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.

Build It And They Will Come

Proposals to build a new library facility will almost always be met with some community resistance these days. Taxpayers who are non-library users will question why they should be required to contribute to a new library building when everyone can get all the information they need from the Internet – and they can get any book they need from Amazon. Even armed with all the data and Pew research that confirm how important libraries are to their communities – and knowing the value a modern new facility delivers – convincing the naysayers is a difficult task. College and university trustees may raise similar questions. New library projects, depending on the funding streams, may cause a tuition increase – something to avoid as much as is possible. The institution must balance meeting its deferred maintenance needs with the expectation it will continuously add an awesome new building. With so many competing demands and limited resources, it’s understandable that plans for a new library will be subject to intense scrutiny.

In municipalities and campuses around the country these questions are routinely asked, and choices must be made about investing in new facilities when it’s not entirely clear if they will meet their potential. It’s the age old question. If we build it will they come? When it comes to library buildings both new and renovated, we know both quantitatively and anecdotally that the investment pays off with significant returns. It’s not unusual for gate counts to quadruple when a new library opens. With new study spaces, new service areas, better event areas and much more, few community members can resist the draw of a better library facility that gives them a far superior experience.

These success stories are found elsewhere in our communities too. When I moved to a new suburb outside of Philadelphia (after 24 years in a house about 15 miles in the opposite direction), my spouse went in search of a new fitness center. There were four from which to choose, one of which was the local YMCA. When we went to check it out it was a pretty tired looking building and space. Although it was the closest, the sad state of the facility put it at the bottom of the list. We also found out why it was badly in need of renovation. The regional YMCA, recognizing it was losing out to area competitors, was already in the early stages of building of a new facility about 5 miles away.The existing building would be obsolete soon enough. For a number of reasons, but mostly owing to the convenience factor, my spouse chose another fitness center. On a few occasions though, we found ourselves driving past the new Y as it was under construction. It was clear this was going to put that old Y to shame.

Fast forward about 18 months and the new Y has been open for business for a short while now. Guess what? They built it and boy, did they ever come. According to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the new Haverford Y quickly became the fastest growing YMCA in the United States:

With more than 20,500 members, it has become so popular that as cars pull into the expansive parking lot, attendants with flags direct them to the few available spaces…the Haverford Y’s membership numbers have far exceeded expectations and surpassed those of Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA’s 16 other branches.

Yes, the new building is attractive. Its brand new equipment offers the latest technology. There are three swimming pools so you can always find a lane. It is easily accessed from a major road in a densely populated community. So newness, location and demographics are in the new Y’s favor. But the planners have also designed the experience in a way to attract singles, families and senior citizens. They offer something that appeals to everyone in the community. Administrators at the regional headquarters of the YMCA, seeing the success of the Haverford Y, are encouraged that building similar or even better facilities will get people off their couches and into their neighborhood YMCA.

No doubt all of us in libraryland would be eager to replicate the success of the new Y, but few of us will have such an opportunity in our careers. For the majority who must work with the library they have, it is critical to make the design choices that will provide community members with the best possible library they deserve. When our facilities create barriers that work against this goal, we must work at understanding the needs and expectations of community members, and doing our best to exceed them. It’s unlikely the result will increase usage three or four times beyond what it is now, but with hard work and persistence we can make it a much better experience for our current users – and if each of them tells just one other person about their great library experience it can make a difference.

McDonald’s, Good Ideas and Experience Design – Recommended Reads

Unfortunately I have less time right now than I’d like to write at greater length about each of these three items I’ve recently read. I think each is worth taking the time to read so I’m recommending them here with just a few quick thoughts.

It’s “Masters of Design” special issue time again over at Fast Company. One of the articles was a standout for me – the one about the big McMakeover at McDonald’s. A few years back it seemed the trend was to apply the term “mcdonaldization” to suggest that a fast food model was taking over a particular process, organization or industry. It was a put down, meaning that creativity and innovation were replaced by rote, soulless routines that reduced the quality of service in favor of speed, efficiency and convenience. I even recall an article from College & Research Libraries, the peer-reviewed library journal, that used the term in its title, and it’s been used fairly regularly in higher education to refer to the big business approach taken by for-profit online higher education programs. What’s interesting about all this is that the Fast Company article is high praise for how McDonald’s is using design to re-invent itself – and be anything but McDonaldized (Ok, they’re not exactly breaking the fast food mold). The article highlights the work of Denis Weil, the designer leading the makeover, who says that “Design is doing something with intent.” The article inspires me to think that when it comes to re-invention and mass change, if McDonald’s can do it, why can’t libraries. Well, if we had a designer like Denis Weil (and some of McDonald’s cash), I think we could.

Just yesterday I downloaded Steven Johnson’s TED Talk on “good ideas”, and I’m looking forward to watching it soon. (NOTE: if you weren’t aware of how easy it is to download a selected TT to iTunes – it is easy – give it a try). So today I came across a WSJ article written by Johnson about the origins of good ideas and the importance of being a tinkerer. I now realize he is coming out with a new book on this exact topic. The article provides a taste of the book, which makes the point that real innovation isn’t the work of a lone creative genius sitting alone in a room when a light-bulb idea pops out. That may happen occasionally, but Johnson uses real world examples to demonstrate that good ideas emerge when different ideas, products or processes that already exist come together in new or different ways. In the past much innovation has happened in closed environments, such as corporate R&D shops, and intellectual property laws have kept it competitive and private. Johnson believes that open innovation may create an environment in which many more good ideas can emerge. Read the article, watch the TT – and perhaps you may be inspired to be the “tinkerer” for your library.

