IDEO Was Here

“[Enter Name] consulted/partnered/teamed [choose one] with IDEO to transform/re-imagine/design [choose one] an innovative/revolutionary/empathic [choose one] solution.”

Is it my imagination or does it seem that a sentence like this one appears with increasing frequency.

It certainly is a long way from shopping cart re-design projects. In addition to product design, IDEO and other firms now bring their design thinking process to industries of all types, for- and non-profit. Librarians, for example, can use IDEO’s Design Thinking Toolkit for Libraries to create challenges for the improvement of services, workflows and more.

It is not my imagination. Design firms, according to this article have conquered the world. They are everywhere. It suggests that the selling of design thinking as a competitive advantage for organizations is itself a competitive advantage. Design firms that don’t offer IDEO-type consulting services may find themselves losing business to the ones that do.

Why is design riding so high these days? In the article “Why Design Thinking Conquered the World” Phil Roberts offers several reasons:

* Organizations are looking to gain a competitive advantage when factors such as cost or features no longer offer much leverage;

* Desire for an organizational creative culture – or at least one that lends itself to creativity

* Improving services from the customer’s perspective

Given the number of industries where there is interest in adopting design thinking, it seems there currently is no limit to the ways in which organizations will seek to apply it nor is it limited to any one type of organization.

Of course, large corporations know this too. They’ve realized design’s importance in nearly everything they do, and are either acquiring independent firms, or developing their own internal capabilities.

As more organizations catch on they are realizing the value of moving to a design culture, and they will go to design firms like IDEO or they will try to develop the appropriate resources in house. In his essay “The Next Big Thing in Design” Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, writes:

We’re excited that design has become the keystone of doing business. That’s good for everyone. But when a company of tens or even hundreds of thousands hires a few hundred designers, the practice is still being treated as a tool, not as a core competence. That makes the longevity of independent design companies—and collectives that have creative mastery at their core—all the more important.

Just as design thinking is sweeping through multiple industries, the library world’s interest in it is expanding as well. While it’s unlikely most library organizations will partner with IDEO the way this one did, more libraries across all sectors of the profession can use IDEO’s library toolkit to explore design thinking as an option for tackling challenging problems where a design approach could make a difference. Some libraries may discover design thinking through an exploration of user experience, which is catching on even more quickly as a way to design better libraries.

Libraries may be lagging a number of other industries (e.g.,hospitality, health care, automotive) when it comes to design thinking, but at least we can say “IDEO was here”.

Librarians Still Matter In a Self-Serve World

Let’s face it. Community members can manage their research and a host of other library chores pretty well in the library web environment without the need of intervention from library personnel.

I’m a fan of promoting self-service in libraries. Many, not all, community members prefer self-service options. In a world of ATM machines, airport check-in kiosks and supermarket self-checkout stations, a library that offers no self-service would seem outdated and out of touch with consumer trends.

While we should be looking for any and all opportunities where self-service could replace basic transactional interactions, we also need to be mindful about which of our services should continue to be conducted through human intervention and interaction. By all means, we should offer self-checkout, self-renewal, self-hold shelf pick-up, self-study room reservation and similar types of self-transacted tasks.

Then there are the services librarians offer that could potentially be transacted via self-service but probably would be better delivered through an intermediary. Database selection is one example that comes to mind. Database lists and recommender software could be a good start in the absence of human guidance, but it rarely works as well as we’d like.

And as much as we might think that there’s a widespread consumer preference for self-service, many people still appreciate and seek out human-mediated services. According to a New York Times article, there is a start-up segment fueled by such service, despite the growth of Expedia, Angie’s List, Priceline and other DIY websites, there is still a desire for personal attention:

“A lot of companies pushed hard on the idea that technology will solve every problem, and that we shouldn’t use humans,” said Paul English, the co-founder of a new online company called Lola Travel. “We think humans add value, so we’re trying to design technology to facilitate the human-to-human connection.”

Self-service is the right option for certain kinds of routine transactions, but there are several reasons, all applicable to libraries, why human-mediated service is still prized:

* saving time – you could figure out how to navigate the library website, identify
the appropriate resource, learn to use it, etc,. but having a personal guide to
lead the way, help avoid mistakes and leverage the features is worth any minor
inconvenience in arranging for an appointment.

* navigating complexity – self-service often fails for a particularly challenging
problem, so this is when you need help from an expert who can figure out what
went wrong, how to fix it or how to avoid frustrating problems in the first place.

