Critiques Help Us Think Critically About Design Thinking

There are always new critics of design thinking popping up. Should a librarian-advocate for design thinking pay these critics no mind – or pay attention to what they have to say? There may be more value in the latter option.

Confirmation bias is a real problem.

We create our own filter bubbles in which we expose ourselves only to those ideas that support what we already believe. We may do this subconsciously in choosing what newspapers, magazines and programs to follow – as well as who we follow on social media. When we expose ourselves to content that challenges what we think or believe we simply, our biases cause us to ignore or dismiss it.

Those who believe in the value of design thinking may be inclined to write off its critics as jaded, thin skinned designers who are angry that non-design professionals now think they too can be designers if they just know of and practice design thinking.

Would you watch Natasha Jen’s video titled “Design Thinking is Bullshit? Or would you just move on to the next piece of content, writing that video off as just another disgruntled designer out to dismiss design thinking.

If we take the time to dig deeper into these critiques, beyond the point where they talk about the weaknesses of design thinking, we might actually learn something useful. For example, I found it helpful to listen to Jen discuss the role of “crit” in design professions. How might librarians who want to practice design thinking explore the need to have their solutions subjected to some version of the design crit?

The Problem With Design Thinking is That I Still Don’t Know What Design Thinking Is” shares another common refrain from critics, which is that design thinking is too vague, no one really gets what it is and that it’s too much about thinking and too little about doing (hence the term “design doing“). This blog post is a good read with some realistic concerns about design thinking, coming from someone who’s organization had adopted design thinking. There is a good argument here for why it needs to be more actionable.

Then you have a sarcastic, hostile takedown of design thinking in Lee Vinsel’s “Design Thinking is Kind of Like Syphilis — It’s Contagious and Rots Your Brains“. Well, if I had said nothing, the title would have told you all you need to know. It’s a long read that rehashes previous takedowns of design thinking. These posts can be helpful for the comments (there are many), from both those who agree and disagree. Have a look.

Critiques of design thinking are hardly new. For as long as non-designers have adopted design thinking as a positive force for their work, someone has found something negative to say about design thinking.

In the post-design thinking toolkit environment, I think most of the critics overlook how practical, actionable and concrete design thinking has become for many non-designers. I would agree that prior to the toolkit, design thinking was somewhat vague. With the toolkit in hand, you don’t need to be a designer to get closer to working and thinking like one. What would the critics have to say about it? Would it change their thinking?

It would help if we could all get over this designer vs. non-designer conflict. I think I speak for most librarians who practice design thinking when I say we would never think we’re on the same level as a professional designer. Most of us simply see it as a practical tool that is sometimes applicable in a particular situation.

When encountering critiques of design thinking, no matter how hostile an approach the critic may take, it is best to avoid becoming defensive – or simply writing off the piece as unworthy of your time. Whatever it is, it’s unlikely to change your overall perspective on the value of design thinking for problem identification and solution development. So why not go ahead and take a closer look at what’s being said.

It matters little what subject we’re talking about. It could be libraries. The important point is that advocates need to be aware of and understand the naysayers and critics. We avoid them at our own risk. The more we know about the critics’ arguments the better prepared we are to counter it and prepare ourselves for the inevitable attack on our thinking.

Imagine you’re in a meeting to discuss organizing a design challenge and an adversarial colleague says “I heard that real designers are calling bullshit on design thinking. They say it’s just business jargon that librarians adopt so they can make pretend they know something about design”. Your turn to respond. What do you say?

Planning Experiences Around Moments

When I saw that the Heath Brothers new book was about experiences and the importance of singular defining moments I was excited by the prospects of a book on this topic. We need to learn more about how to design defining moments into the library user experience.

When I received an email a few weeks ago from Chip and Dan Heath, I was pretty excited by the news they shared.

It announced that after several years since their last book, Decisive, a new one was on the way. For a fan of their books, that’s already great news. But it gets even better. The subject matter of this new work has me eagerly awaiting the book.

What topic did the Heath brothers decide to write about this time? Experiences!

That alone would be incredible for someone, like me, who is student of user experience. As an added bonus, Chip and Dan Heath are exploring the “moment” and the power of a defining moment. This resonates strongly with me because my leadership book is based on this idea of the importance of moments, which I refer to as crucible moments.