From the “user experience backlash” department – sort of – comes this blog post titled “Can Experience be Designed?” from Oliver Reichenstein at iA. While the language suggests that Reichenstein has a problem with the validity of user experience designers, what he basically asks is if the idea of experience design is bullshit. Can you really design an experience for people when everyone achieves a slightly different experience from any particular design which he or she encounters? He asks “Do experience designers shape how users feel or do they shape with respect to how users feel?” Can an architect design a house that delivers a certain type of experience or does the house’s design lead to a spectrum of experiences – based on the lives of the inhabitants and what they bring to the experience? Reichenstein then proceeds to give the reader much to think about the concept and practice of user experience design. I like these types of articles because they force me to question some of my beliefs about design thinking and user experiences. It also helps me to clarify what, in a library, can be improved through user experience design, and how it might be accomplished. I’ll be further reflecting on this one.

Want Magazine Will Help Us Learn How Designers Think

I had seen the advance announcements about Want Magazine, and was eagerly looking forward to the debut of issue one (a/k/a Release 001). Now we can all read Want Magazine. The first issue became available just recently. Want Magazine looks like it will be a valuable learning source for those of us who want to better understand how designers think and what drives their creativity and creation. It appears that the format – and who knows just exactly how Want will evolve – is recorded interviews with a rich mix of designers. Each interview is posted with text notes from the interviewer – which is helpful if you don’t have time to watch the interview and want to know the key takeaways. According to its mission statement here’s what we can expect:

What makes our magazine unique is that we are willing to take an apparently mundane occurrence, and celebrate it. We do not take experiences for granted. We trust them to instill change, to have the power to transform, to improve lives and the lives of others. First and foremost, we intend to celebrate the makers of experience –those who devote their full time, energy and passion to making memorable moments and positive feelings. Among these people, we highlight the professionals in the field of User Experience Design. Their discipline is purposely centered on the research, planning and execution of strategies, activities and results that bring purpose to users of products, interactions and places.

The chief problem of Want is that I’ll never find the time to view all the great interviews. I’ve taken a look at the ones with Peter Merholz, Don Norman and Cordell Ratzlaff – and all were well worth the time. I hope to get back to check out a few more of the interviews. I think Norman has some profound thoughts about why people become enthusiastic about complex systems and the process by which that happens. I also like Ratzlaff’s view of what user experience is:

I think it encompasses the entire relationship that a person has with the device or product or application that they’re using. That includes the functionality of the device. It includes the physical relationship between the person and the product. And it includes the emotional relationship. It also encompasses every touch point between the person and the product.

What both Norman and Ratzlaff have to say strikes me as directly related to the library experience – or rather what we need to do to design a better one. There needs to be an emotional attachment and an emotional relationship. I see this in the students who win our library research prize. They are incredibly passionate about their research, and they’ve formed strong attachments with our collection and librarians. I recommend that you sign up for updates from Want Magazine. If you want to learn more about user experience, or even just want to understand it a little better, then take a closer look.

Journal Publishes Special Issue On Design Innovation

Several good articles about the intersection of design and innovation are found in the 2009 (V. 30, N.3) issue of the Journal of Business Strategy. It is not freely available on the Internet, but many academic libraries subscribe to Emerald online journals and this issue is available there. I wanted to mention two article in particular that I’m reading because they pertain to design thinking (well more than a few in this issue are but these two are of greatest interest to me – you may find others of value). The first is titled “Beyond good: great innovations through design” by Steven Sato and the other one is “Innovation is good, fitness is better” by James Hackett.

I’m doing some preparation for a talk about the value of taking an entrepreneurial approach to librarianship. Invariably, if you delve into entrepreneurism the topic of innovation enters the conversation. Both of these articles offer some good insights into how design thinking can provide a framework for increasing or stimulating organizational innovation. Hackett is particularly strong on the connection between design thinking and the evolution of an organization. He believes that only the fittest organizations are the ones that survive industry turmoil. Using his own experience as the CEO of Steelcase, an office furniture company, Hackett describes how design thinking was used to keep moving to the next level of organizational fitness. I found it most interesting that he says he first learned about design thinking 20 years ago at the Illinois Institute of Technology Institute of Design; design thinking is hardly as new an approach as I once thought. For Hackett the most critical aspect of achieving fitness is critical thinking. He provides a path for moving from thinking to implementation in the article.

Sato’s article is the more dense of the two, but he attempts to create a closer relationship between design thinking and innovation, differentiation and simplification. Sato defines design thinking as “a systematic approach that optimizes value to customers with benefits to the company”. He sees the main function of design thinking as providing the balance in deciding what to produce that customers will use with the most effective way of making and offering that new product or service. Sato’s concepts may be best understood by examining figure 4 in his article. It summarizes how design thinking can be applied to innovation, differentiation and simplification. Most of these examples are based on work done at Hewlitt-Packard. As an example of innovation we learn how HP used a design thinking process to automate micro-finance transactions. I found Sato’s article provided a rather difference perspective on design thinking, one I hope to put to use soon.

I hope you’ll have an opportunity to read these two articles. While this special issue of Journal of Business Strategy has several more that focus on design thinking, I’d recommend these two if you have limited reading time. But if you have more time, don’t stop there. Check out some of the other articles as well.