* personal relationships – there was a commercial a few years ago for Priceline that
suggested they got the best deals because they “know a guy” (or gal) that helped
them get the best price – and that’s all about having a special relationship
where you can get help when you need it; so who doesn’t like having a special
librarian – that’s their guy/gal – who provides personalized, attentive help
when and where it’s needed

None of this is to suggest that human-mediated services are incompatible with technology. Rather it’s about using technology managed by humans to deliver a unique experience for the community member. There are times when self-service is the right user experience. We much prefer community members to use their online account to renew their books from home – and not bring them back in bags for us to process. That saves both of us time so we can take care of more important matters.

Personalized research services delivered by knowledgeable experts is what librarians can use to promote how what they do is different from self-serve web search. One of the keys to our successful future is giving community members a reason to believe the library is better – and not just better – but a powerful combination of people and resources that demonstrates we have designed a user experience the community can’t get anywhere else.

Convenience Trumps Quality? Blame Joe Thompson

In the age of customer expectations, convenience rules. Short on time, too busy to learn something new, focused more on the surface than the complexity lying below it, the contemporary consumer – and our typical library community members – demonstrate their preference for convenience. Many library services and resources are a poor fit for convenience seekers. That’s probably why we are irritated when we hear someone say or write something along the lines of “Convenience trumps quality everytime”. In a nutshell, that means your typical student will prefer Google or Wikepedia over the higher quality library database every time they can make that choice. The knock against libraries is that they are not convenient to use. We often are uncertain as to what that even means. Is that a comparison between using Google and an Ebscohost or Proquest database? Does it suggest that finding a book with an LC call number is inconvenient? Is there always a line at the circulation desk?

Without a better understanding of what exactly makes the library inconvenient, it is much harder to determine what would improve the convenience. You might argue that if libraries lack convenience that’s just too bad. Conducting good research is slightly different from buying Twinkies and a Pepsi at the Kwiki-Mart. But if convenience is a motivating factor in encouraging individuals to use a service or resource, how do we balance that with the library’s inherent inconvenience – or are there things we can do to improve its convenience factor?

We could probably start with a better understanding of the science of convenience. What does it mean to actually offer a convenient service? You can probably blame this whole focus on convenience on Joe Thompson. I discovered the following item about Thompson in a great article about the convenience factor over at UX Matters:

In 1927, an entrepreneurial worker at the Southland Ice Company in Dallas, Texas began selling milk, bread, and eggs from a storefront on the ice dock to make a little extra money. Having access to an inexhaustible amount of ice for preserving the groceries, Joe Thompson was able to sell when other local grocery stores were closed in the late evenings and on weekends. For the first time, the local community could shop outside of typical business hours, whenever it suited them. Soon after, Joe added gasoline and various other food, drinks, and “convenience” items to his inventory in a new store with the unprecedented trading hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. By 2011, 7-Eleven has grown to 41,000 locations worldwide and is the prototype for convenience.

Ari Weissman’s essay, “Convenience: The Third Essential of a Customer-Centric Business” is the third installment of a seven-part series (not yet complete) on being more customer-centric. It really helps me to get a better grasp of the components of a convenient experience. He makes a good point that convenience changes as an individual’s situation changes. A college professor in her sixties may believe that the 21st-century library is far more convenient than the one she used during graduate school – just think of all the research resources that can be tapped without leaving the office. A freshman in 2012 may find it terribly inconvenient to walk to the third floor of the library to retrieve a book when there’s so much full-text content on the web. Unfortunately, giving every freshman the “when I was your age I had use a print card catalog” lecture is a bad idea. What can we do to improve the convenience factor? I’ll share Weissman’s four components of convenience and put them into the context of a library environment.

Actual Convenience

This gets to the heart of what it means to offer convenience. According to Weissman it is simply the “reduction of physical effort for undesirable tasks” in a way that saves time. I used to go to the physical bank to complete a form to transfer funds from one account to another – but only when the bank was open. Then I could perform that function at an ATM at my convenience anytime. Now I can complete a transfer in less than two minutes while sitting at my computer. It’s hard to imagine it could get anymore convenient – and still be doing it myself. The library is similar. What once could only be done at the physical library can now be accomplished from the desktop – even engaging a librarian for assistance, renewing your books or requesting an interlibrary loan. What’s not convenient? Some of our routines could still be described as requiring too much mental effort. That’s where perception is important


Simplicity facilitates convenience. Complexity kills it. You know how to intuitively operate that ATM. If you went car shopping, you would cross off your list the one with completely different controls positioned in unexpected places. That’s because your perception of what that experience should be determines your expectations. Convenience is determined by perceptions, and when the actual experience is more difficult than what it was expected to be the result is inconvenience. That’s a perfect way to explain the challenges presented by most library search systems. If you were expecting a Google experience, and then you are presented with the Ebscohost interface it’s going to effect your perception of convenience. That’s why more Google-like discovery search systems will ultimately deliver that perception of convenience – at least until the user gets to the results screen or tries to get to some full-text articles.


