Using Design Thinking At Your Library

When speaking about design thinking at a library conference or in a webcast one question will routinely be raised: “How are librarians actually putting design thinking to use?”. It’s a good question and one that I can answer with a few examples. I often try to encourage participants in the discussion to think of ways they might already be using design thinking or some part of that process without realizing it. I provide examples of how I’m using it in my work. But having even more examples would be better, and in time I think there will be as librarians begin sharing their applications of design thinking in the literature. I recently came across an example of that exact thing.

In the latest issue of the journal Medical Reference Services Quarterly I discovered an article titled “Single Service Point: It’s All in the Design” by Pamela S. Bradigan and Ruey L. Rodman, of the John A. Prior Health Sciences Library at Ohio State University. It appears in the Winter 2008 issue (v. 27) on pages 367-378. It’s not freely online but your library may have a subscription via the Haworth Jounals online collection. Here’s the abstract from the article:

‘‘Design thinking’’ principles from a leading design firm, IDEO, were key elements in the planning process for a one-desk service model, the ASK Desk, at the John A. Prior Health Sciences Library. The library administration and staff employed the methodology to enhance customer experiences, meet technology challenges, and compete in a changing education environment. The most recent renovations demonstrate how the principles were applied. The concept of ‘‘continuous design thinking’’ is important in the library’s dailyoperations to serve customers most effectively.

Where this article can be most helpful to other librarians wanting to know how they could use design thinking is the well laid out discussion of how the five steps of the IDEO design thinking process were applied in the merger of their two service points into one. They elaborate how they put into practice the ideas of understand, observe, visualize, evaluate/refine and implement. All of these phases are fully discussed in the book The Art of Innovation. As a result I think it becomes easier to grasp how this process can help a library to identify problems and then develop appropriate solutions. Bradigan and Rodman used design thinking to first determine in what ways their patrons needed a better, more streamlined service desk. Their solutions were based on understanding and observing their library users.

While it’s likely that this journal doesn’t get read much beyond the medical librarian community, I’m hoping it will reach a broader audience. I am encouraged that it will because the Journal of Academic Librarianship included this article in its “Guide to the Professional Literature” in the January 2009 issue. That’s how I discovered it, and I hope more librarians will as well.

The Creative Library

Editor’s Note: Cross-Posted from ACRLog.

It’s rare that I’ll write about one of my personal projects – maybe a casual link here and there – but today I want to share with you the link to a recent project that I’m particulary proud to bring to your attention. This past spring semester I engaged in a unique experience. For the first time in my career I served as the guest editor of a journal issue. A good friend and colleague, Lisa Finder, a librarian at Hunter College and current co-editor of Urban Library Journal invited me to serve as the guest editor of the spring 2008 issue. When she said I could choose any theme I liked that sealed the deal. After some careful thought I decided to assemble a collection of articles that would showcase the creative abilities of librarians. We call this issue “The Creative Library“. Lauren Yannotta, also a librarian at Hunter College, is ULI’s other co-editor.

If you are new to Urban Library Journal you should know:

Urban Library Journal is an open access, refereed journal of research and discussion dealing with all aspects of urban libraries and librarianship, welcomes articles dealing with academic, research, public, school, and special libraries in an urban setting.

The editors and I were amazed at the number of quality manuscripts we received in response to our call for papers. Choosing those to include was quite difficult. I think you will find the articles in this issue offer great examples of creative librarians at their best. For an overview of what’s included take a look at my introduction to the issue. Here’s a snippet from that overview:

That’s why this special issue about creativity in libraries is just right for the times. First, it’s important to celebrate the many creative minds working in this profession. Libraries have traditionally orked with restrained resource pools. To have come so far with so many successes is owing to the high levels of creative thinking in our libraries. Second, as we find ourselves in times of rapid change our most valuable asset is our ability to master the art of adaptation. If one program fails, if users seem to be going elsewhere for their information, if user expectations shift unexpectedly, then library workers must use their creativity to quickly adapt. By understanding our user communities, we can create new programs that leverage our skill sets to deliver new services and new ideas that will continue to make the library a community destination, both physical and virtual. We have compiled here a set of dynamic articles that demonstrate that there is no lack of creativity in the world of librarianship. But you probably already knew that. Anyone who has worked in this field for any length of time knows there are many creative people attracted to the field of librarianship. Yet we rarely use our journal literature to promote the many acts of creativity happening at our libraries. This special issue of Urban Library Journal changes that.

Did I say that this is a free, open access journal. So it’s free. What are you waiting for?

