For a Better Library UX…See a Psychologist

At one time no librarian worked with ethnographers to understand user behavior in the pursuit of a better library user experience. Now it’s an accepted practice. Does the next frontier in designing a better library experience involve working with psychologists?






Have you wondered why community members decide to come to your library…or choose to go elsewhere?

Of course you have.

What librarian, particularly administrators who need to demonstrate library value to stakeholders, hasn’t spent time thinking about it. Maybe even worrying about it.

The library literature has an entire sub-discipline devoted to marketing. We spend considerable time figuring out how to promote what we do and offer in an effort to get more community members through the door to engage with us – or to engage virtually with our digital content.

To our credit the library profession has made good efforts to examine the process community members go through when they need information. What’s on their mind? Why are they looking for information? What’s their first step and where do they head to resolve that need? We’ve learned quite a bit from user studies such as Project Information Literacy, Ithaka S & R and several ethnographic research reports. What if we knew more about the thought process people go through when making the decision to use the library – or what causes them to go elsewhere. What’s the psychology behind those decisions?

In addition to the ways we apply assessment and ethnography techniques, psychology may serve as a tool to gain insight into what would make the library a more attractive option for users.

That’s the direction in which some retailers are headed. Consumer brands want to know what’s going on in buyers’ minds. What drives them to one brand over another. We make assumptions about why students and faculty may choose a generic Internet search engine before considering what the library has to offer.

There’s the convenience. It’s the simplicity of the user interface. It’s what everyone else is doing. It delivers on expectations. Libraries, on the other hand, are full of twists, turns and (potentially unpleasant) surprises. But what do we really know about these assumptions?

Could we use psychology to get to the “why” behind the choices community members make? How might that better inform our efforts to influence the decision process? That’s what consumer psychologist Vanessa Patrick is out to learn.

In the article “A Consumer Psychologist Looks at Why Customers Buy” Patrick, a University of Houston marketing professor who researches consumer psychology, shares what she’s learned about consumers and how to figure out what’s going on in their minds. Tapping into that knowledge could help librarians identify better ways to invite community members into their world – and design must be paid attention.

That’s where things get interesting. Patrick believes that one of the critical factors in engaging consumers is “design salience” which she defines as:

Just the fact that design is an important aspect of the particular product.This is a trend that we’ve been seeing recently, largely because consumers respond very well to design. What allows one company to differentiate their product from another is design. So, for example, companies like Dyson and Apple, their focus is on design, largely because it allows them to differentiate themselves and create a certain aesthetic that is associated with that brand.

This makes good sense in the context of consumers purchasing goods and being drawn to the aesthetics. They may choose one product over another based on the design, such as preferring an Apple computer over a Dell. But does the psychology behind consumer purchasing decisions carry over to information resources and services? If consumers choose Google over the local library home page for their research, is design salience behind the decision?

And if it is, what’s design features would create an aesthetic that works for libraries? We certainly are trying to be more user-centered in our design. Patrick suggests something a bit different: insight-based design. She describes it as “understand the psychology of the consumer and derive an insight about that consumer and develop a design based on that insight.”

Less useful for us are Patrick’s example, mostly consumer products such as Dyson’s sink that combines a faucet, soap dispenser and fan all in one location. The insight is improving something that consumers use everyday through the use of design and aesthetics. How does insight-based design apply to service?

In this interview, Patrick does share some interesting examples of the psychology behind certain consumer preferences, such as being more attracted to glossy paper then other types. What’s the link behind a greater tactile appreciation of glossy surfaces? Turns out there’s a psychological connection between that feeling and our need for water as a resource.

Sounds a bit strange but perhaps not surprising that there could be some odd, unexpected psychological connection between human preferences for certain designs. Now I’m wondering if Google, Amazon and other big Internet players are using psychology as a tool in their design processes.

Perhaps there is more to insight-based design than we might think. Are we willing to invite psychologists into our libraries to help us understand why community members do or do not connect with the library, and what design factors might strangely build a stronger emotional connection with the library brand. There is a school of thought/practice in the world of UX that explores the role of psychology in design.

At one time we likely scoffed at the idea of inviting in ethnographers to help us understand library user behavior. Not so much these days. Perhaps the next experiments in designing better libraries will take us into the realm of psychology.

Is Anyone Emotionally Connected to a Library?

Why should librarians care about designing a unique, memorable and differentiated user experience for their library?

I can think of a few reasons. We want the experience to go well. We want people to connect with something, be it a resource, space or person, that resolves their need with the least amount of friction. We want the experience to be high fidelity.

Those are all good reasons. It could do more than just leave a community member feeling good about their visit to or interaction with the library. It could lead to more intensive engagement with the library or some positive word-of-mouth buzz in the community. Is it possible to have the experience create an attachment with the library that goes even deeper than good feelings? Can community members establish an emotional connection with their library?

Possibly. The answer may lie in better understanding how people get emotionally connected to brands.

Consumer research demonstrates that building an emotional connection is a level of experience that transcends awareness, satisfaction or even loyalty. Some experience researchers refer to that as a Level Three experience. While this level of engagement is desirable, it’s unlikely that all of those who know the brand and engage with it will reach a state of emotional connection.

In their article “What Separates the Best Customers from the Merely Satisfied” Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon discuss how consumers who are emotionally connected with brands are far more engaged and of greater value to the success of a product or service than those who merely express satisfaction with the brand. How do they know the difference between someone who is satisfied versus emotionally connected. Here are some signs of emotional connection with a brand:

* that brand resonates with an individual’s deepest emotions
* that brand makes the individual feel differentiated from the crowd
* that brand contributes to the individual feeling like the person they want to be

To arrive at these findings the authors developed something called the “Emotional Connection Score” (ECS). It measures the share of a brand’s customers who are fully emotionally connected to that brand. The authors measured the ECS of 39 different brands across a number of different industries. This involved analyzing the buying behaviors of thousands of consumers of the brand. For a more complete explanation take a look at the authors’ long-read article.

Taking a look at the study results, displayed in a chart, raises some questions. I can see why consumers may be more emotionally connected to the BMW brand than the Toyota brand, given the much higher investment and quality difference with the BMW. The difference between Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts is more puzzling. Starbucks is well known for the design of their user experience yet Dunkin Donuts has a slightly higher ECS. You would think that the Starbucks experience would generate deeper emotional connection. What does Virgin Airlines do to make it a standout in the airline industry? Southwest, I would think, has the most emotionally connected customers. Perhaps free bag checks creates satisfaction but not emotional connection.

The authors do make the point that the study and science of customer emotions is relatively new, so there is much more to learn. One takeaway of more immediate interest for user experience librarians is that customer satisfaction is not necessarily telling the whole story. It may be good to know that community members express satisfaction – as they often do in standard surveys – but we may want to move beyond mere satisfaction to emotional connection. To do that we need to learn more about the ECS score and the strategies for building emotional connection.

Perhaps we need to learn more about our community members who show all the signs of being emotionally connected. Their appreciation of personal assistance, access to technology or just the books the love to read can easily transcend satisfaction. They may actually talk about how much they love their library. When the library budget is endangered and services may be lost, those are the members who will fight for preserving the library’s resources. In the past I referred to these members as “library superusers“. Perhaps that’s another way of identifying an emotional connected library user.

The challenge for librarians is creating the systemic experience for community members that leads to the state of emotional connection. In the search for meaning user experience metrics, perhaps an Emotional Connection Score is what we need.