In the email they described this new book, titled The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, this way:

Research in psychology teaches us that our memories of experiences are not like films that we can rewind and watch beginning to end. They are more like snapshots or snippets. Fragments. In memory, we cling to particular minutes or hours that rise above the surrounding weeks and months. What makes those moments so memorable and meaningful? That’s a critical question for anyone who wants to improve the experiences of others: the customer experience, the employee experience, the patient experience—not to mention the experience of your kids. Because what you’ll soon discover is that when we talk about “experience,” we’re really talking about moments. Moments that serve as peaks in time.

I’ve written about the link between experiences and memory previously at DBL. We not only remember things differently from what actually happened, but we selectively remember parts of our experiences more powerfully than others.

The tendency is for people to remember how the experience begins and how it ends more strongly than other parts, which is why we want to design the experience so it gets off to a good start and ends on a high note – particularly the finish because that’s an opportunity to recover from anything less memorable or negative that happens after the start.

The book’s intent is to both help us to understand the important of these defining moments to the success of an experience – and to develop insight into how to design them into experiences so they are more likely to occur. They define “defining moment” as “a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful”.

Those are two word that figure prominently in numerous DBL posts. Is it possible for librarians to create user experiences that are memorable, meaningful and that build emotional connections with community members that lead to loyalty? With help from the Heath brothers, we may learn more about how to do this.

I finished reading chapter one (a preview sent only to those on the Heath mail list) and I’m eager to learn more about the four elements that go into creating a defining moment: elevation; insight; pride; connection. As with other Heath brother books, based on this first chapter, it should be immensely readable, chock full of stories and examples (these are the guys who wrote Made to Stick) and offer takeaway ideas that you can put into practice.

After I read the book, I hope to have more ideas to share on how we can create defining moments for library user experiences – but I hope other librarians will read it as well – so that we can come up with even more ideas for designing better libraries.

There’s a Reason Why Eye Contact and Smiling Improve the Experience

Simple gestures that communicate attentiveness and a willingness to establish a personal connection are something every library worker can deliver on. When we fail to do so, particularly when there are technology distractions, it’s a missed opportunity to establish trust with community members.

It is almost a cliche for good customer service in libraries.

Smile. Make eye contact. Signal to the community member that you are engaged and eager to help.

We want our community members to feel like they are the most important person in the world in that moment.

Let’s treat them as if they are world famous.

Have you heard that one before? It sounds good. It certainly would communicate to a staff member that their job is to give each community member their undivided attention, to allow no distractions to interfere and through our verbal and non-verbal gestures to deliver the best possible experience.

And if we do that well, again and again, they will return and tell friends about the good vibe they get at the library.

I stole that “treat them as if they are world famous” experience statement.

It’s actually the experiential brand statement that the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle came up with when they were working with Joe Michelli on their statement. That’s how they wanted the experience to feel for the customer. That’s the experience they decided to deliver on – and we all know how that turned out.

Of course, it helps if you can come up with something clever and interactive, like having your customers throw and catch fish. That doesn’t translate particularly well to a library.

So what can librarians do to treat people as if they are world famous? How about more eye contact, smiles and nodding.

How would that make a difference you ask?

According to Baruch Sachs, in the article “How Smiling and Nodding Affects Our Interactions“, it can make a significant difference and leave community members perceiving library workers as more trustworthy and deserving of a relationship. That could turn a routine transaction into a memorable experience.

Sachs shares his own experience with smiles and nods as critical elements of an interactive exchange. But what he’s learned about these actions is more than just anecdotal. “There is plenty of research out there to back up the notion that our small gestures are important—not least in the area of building trust. Sometimes building trust takes just a smile and a nod.”

With computers, tablets, handheld devices and other distractions at our library service points, it’s easy for library workers to fail to quickly and adequately acknowledge another person’s presence. According to the research Sachs references, when subjects in a social experiment received no acknowledgement from a stranger they felt disconnected and rejected. It only takes a small trigger or gesture, such as a smile, nod or eye contact to avoid communicating rejection and establishing a foundation for rapport.

That sounds like the exact sort of aura I want to give when a stranger approaches me to ask a question, whether it’s just giving directions or assisting with a more complex research question. In a way, these simple gestures are a microcosm of user experience for the entire library organization. The totality of a library user experience fails if it is unexceptional at any service touch point.

