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Small Details of the Library Experience May Matter the Most

There’s a new book garnering attention because it brings a new perspective to design thinking. What makes it stand out is that it’s a really small idea. Micro-small in fact. That certainly has a refreshing appeal when what usually gets hyped are really big ideas. This approach may be of value to librarians in helping them to think small – and we’re unaccustomed to hearing that sort of advice. I have to admit to being guilty myself of suggesting that it’s the big idea that helps our libraries get attention. If we intend to design a library experience based on achieving totality, it makes sense to consider all of the individual, micro-design elements that ultimately contribute to the total experience.

In his new book Microinteractions Dan Saffer encourages us to focus more on the small details that add up to the bigger moments of our user experience. In other words, the success of the outcome of the product or service is in the details. The microinteractions are the small elements of the overall process or service that can determine its unique features that make for a great experience. Microinteractions include functions such as silencing a cell phone, filling out a webform as part of a larger process (e.g., requesting an article from the library), or any small component of a larger experience. Saffer shares a good story about how a cell phone alarm ruined a concert because its owner didn’t know that the phone issued a time alarm even when set to silent mode. The design of that feature is perhaps a good one but its existence, or how to override it, certainly wasn’t clear to the phone’s owner.

There are four parts to the microinteraction:

1. A trigger that initiates it; something the user has to do such as pressing a switch or choosing an option.

2. A rule that governs the operation of the trigger; when a light switch is turned to on (the trigger) the rule states that the light stays on until the switch is set to off.

3. Feedback that the rules generate; visuals, sounds or sensations that let you know the rule is operational – such as the light that goes on when the switch is flipped or the visual cue that informs you the form was submitted.

4. Loops and modes that make up the microinteraction’s metarules; think of them as smaller helper functions that support the microinteraction, such as a sub-function to change the location for a function that provides a weather report.

As we go about designing different elements of our library services and products how could a better understanding of microinteractions and their part in the success or failure of a more involved experience help us to improve the total library experience. While I imagine that what Saffer mostly has in mind is our experience with interfaces and technology design – and that appears to be the case based on the examples he provides in the (free-to-read) first chapter. What I’d like to contemplate is how we could apply the microinteraction process to various areas of our library operations. For example, try applying it to a face-to-face reference interaction.

First, we need a trigger – something to get the community member to activate the service. As we design the microinteractive pieces, let’s remember delivering a superior experience is the desired outcome. What about something physical, such as a smile, big greeting or eye contact (or all of them) that sends a trigger to signal the initiation of a service process. Second, we need a rule and it should be natural for reference librarians. The rule would state that the librarian stays engaged with the community member until the request for information is resolved. Unfortunately, the micro-design missing in the reference interaction is follow up; we rarely know if the assistance offered actually solved the community member’s need. Third, the feedback generated by the rules would be verbal in nature, with the librarian providing oral feedback to let the community member know how the interaction is proceeding and where it is headed. And fourth and finally, the metarules would focus on demonstrating a research skill as a microfunction that supports the microintereaction.

You might be questioning if this application of Saffer’s microinteraction methods helps us to improve the total library experience. But if we can regard many of our routine activities as microinteractions within a much larger system, you can begin to see how designing each microinteraction in the individual service or product can eventually add up to the totality of the library experience, it makes a difference. It may also be easier to get there by focusing staff energy on the design and effectiveness of each micorinteraction that is incorporated into the total library experience. Perhaps the most valuable outcome from this new book is that it will get us thinking about service interactions – and designing them – in a whole new – and micro-detailed way. That, I think, is why Saffer’s work is sure to gather more attention.

Comments

Comment from Paul Z.
Posted: July 18, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Thanks for sharing!

Agreed:
“…if we can regard many of our routine activities as microinteractions within a much larger system, you can begin to see how designing each microinteraction in the individual service or product can eventually add up to the totality of the library experience…”

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