I first came across an article about user experience (UX) in January 2006. At the time I was doing some research for the book that would become Academic Librarianship by Design. Almost immediately I saw the connection between the two. User experiences could – probably should – be the outcome of a design thinking process. A library user experience, in particular, struck me as a challenging concept. What would that possibly mean for the end-users? What would constitute, to their way of thinking, a great library user experience? Whatever that might be it seemed reasonable that design activities could help to produce a much improved library user experience.
Since then the book has been completed and I’ve gone on to read many more articles about DT and UX, and I continue to explore, with you, how these two practices can be applied to benefit our libraries. Though they provide no immediate answers, and perhaps might be best consumed byÂ someone new to both DT and UX, I’m going to recommend that you look at the following two new resources.
First, take an hour and watch a highly informative video about UX. “Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services For an Uncertain World” featuresÂ Brandon Schauer and David Yerba, two designers from the firm Adaptive Path. In this Google TalksÂ video presentationÂ they share the key concepts from their new book of the same title. I took away a couple of ideas. First, these folks excel at keeping their explanations simple. User experience – that’s all the user cares about. The experience is the product. Do they enjoy themselves, do they accomplish what they need to do, and do they manage to do it the way they want – with simplicity? Well, there’s more to UX than that, but that’s a good start.Â I also like their way of explaining the type of design they bring to the process of developing the user experience – an activity everyone in the organization can embrace no matter what their background. Then they discuss The Long Wow – a Wow experience that repeatedlyÂ delivers great delights for the user, is memorable, and impresses. In other words, users remember it and return again for more of the same.Â I’m looking forward to reading the book.
But how do you design that type of experience for your library? If you haven’t done much formal reading about design thinking now is a good time to start. And what better way to start than with a basic article about design thinking from one of the masters of the art – Tim Brown the CEO and President of IDEO. The article appears in the just published June 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review (p.85). The article relates the basic concepts of design thinking and why it can provide a better approach to developing human-centered solutions. In particular I like that Brown further elaborates on his explanation of the “three I’s” – Inspiration; Ideation; and Implementation (see the graphic in the article). I had previously heard Brown discuss this in a video presentation, but the graphic in the article provides a good visual representation of the process as it applies to problem finding, user studies, brainstorming, prototyping and solution development. And since those new to design thinking always ask for examples of how it is applied in real life situations, the article contains several case studies to illustrate the application of design thinking.
Even though I’ve been studying these ideas for over two years I continue to be amazed at the great articles and videos that help me to clarifying my thinking about DT and UX, and how these activities and approaches can be applied to the design of better libraries.
WhenÂ talking to other librarians aboutÂ user experience, the question/observation thatÂ invariably comes up is “but isn’t that just another way of saying we all need to give great customer service”. I admit it’s a good question. I don’t doubt that organizations that have mastered theÂ user experienceÂ all incorporate great customer service into the process.Â A talk I attended recently got me thinking about the difference between great customer service and great library user experiences. I would say there is a difference and that it can be explained.
Good customer service is important to any service organization, and that includes libraries. To my way of thinking, good customer serviceÂ must beÂ a given. It’s not added value. We might even describe good customer service, for library organizations, as a core value service. Without it we fail to fulfill our mission. But if every library provided great customer service there is nothing about great customer service that differentiates an individual library. Most library users wouldÂ then (and I would argue should) have the expectation to getÂ good customer service in any library they visit.
User experience, on the other hand, is all about creating a difference. As was explained in the talk I attended, so many competitors can now offer exactly the same products, at exactly the same price, with exactly the same customer service. Differentiation is a critical strategy in any highly competitive environment. For many businesses and services the only way to now achieve differentiation is to create a unique experience for their customers. And that experience can’t be random. It should be the result of a carefully constructed design.
I’m not saying that consistently delivering good customer experience is easy. But I do think our staff working in those areas of the library operationÂ that are expected to offer good customer service know what they need to do and some basic ways in which it can be accomplished. Designing a good library user experience, on the other hand,Â is going to take a more strategic effort to determineÂ how and in what ways the library can differentiate itself through a variety of customer interactions. It’s not going to necessarily be the same for every library. At one library the experience might be designed around total simplicity – making the library and its systems as easy to use at every possible touch point. At another library it might designed around academic success – always communicating the message that the library helps students and faculty achieve success on their terms – and delivering on it at every touch point. Why will those library experiences be different? Because, asÂ our speaker told us, all user experience design eminates from an organization’s core value system. Each library, as it develops its design for the user experience, must first grasp and be able to articulate what its core value propositions are.
Fortunately, quite a few of my library colleagues attended this talk. I’m glad they heard these messages about designing a user experience for a library, why it’s important in our competitive information landscape, and why it’s about more than good customer service. Together I think we canÂ begin to discuss what our core values are, and then use that knowledge to design our library user experience.
Interesting graphic in the back of the current Harvard Business Review. A nice warning not to rely on shiny new toys to drive interest, but rather we need consider the real issues/barriers preventing success and start there. Think of this as the librarian behind the reference desk– you get shiny new web tools or even a new physical desk for that matter– but is that really the solution– or is there a problem with the model instead?