From Adaptability To Elasticity

With the American Library Association’s Annual Conference just about to begin, today I’m thinking about the Midwinter Conference that was held back in January 2008. At that event I attended a thoughtful program that featured a speaker talking about mastering the art of adaption, something librarians were advised to do – individually and organizationally – to thrive in the 21st Century. I thought of this program just the other day as I read a short but interesting essay titled “Design and the Elastic Mind.” I came across this article when a colleague of mine gave me a copy of a magazine called Seed. I had never heard of it. I guess I’d describe it as a popular science publication. This particular issue, the March/April 2008, was “The Design Issue”. My colleagues know I’m interested in design. In this essay by Paola Antonelli, which leads off the design articles, she writes:

 “As science and technology accelerate the pace of society, design has become more and more integral to our ability to adapt to change. Indeed, in the past few decades people have coped with dramatic changes in several long-standing relationships—with time, space, information, and individuality, to name a few. Designers are translating these “disruptive” scientific and technological innovations by providing thoughtful guidance and a collaborative approach. In order to step boldly into the future, we need design.”

I’m glad to hear that we need design. But what caught my attention is that Antonelli says that while being adaptable is good, the rapidly accelerating pace of change requires more than adaptability. What we really need is elasticity. According to her that means:

“being able to negotiate change and innovation without letting them interfere excessively with one’s own rhythms and goals. It means being able to embrace progress, understanding how to make it our own. One of design’s most fundamental tasks is to help people deal with change. Designers have the ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and social mores and to convert them into objects and ideas that people can understand and use. Without designers, instead of a virtual city of home pages with windows, doors, buttons, and links, the internet would still be a series of obscure strings of code, and appliances would be reduced to standardized skeletons of functions.”

So it may be that we need to shift from mere adaptability to an elastic mind. Just exactly how we do that is discussed further in the article, but it involves shifting our temporal rhythms. And of course, new design principles that go beyond human-centered design will help us achieve this elasticity in ourselves and our objects. Take a look at this essay, and if you can obtain a copy of the Design Issue, you may find more there worth exploring. I did.

The Interview Learning Experience

There’s nothing quite like reading good, clear explanations of the basic concepts and approaches we focus on here at DBL. Librarians may struggle as they seek to understand and familiarize themselves with design thinking, user experiences and other important elements of a library that delivers a great user experience. That’s why I found Kate Rudder’s interview with Nathan Shedroff to be informative and enlightening on several levels. Shedroff is experience strategist, author, and the Program Chair and founder of the brand new MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts. Unlike some of the more technical articles on design thinking and user experience, the interview format makes it possible to learn from an expert who puts the theory into a more practical framework. Here are some snippets from the interview:

Design processes, specifically, approach the challenge to imagine and devise new solutions, in any context, by looking at customers in meaningful ways, integrating data from a variety of sources, and using it as a starting point instead of an ending point. Design respects different kinds of prototyping and iteration, which is an important part of the process.

You don’t have to be a designer to learn to innovate like one, but it helps if you’ve been through the process a few times to understand what to expect and how the process needs to be supported.

Design [with a big “D”]is about how people approach a challenge and develop a solution and, as such, these processes are extendable into almost any domain: interaction design, organizational design, etc. However, most of the time that the word design [with a little “d”] is used, it is often referring to a particular type of design or domain: graphic, industrial, web, interaction, fashion, interior, etc. and it invokes all of the baggage associated with that domain in both the speaker and the listener.

Great designers have processes they rely on to investigate, ideate, prototype, iterate, validate, and communicate that they can employ to validate what their intuition may be leading them to.

Check out the rest of the interview. I think you’ll find it a good learning experience

Calling All Creative Librarians

To make my life even more exciting I’ve signed on to guest edit an issue of Urban Library Journal. But I’m especially excited about this issue because the theme is “The Creative Library.” So I encourage you to consider submitting a proposal or share this with a colleague who you think brings a creative approach to their library work. Here are some suggested themes for articles, but use your creativity in developing an article proposal.

  • Leading creative organizations
  • Fostering creativity in the library
  • Using creativity to resolve complex challenges
  • Creative ways to build great user experiences
  • Developing processes that encourage innovation
  • Creative patron programming for orientations, cultural events, etc.
  • Creative methods to get the library community engaged or passionate about the library
  • Creative techniques for leveraging Web 2.0 technology for connecting with library users

    If you need more information about the issue or how to submit your proposal, take a look at the full call for proposals.