If I, as an individual library worker, fail to connect with a community member through my lack of appropriate gestures or inattentiveness, then everything else I do from that point on in the interaction could fail as well. My smile, eye contact or welcoming nod gets things off to the right start by building that basic trust needed for a relationship to happen – even if that relationship exists only for the time in which we engage at the service point.

Library workers in public service contact points need to recognize that their behavior has a significant and contagious impact on others. That’s why our service principles document, in the “five steps of service” starts off with “make eye contact; give a greeting; share your name” and then in step two states “be in the moment; eliminate distractions”. These reinforce Sachs’ message about establishing trust (which just happens to be step three).

Delivering on a well-designed library user experience is no easy task. Simple gestures like eye contact and smiling, on the other hand, are among the easiest things any library worker can do to contribute to the totality of the library experience.

IFLA Announces Free Webinar on Design Thinking

Interested in learning more about design thinking? Attend this IFLA webinar to learn more and get ideas for how to use it to design your better library.

Here’s a good opportunity to get a global perspective on how design thinking is being used in libraries to promote better services, as well as help staff go through a change process and adapt to new ways of delivering services.

You can learn more here and get the link to the webinar, which takes place on Thursday, July 6 at 1:00 pm CT.

Here’s a description of the webinar from the official site:

How can libraries adopt “design thinking” to improve their library services, programming and spaces? What do libraries need to do to prepare staff for the change? According to Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO, “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

This webinar explores design thinking principles, showcases how design thinking can be used to improve what libraries do and how libraries address user needs, and identifies strategies that libraries can use to adopt design thinking into their own work.

Full disclosure: I am one of the invited speakers and I am looking forward to sharing an experience from my library with a design challenge we took on to rethink and redesign our service delivery model.

The keynote speaker is Rolf Hapel, Director of Citizens’ Services and Libraries in Aarhus, Denmark. I know they are doing some amazing work at the Aarhus public library system – and they partnered with IDEO and Chicago Public Library for a well known application of design thinking to improve library service.

I hope you will join in for the conversation.

Happiness or Meaning: A Library Experience Can Deliver Both

We want happiness. We want meaning in our lives. They need not be mutually exclusive. What they have in common is a life of giving more and taking less. Being a library user is one way to pursue both.

Achieving happiness and meaning are two different things.

Different, but not necessarily mutually exclusive. It is possible to have an experience that results in happiness but also contributes to a life of meaning.

Finding and borrowing a book from the library could certainly qualify. For those who enjoy reading, finding a good book at the library could certainly deliver some happiness. Depending on the book, it could have a mind opening, life altering impact that contributes to an individual’s search for meaning.

It helps to have a better understanding of what we mean when talking about both happiness and meaning. What contributes to each? What have researchers learning about happiness? How would we know if a community member has a meaningful interaction with the library?

In this article I shared insights into what researchers have learned about happiness. While material objects and money can deliver some happiness, those things tend to have only a limited impact.

It’s really the small things that count. Helping others. Enjoying a walk. Memorable experiences count too. Do these experiences also deliver meaning, or is there more to it than just satisfying the search for happiness?

The answer is…it depends.

According to Emily Esfahani Smith, author of the new book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, finding meaning trumps experiencing happiness. On further inspection, the two have some commonality between them.

Esfahani identifies four pillars of meaning:

* sense of belonging – being in a relationship or a member of a community
* purpose – having a mission and pursuing it
* storytelling – your story; who you are; where you are from; where you are headed
* transcendence – resilence; having the ability to overcome adversity

You start to get the idea that the difference between the two is about direction and effort. Happiness is about something happening to us versus meaning being about making something happening for others. Esfahani states that “the big distinctions between a meaningful life and a happy life is that a meaningful life can be a hard life. When you’re giving back, you’re making sacrifices.”

In that sense, the library is a place that can serve to facilitate both happiness and meaning. If we are seeking some happiness, we can get it at the library. Finding a good book and enjoying reading are the type of small, everyday pleasures that bring happiness. I don’t think that Esfahani thinks there is anything inherently wrong with seeking happiness. She just wants us to transcend happiness as we pursue meaning.

And the library is a place where it can happen. It’s a place you can belong to and be a part of your community. It’s a place where you find and pursue a mission. It’s a place where you can discover your story. It’s a place where you transcend the ordinary and the meaningless.

Happiness or meaning? Why choose when you can find both at the library.