One factor that makes convenience stores convenient are the multiple things you can fold into one visit. Perhaps you stopped in for gas, then you grab a cup of coffee, maybe the newspaper. While completing a primary task (the gas) the consumer is able to take care of a secondary task (grabbing some coffee). Flow is design based on the community members’ behaviors, habits and rituals. Joe Thompson knew that people wanted a simple way to buy milk, bread and eggs late at night. Librarians get this. Consider co-located services in academic libraries. Students can get research help while they wait to see a writing specialist. The library is a place to pick up a video while returning a book. I enjoy showing students a quick two-step technique that immediately adds secondary databases to their primary choice – think of the time that saves over searching them individually. That’s not to say we couldn’t create an even better flow. It reinforces what we already know about the importance of studying our user community members to better understand how we could blend their primary tasks with more secondary tasks.


This is exactly what it suggests – giving the community member greater control over the outcome of their experience. This often applies to self-service where the member takes control over a process. What’s ironic is that it offers the perception of convenience because one is in control of the situation – for example checking out one’s book instead of waiting in line at a desk – but it actually adds to the individual’s workload. Think of it as a trade-off between putting your fate into some one else’s hands and taking responsibility for it yourself. The library community members demonstrated this 25 years ago when they clearly showed their preference for end-user online searching over librarian-mediate searching. Instead of having an expert do the search, the members preferred to take it into their own hands – and if asked they’d say their search skills were far better than the librarian’s. We have to keep looking for ways to empower our users and give them more control.

I never really liked the phrase “convenience trumps quality every time” for the same reason I get annoyed by other platitudes. They may sound good, but they’re just too simplistic and they fail to capture the nuances of the library environment. Weissman shows us there is much more to convenience than just making it easy to get something you want. He writes:

Achieving convenience lies not just in reducing the barriers to the service, but in raising its inherent value. Ultimately, our goal is to create something that is not just sufficient, but excellent; not just easy, but desirable; not just successful, but delightful.

With the proper understanding of the science of convenience we can design experiences based on an understanding of community members’ needs and behaviors. It should be possible to make quality more convenient. Using libraries and conducting research should be more than a choice between low quality and high quality.

Discovering Inspiration In The Retail Sector

Some bad news came for two large retailers at the end of 2011. Sears Holding Corporation, the parent of Sears and K-Mart, announced that it would close 100-120 stores across the United States. With some 4,000 outlets, this amounts to just a small percentage of the total stores. Unlike most of our libraries, retail stores will close if they fail to attract enough customers. As the Sears/K-Mart example demonstrates, even those identified as “marginal performers” will be targeted for closure. Marginal isn’t good enough in the retail industry. Whether it was owing to the bad economy, too much competition, poor selection and service at those stores or other factors, it is tough to survive in retail.

That’s why retailers are often at the forefront of innovation in finding better ways to attract and delight customers. The retail industry was a source of innovation for Commerce Bank (mentioned in the prior DBL post), leading to new services in the banking industry, such as being open 7 days a week and introducing other customer conveniences. While libraries are not subject to the same constraints as retail stores, they can emulate Commerce Bank by following developments in the retail industry. I recently came across several articles of interest that could yield new ideas for libraries that want to offer a better user experience.

For starters you could explore some of the trends sighted in the retail sector that reflect new ideas in attracting customers and giving them a better experience in the store. In the article “Brand New World” Martin Pedersen shares a number of trends he spotted. In major cities the pop-up trend is catching on among restaurants, but now established retailers are giving it a try. Using the cosmetics firm Aesop as an example, Pedersen shows how retailers can get beyond the same look as every other store in the mall. Consider that counters are composed of old newspapers stacked upon one another. Aesop’s president said that “People want to be stimulated visually and intellectually, and our signature stores offer an element of surprise and discovery.” As always, try to be different, and retail may provide some clues on how to do just that. Department stores are innovating by making every level a different experience, not merely two floors for women, a floor for men, another for housewares, etc. A multi-level library might feature one floor as the technology experience with hi-tech everything, while the next level might be the no distractions zone (no cell signals, no wireless, no computers). Take a look, and read more about “secret locations”, another intriguing idea.

