Moving Beyond Experience To Identity

While I’m in between parts one and two of a discussion of the age of user experience I thought I’d point out one of the better sources of information for those interested in following trends and developments in the world of design. One of the things DBL hope to achieve is to create more passion for design and design thinking among its readers. One of the ways for that to happen is to keep reading. A particularly good blog is NussbaumOnDesign. Bruce Nussbaum is a technology editor at BusinessWeek, and he produces consistently good blog posts on the intersection of innovatin and design. The blog is connected to a quarterly (I believe) supplement in BusinessWeek called InDesign (or it might be nDesign). I highly recommend the reading of this supplement for getting even more insight into design issues. I believe that Nussbaum said in his blog the other day that a new supplement should be out soon – so now is the time to take a look at your library’s next few issues of BusinessWeek so you can discover InDesign.

And since we were on the subject of the user experience, take a look at what Nussbaum had to say. He believes that experience may suggest something that is too passive in nature to be memorable. An experience is something that happens to you. Identity, on the other hand, is all about the individual. Individuals want to interact with their environments. And where identify seems to be particularly important is within social networks. Those who use them do so by creating identies for themselves. So it may be that in social networks, creating an identity is a significant experience in and of itself.

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.


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.

DBL’s Feed Experiencing A Glitch

The DBL blog team wishes to thank everyone who has visited the blog, and we appreciate the supportive and positive comments received so far. It sounds like we’ve set some high expectations and we’ll do our best to meet them. And thanks to all you bloggers who posted about DBL to help spread the word to the library community. Just this week over 150 folks have subscribed to our feed on Bloglines.

While we hoped our first week would be a smooth one it appears we are suffering from at least one significant technical glitch. We have discovered that our feed isn’t working in most of the major news aggregators like Bloglines. The subscription will work, but new posts are not being picked up. So for that time being you will not see new items for DBL in your aggregator. We are working to correct this and hope to have it working correctly soon. In the meantime, please try to stop by for our latest posts.