business Review on the topic. I found a citation to that article in a book Brian suggested to me titled The Experience Economy. When I first heard the title I thought it must be a new book given the current trend in designing user experiences – which is what the book is primarily about. Turns out it was published in 1999 – way before the current infatuation with user experiences. According to this book a company or service provider “stages an experience whenever they engage the customers, connecting with them in a personal, memorable way.” Disneyworld is not just an entertainment or amusement park; it is a theme park experience. Starbucks does not sell coffee; it offers creative beverages in a unique atmosphere. That’s why consumers will go there and spend considerably more for coffee drinks than they would pay at Dunkin Donuts. What about libraries? Do they offer a user experience? Unfortunately, the vast majority do not. In fact, we are guilty of the greatest sin possible accroding to the book. We have allowed our services to be commoditized.

Commoditization is the other end of the user experience spectrum. There is no differentiation, and all that can be offered is a cheap product or service. The commodity in which we deal is information. Since we have put most of our organizational focus into obtaining information and making it accessible that is the commodity in which we trade. Consumers (or users) do not highly value the product or service, and they would likely be unwilling to pay more to obtain it. It’s likely most users come to our libraries because they have no other choices (college students, for example, cannot obtain many privileges at any other library but their own), and when they do have a choice, such as using a search engine, they typically will often choose that other information provider first. Libraries are no longer the only provider of this commodity, and hence we are losing our users to other providers that offer information that can be accessed more conveniently – if not cheaper. Despite our efforts to promote the quality of our information over the convenience of our competitors, it has failed to convince users to alter their information seeking behavior. You might argue that libraries also provide services, such as reference or interlibrary loan. But where we fail is in customizing our services to the needs of the individual.

Is it even possible for libraries to offer a user experience? Can we make using the library a memorable experience? Can we do for finding information and conducting research what Starbucks does for coffee? While we can’t have fireworks exploding everytime someone borrows a book  – that would certainly make for a memorable experience – there may be ways that we can do more to create a better user experience for a library user. Whatever that may be I believe it is going to differ somewhat from library to library, as the user experience could be customized to local needs and desires. Perhaps, initially, libraries need to concentrate on making sure things work well. Presently, too many libraries have too many things that are, quite simply, broken. We will be doing more exploration of the user experience concept here at DBL. We may yet discover practical, affordable, and user grabbing ways to, as the Experience Economy suggests, “ING the THING” – what is known as “experientializing” the commodity. Securing our relevance as we head into the future may depend upon it.

I’ll be writing more about the Age of the User Experience in part two of this post.


Jeff Trzeciak – My first post

I am a little behind my fellow contributors to this blog so this is simply an introduction to me and what I’ll be blogging about.

About me

I am currently the University Librarian at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.   While I am in academia now I started my career (more than 20 years ago) in a public library and have worked over the years with special libraries, archives and museums.  For eight years I worked at Wayne State University in Detroit where they have an ALA-accredited MLS program.  My experience there gave me a glimpse into the changing nature of librarian education.

I have only been at McMaster since July but we have already made some significant changes.  We are going through a transformation process, which you can read about on my blog.

About my contributions

I am particularly interested in the application of new technologies within libraries.  Gaming (MMORPGs) and virtual worlds (Second Life) are of special interest to me.  Some of you may have seen my post “I want a gaming librarian” and may be interested in knowing that we are, in fact, hiring a gaming librarian.  This position will provide leadership in the development and implementation of innovative, highly engaging, habitable environments for teaching and learning.  Our forray into Second Life, where we now offer reference services, has been well received by the Hamilton community. How can these emerging and highly popular technologies be incorporated into libraries so that we can reach our users wherever they are?
I am also interested in new models for the organization.  I know there is some resistance to the “2.0” moniker but I’m going to use it anyway!  What is “leadership 2.0” or as one of my librarians recently asked what is “administration 2.0”?  Given the radical redefinition of library resources, services and facilities, how do we radically redefine our organizations as well?  What does that mean?  What will they look like?  More importantly, how do we redefine our organizations given the constraints of our parent organizations?  (universities, school districts, corporations, government agencies, boards, etc)

Finally, I will also, out of necessity, blog about changing space.  Our Science Engineering Library, a building straight out of the 70’s – left virtually unchanged since its construction – is on the university’s capital campaign for a $4 million dollar face lift.  What kind of space should it become?  How do we appeal to this generation of student?  What should it include?  What should be removed?  In particula, how do we strike a balance of “collections” (which are used less and less often) with “technology” and “collaboration space”?  This will be a major challenge for us over the next couple of years.

So, I will have a wide variety of topics to blog.  I’m looking forward to it – watch this space – it should be fun!

Creativity and Innovation: Two Sides of the Same Coin

The words creativity and innovation are often expressed as if they’re one word, and subsequently, their individual meanings tend to blur. Creativity and innovation are in fact two distinct concepts that rely on one another. The Oxford English Dictionary defines creativity as the “ability to create.” Innovation is defined as, “the alteration of what is established by the introduction of new elements or forms; a change made in the nature or fashion of anything; something newly introduced; a novel practice, method, etc.” These differences, while somewhat minor, are significant. Creativity suggests processes, or a set of conditions that are conducive to making things (objects, services, ideas, and so on). Innovation, on the other hand, implies that the “things” created are in some way unique or previously non-existent. What I will attempt to do on the DBL Blog is explore each of these concepts as well as how they overlap. What follows is my current thinking about the relationship between creativity, innovation, and library service design.