While it’s fun to find out what’s happening on the physical side of retail, exploring the latest strategies for reaching the customer is a fine complement. Some contemporary strategies, such as expanding into China, won’t hold much promise for libraries (although reaching out into new territory within your community is always a potential growth strategy), but the post “New Retail Strategies: Offering a Better Fit for Today’s Careful Consumers” offers ideas librarians might want to consider. Wharton marketing professor Jerry Wind summed up the most important retail strategies right now: create excitement; tap into social networks; allow individuals to customize their own product;empower customers to influence the product producer. Consumer behavior is being permanently changed by online retailing. They expect to have great control over the process, from having wide selection, to competitive pricing, to getting reviews from the crowd. How do librarians offer a competing experience, or at least one that meets the basic expectations? The key strategy for the retailers is to try to stay connected to the customer as much as possible. That may explain those daily email announcements from all the online retailers with whom you’ve done business. The key strategy is to understand the customers and offer them a service operation that meets or exceeds their expectations.

If you wanted to learn how cool retail works, you’d go to an Apple Store. If you wanted to understand the thinking behind the Apple Store you’d go to the guy that made it what it is. “Retail Isn’t Broken: Stores Are” is an interview with Ron Johnson, who designed the Apple Stores, and here he provides the Harvard Business Review with an inside look at the Apple Store concept and his plans for transforming J.C. Penney department stores into a solid competitor for the consumer dollar. The big takeaway for me is Johnson’s recognition that those who serve the public need to be about more than mere transactions:

A store has got to be much more than a place to acquire merchandise. It’s got to help people enrich their lives. If the store just fulfills a specific product need, it’s not creating new types of value for the consumer. It’s transacting. Any website can do that. But if a store can help shoppers find outfits that make them feel better about themselves, for instance, or introduce them to a new device that can change the way they communicate, the store is adding value beyond simply providing merchandise. The stores that can do that will take the lead.

Replace “store” with “library” and “merchandise” with “content”, and you get a better picture of what Johnson tried to do at Apple. It’s all about creating value beyond the transaction. He says “the Apple Store succeeded not because we tweaked the traditional model. We reimagined everything.” He goes on to provide examples of how Apple Stores provide that value. There’s much more here that will inspire you to take a closer look at what Johnson is up to at J.C. Penney, and when you do you’ll see he’s a big believer in the power of building relationships, being a differentiator and and leading the customer.

Examples of good experiences and models for innovative service delivery will be found in a variety of industries, but these three articles demonstrate that librarians have much to learn from the world of retail. I’ll leave you with a suggestion to check out this slideshow to see more examples of how retailers are taking new approaches to reinvent how they connect with their customers. The rest is up to us.

Good Experiences Are The Best Defense Against Badvocacy

One of my job responsibilities at the Temple University Libraries is to serve as the official complaint department. That’s right. The complaints and suggestions are funneled to me. I investigate each one personally or will assign a staff member to look into it. We explore what went wrong and then work to resolve the problem or at least acknowledge it and explain the issues – and when appropriate acknowledge where we failed and what we will do to improve.

Of course, at one time or another most every library worker who connects with members of the user community will hear complaints. It may just be about the lack of paper towel in the bathroom, an improperly imposed fine or the lack of open computers. Many of these complaints are resolved on the spot, or staff will do their best to avoid having a minor problem become a major issue. I always encourage my front line colleagues to refer any one with a complaint to me. I enjoy the challenge of turning a community member from someone who is angry at us into someone who becomes an advocate for us.

By advocate I mean a person who will actually promote the library in the community. We can do all the marketing and promotion we desire, but there’s nothing quite like building a base of loyal advocates who will be energized enough to tell their friends, colleagues and others how great the library is and what it has to offer that can’t be had elsewhere. How about when the library experience we deliver is mostly negative? What do we create when we fail to deal effectively with complaints? Badvocates – that’s the opposite of an advocate. A badvocate may be a chronic complainer who has nothing good to say about the library, but more likely the badvocate is a community member who just had a bad library experience that’s going unresolved. The problem is that the badvocate goes out of their way to spread negativity about the library to the rest of the community or beyond. We all know that members of the user community are much more likely to complain than praise, so it demands extra effort to avoid bad experiences – and we must respond quickly because the word can be spread rapidly via social media.

