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.

Empathic Problem Solving (The Library as Remedy)

Design Thinking is not about bricks or clicks. It’s not about interior space or web usability, although both of those topics should be addressed. No, Design Thinking is about solving problems. This requires a cultural shift for libraries, since we tend to have a narrow world view. Librarians take pride in critical thinking, narrowing down concepts, whereas Design Thinking is quite the opposite. It’s about generating numerous ideas and building up the possibilities. The most practical solution is not always the best. 10 good ideas are more valuable than 1 great idea.

An approach that I have been exploring over the past year is Empathic Design. I don’t simply ask patrons how we might improve or what they would like to see differently, but instead focus on the problems they encounter not only with the Library, but academically, socially, everything. I want to know where they fail, where things go wrong, as well as what works. I want to understand their total experience. This doesn’t happen through just focus groups or surveys– it comes from being out in the field and gaining trust.

Design Thinking focuses on understanding and defining problems, and then making improvements to address those needs. This requires broad perceptions, which can be a challenge since the concept of libraries is so engrained in our minds and theirs too. People toss the “outside the box” phrase around too much, but it takes great imagination to break-through stereotypes and expectations. Simply asking patrons what they want will only result in them trying to tell us what they think we want to hear. Instead, I want to examine the big picture and then build or reshape services to address actual needs. Let’s target problem areas that we can fix and then promote the value that we are providing: The Library as Remedy.

Welcome to Designing Better Libraries

Into the already crowded landscape of library-related blogs we introduce something new. A commonality among library blogs is a tendency to point to the weaknesses and faults of our profession and how it inadequately delivers services. Customer service – it’s terrible. Competiveness – we don’t understand the concept. Technology – we must better understand our users needs. Search – Google makes us look inferior and hopelessly complex. Libraries – the facilities need vast improvement. Innovation – there’s not enough or it’s mostly “bandwagon innovation“. To an extent, that library bloggers point out these problems is a good thing. It’s important to recognize these issues so that we can work on improving them. That’s what Designing Better Libraries is all about; adapting new ways of thinking and acting that will promote the development and implementation of ideas, strategies and services that will create a better library experience for the users.

When the words design and library appear in the same sentence it typically relates to either the interior or exterior of a library facility. Designing Better Libraries will take a different approach, and our way of thinking and acting about design is far less about adding cafes and more comfortable furniture as the path to a better library. Instead we’ll be exploring a new way of tackling the ongoing challenge of identifying strategies and methods to improve our libraries so that our community members will feel more compelled to use our services and resources – so that we will become more indispensable to them. Designing Better Libraries invites you to join us in learning about design thinking, and the ways we can apply it to improve our processes of innovation and implementation. For additional information about and insight to Designing Better Libraries, take a look at our DBL Philosophy page.

So while there is certainly some value in grousing about libraries and all those things we need to do better, this blog will focus its efforts on offering new ways of thinking and acting to provide librarians with better strategies for harnessing both human and technology resources in designing better libraries. Our DBL blog team hopes you will join us in this endeavor by being a regular reader, and in time being part of our effort to share ideas about how we can use design to be better innovators who are able to  identify the right problems and use a thoughtful process to identify and implement the right solutions.