Contrary to popular perception, creativity is not a quality that a person is either born with or without. Creativity can be nurtured, or squashed, by environmental conditions, procedures, techniques, and interpersonal relationships. Librarians have it within their abilities to engineer workplaces that allow creativity to take root and flourish. On the flip side of creativity is innovation. Innovation is the outcome of creative processes. Making something that is considered new or novel is the result of a series of creations, some of which fail and some of which succeed, and all of which move the innovations forward. Innovations, as I see them, also foster creativity. By introducing a new element into the mix, innovation opens up new paths for creation.

Throughout this exploration, I will assume that both creativity and innovation are intrinsically beneficial for library services. Libraries exist in a marketplace that is more crowded with goods and services than ever before. People have a seemingly endless array of options for fulfilling their information and community needs. To thrive in this competitive environment, librarians must develop novel approaches to designing services and experiences so that they connect with the people they aim to serve, satisfy unmet needs, and achieve enough visibility to gain awareness. Furthermore, the pace of change is always accelerating. Creative and innovative libraries will be able to adapt to these changes, while libraries that don’t innovate their service designs on a routine basis will quickly lose traction. It’s true that not everything that’s new is by definition good. But since innovation feeds back into creativity, even innovative failures are useful in that they allow us to view problems in different lights and to create in different ways. This point leads to another core assumption I will make: creativity and innovation entail risk and risk is good for libraries. Librarians with low risk tolerances will not be able to sustain the environment necessary to support creativity or innovation. We must concede that if we want the benefits of creativity and innovation, we must accept the inevitable failures that result from trying something new and welcome them as learning experiences.

I hope this gives you a good sense of how I’m thinking about creativity and innovation as they apply to designing library services. I’m interested to know your thoughts and questions on these topics too so that I can address them as we move this conversation forward. My upcoming posts will focus on what the literature and case studies have to teach us about these topics, which I consider to be some of the most important in librarianship today.


Is DBL Just A Fad

Just as we were preparing to debut DBL I came across an article that suggests that we were too late arriving on the scene with our emphasis on design. “Beware the Backlash” appeared in Core77, and its main theme is that a backlash against design is on the rise. It seems that real designers are growing tired of the rest of the world using design themes to generate “useless stuff.” The author states that “design has lost its magic now that everyone has an opinion on it. It was clearly much more special when only a select group of designers swooned over the latest Apple product.” Is the world of design experiencing a bandwagon effect? Is it now just faddish to talk about the importance of design? And most importantly, is DBL just being superficial when we talk of the influence design can have on librarianship?

I prefer to think that design has not been “striped of much of its meaning” as the author contends it has. It is possible that design is being overused in the media which adds to the overexposure. So I’m not surprised that those who’ve been long-term design thinkers and practitioners might react by suggesting that those new to the concept are misusing it and are simply jumping on the bandwagon. Given that design principles and design thinking have seen little exploration in the world of librarianship, I think there is much room for the growth of this concept and the related practices in our profession. DBL is about more than just design hype. To my way of thinking, given that many of our libraries need to discover what’s broken and how design can help make things work better, there is much that we can explore and learn in the worlds of design thinking, instructional design, innovation and creativity.

A Focus On Design Thinking

So what am I going to contribute to Designing Better Libraries? You may know me from either one of two blogs. I’ve been maintaining Kept-Up Academic Librarian for 3-4 years now. I also contribute occasional posts to ACRLog. Since I needed something else to do I thought it might be time to get working on another blog. With the other members of the team I worked on developing this new blog, and after a few months – here we are. Some of the inspiration for DBL comes from the work I’ve been doing, with John Shank, at the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community where we’ve been exploring issues related to design (by way of instructional design) and its implications for libraries.

I also became interested in design while at Philadelphia University. It transformed from a legacy textiles college to an institution with multiple design programs, from industrial design to fashion design to instructional design. So I was getting exposure to lots of design activity, and it occurred to me that there was little talk or thinking about design within librarianship – outside of the design of buildings and their interiors – and quite possibly the design of interfaces. But there wasn’t much discussion about the design of a library experience that would be highly satisfying to those who use libraries. It seemed that libraries were the exact type of service organization that could benefit from design thinking.

So I’ll be focusing my blogging on design thinking. I also like to follow a number of innovation blogs and other sources, so I’ll be sharing some thoughts in those areas as well. For those who are new to design thinking I recommend two places to begin learning more. First, take a look at a video lecture delivered at MIT by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. IDEO is perhaps the leading design firm. The company has designed everything from the original Mac mouse to the Palm PDA. Brown gives some good insight into how design thinkers work. Also take a look at The Art of Innovation. The author, Tom Kelley, is also affiliated with IDEO, and it takes a deeper look into the process that IDEO uses in its design work (largely influenced by a design thinking process).

I expect that the concept of design thinking will be vague to those who are new to it. I will be working to share with DBL readers more ideas and resources to promote a better understanding of design thinking, particulary in the ways librarians can benefit from weaving it into their practice. One thing that design thinkers try to do is develop clear outcomes for their products or deliverables. In order to evaluate the quality of the experience and the achievement of that outcome, it is critical to know at the start what one is seeking to accomplish. If DBL inspires librarians to develop more passion for design thinking – and enables them to firmly grasp the concepts and integrate it into their practice of librarianship – then one of my priority outcomes will be achieved.