I first encountered the term “badvocate” in this Mashable post titled “Deal with Negative Online Sentiment About Your Brand” and it immediately resonated with me. The author, Maria Ogneva is the Head of Community at Yammer, where she is in charge of social media and community programs. She spends a fair amount of time dealing with badvocates and trying to prevent them from rising up. She provides three main causes of badvocacy, and you know they happen in your library:

* Inconsistency across channels and touchpoints – this happens when library users have a great experience with one part of the operation but a far worse one at another service point. For example, receiving great service at the desk, but then getting lost in the stacks and finding no one who can help. Or a staff member confirms by phone that a book is available but when the patron arrives the book is impossible to locate.
* Inconsistency with expectations – you know the feeling; you get information off the library website or from a staff member, and then the reality falls far below what was expected. That leaves community members feeling bitter and hostile.
* A negative relationship with library staff – all it takes is one low-morale, uncaring or angry staff member to create that negative relationship. I recently stayed at a hotel and every single employee went out of their way to build the positive experience. It was refreshing to receive such attention, but I was quite sure it was the result of extensive staff development and designing a consistently great experience that helps to avoid negative relationships.

What Are Your Badvocates Saying About the Library? (source:

You probably know who some of your chronic complainers are, and you also monitor various social networks to see what’s being said about your library. What can you do when someone is trashing your library and its brand? Sometimes the immediate reaction in the library is to dump the complainer into a bin we call “difficult patron”, “problem patron” or what a co-worker once call her “MOP File” for “most obnoxious patron”. This always bothered me because even though there are some individuals who you can’t please no matter what you do, the odds are that whatever is causing the complaint is something that’s broken in our operation.

That is why the first response or action, according to Ogneva, is to “understand who your badvocates are, what they are saying and where they are saying it. The process is about listening, much like finding anything using social media”. That’s the first step in the IDEO design thinking process. Before you attempt to solve any problem, first identify what the problem is – and that often happens when you listen to the person complaining about your library. Beyond properly understanding your badvocates and the root causes for their issues, here are some other strategies recommended by Ogneva:

Reach out – Reach out and acknowledge their pain. Most problems get resolved quickly because the person just wanted someone to talk to.
Respect privacy – Know when to take the conversation private. After the initial public tweet, you should reach out in a private channel to really dig in and see if you can make a difference.
Offer an individualized solution – In customer service, there’s no “one size fits all,” because each case is different. Offer an individualized solution, which may require you to work with the right people within your own organization.
Don’t let it stew – Address sources of conflict quickly. Because most people just want to be heard, cared for and helped, the faster you can reach out, the more likely you will prevent the situation from festering.
Never make it personal -If and when conflict escalates, never make it personal. Never attack the person, even if he or she attacks you personally. Keep the conversation focused on the issues.
Take action, close the loop – Communicate back to the customer what has been done, or how soon to expect something to be done.
Never lose your cool – Just like you shouldn’t make things personal, you should never lose your cool. Choose your words wisely.
Watch advocates come to your rescue – If you have done your job cultivating advocacy, in an online conflict, your advocates will come to your rescue.
Treat them equally – Make sure you don’t just help badvocates with high influence scores. Every distressed customer is a potential badvocate.

But why get to the point where you need to utilize these strategies to turn your badvocates into your advocates. The best defense against badovacy is a great library user experience. As Ogneva says, “Just as badvocacy is caused by bad user experience, advocacy is caused by excellent experience.” She goes on to say that “Advocates are created when there is a two-way dialogue around their need, and users have a direct input into the future of the product.” Her final piece of advice for creating advocates is to “humanize the brand.”

This makes excellent sense and reinforces what I’ve said previously about making the library about the people who work there and their relationships with the community. If the public only sees the library as a building with books and a website with links to databases, what’s the harm in telling your network how much you hate it and how badly it sucks; it’s not like anyone is being hurt. If members of the user community have experienced the library as engagement with humans they are less likely to be critical and are more likely to see the library as a place where they can take up their problems with people like themselves.

If you have a story to share about turning one of your badvocates in to an advocate – or other ideas for dealing with badvocates – please share it with a comment.