UXF: Where’s the Friction at Your Library

Libraries have fiction and friction. User experience friction or UXF happens when librarians add confusing or unnecessary steps to the community member’s journey. Getting familiar with just a few friction-killing tactics can help to design a better library experience.






No. I did not make a spelling error. That’s “friction” not “fiction”.

I know you know where the fiction is. But you may not know where you’re adding the friction to the library user experience.

Friction is a UX terminology that basically means you are doing something to screw up the user’s experience. It’s not what it ought to be.

That could be anything from a web page design that adds steps to a transaction to poorly designed signage that makes building navigation more difficult.

Here’s a more formal definition of UXF (user experience friction) from The Pfeiffer Report:

User Experience Friction is basically anything which separates the device we use from that ideal user experience: we all KNOW what User Experience Friction (UXF) is when we experience it, (although of course UXF may represent something completely different for every one of us.)

On the most basic level, UXF is the slow-down or friction that occurs when the user experience of a device deviates from our expectation or knowledge – and it can occur in every are of our life. If you rent a car that magically has reversed the side of the blinker on the steering wheel of the car, we experience friction: where the hell is the blooming thing? When you press the wrong button in an elevator because it is badly labelled: UXF again.

Poor design is an obvious cause of friction, but it also happens when human agents perform below expectation. Even if my rental car has great design and everything is exactly where I expect it to be, if the customer representative misplaces the keys or botches the rental process that friction is going to slow me down and detract from the entire experience.

I suspect you can point to contributors to friction at your library as easily as you can find the fiction. Some may be things that are broken, accidentally or intentionally, that need fixing. For those less obvious friction points, can you find them and then grease them up to create a frictionless experience.

Perhaps we can all learn something from Amazon’s friction-killing tactics.

Start by determining what category of friction you are dealing with. According to Kintan Brahmbhatt, who has designed and developed product strategy for Amazon’s music service and Alexa, there are three:

Friction due to unfamiliarity. A customer’s first-time experience with your product automatically contains friction when they don’t know how to use it. This is one of the biggest hurdles to get over when launching a new product.

Friction by design. There are times when you have to intentionally build friction into a product. If your product has a learning curve, you’ll have to design that experience thoughtfully.

Friction due to misalignment with human behavior. Here’s where design can come back to bite you. Poorly placed app controls, failing to anticipate how consumers will use the product and badly designed navigational tools will cause this.

Library workers are most likely dealing with the third type, where library design accommodates our view of the world but fits poorly with the way our community members would most naturally use the library and its systems. For example, library catalog messages. “In transit” or “Request from Depository” may mean something to a librarian but it’s likely to leave a community member scratching their head wondering what to do next. It’s not the language they expect.

Brahmbhatt offers several tips for how to discover, as he puts it, “where friction hides”. Some of the ethnographic research suggestions, such as observation techniques and scanning social media, may be familiar to you. He says “Think about friction as the simplest way for your user to get where she wants to go…Reducing it is about creating a path of least resistance” that maps closely to that easiest route users naturally take. Once you find your friction, try these steps to eliminate it.

* Reduce Anxiety: Too many options create uncertainty and confusion, but unclear options are equally bad. Eliminate ambiguity about what will happen after users make a choice and the associated fear that they will lose time and/or effort if they make the wrong choice. When community members head to the stacks, they shouldn’t worry about getting lost, wasting time or having to return to ask for assistance. Pathways to content should work the first time.

* Remove Avoidable Steps: Make a list of all the decisions a community member would need to make in order to complete a task. Whenever possible, eliminate an unnecessary decision or pre-select for the user. For example, a library catalog could automatically present only the books available on the shelf – which is usually what community members want. The system could then prompt “Do you want to see books that are already on loan or at other locations?”. That eliminates the avoidable step of scrolling through books that are not immediately available – not to mention unneeded trips to the stacks because the community member failed to notice a book’s location is a distant branch.

* Mitigate Context Switching: This happens when a community member has to navigate away from your website to complete a task. That often leads them to abandon the task. This is a challenge for libraries owing to the use of third-party systems where community members are switched to external databases. Brahmbhatt offers some methods that may or may not work for context switching problems. As much as possible, make it easy for the user to switch back to the original site location.

Brahmbhatt acknowledges there are situations when friction is inevitable. Then, do what is possible to mask it or use design to make that action more tolerable (e.g., a spinner or progress bar; offer human support at known friction points). Do what is possible to make the community member’s journey more pleasant. Got a pothole on your road? Consider filling it and smoothing the trip. We know what to do and sometimes how to do it.

Brahmbhatt offers straightforward – and even familiar – suggestions for how to both identify and eliminate friction. Do we have the desire and willpower to use these friction-killing tactics? A good first step is looking around your library and at supporting systems, observe and spot friction points and then resolve to eliminate anxiety, avoidable steps and context switching. You know fiction. Now it’s time to get serious about user experience friction.

Start Your UX Journey By Fixing What’s Broken

I try not to be a badvocate. When it comes to having a good user experience, I realize that any organization where I shop, dine or patronize can have a bad day. If as consumers we are generally enthusiastic about the quality of an experience over time, and we demonstrate that with our loyalty, we can overlook a misstep.

Where we’re less tolerant is with something that’s just plain broke. Like the self-service terminal in my supermarket that is supposed to print a coupon that’s customized to my shopping habits. It’s a great idea, but if it fails to work then it just diminishes the entire experience. Here’s what surprises me though. It’s so obviously broken that I am puzzled as to why no store employee has taken responsibility for getting it fixed. It must be a case of what Seth Godin calls “It’s not my job.”

Eventually I complained. I’ll see it if makes a difference. The managers are usually good at problem resolution so I expect it will be fixed the next time I am there. But I hope they’ll be asking the same question I have. Why didn’t someone take responsibility? Whose job is it to fix what’s broken – even if it’s the piddling coupon printer? And by “fix” I don’t mean getting out the tools and taking the thing apart to find out what’s wrong. I mean accepting ownership of a problem and taking action to get that problem solved.

When we first started having conversations about the user experience at our library quite a few years ago the first thing I did, to get staff engaged in the discussion, was to provide a group viewing of Godin’s classic “This is Broken” presentation. Not only is it entertaining – who doesn’t laugh out loud during that “It’s Not My Job” segment – but it really makes it crystal clear to all of us how easy it is for everyday operations in our libraries to break and remain broken for all seven of the reasons that Godin shares. It’s a great lead-in to a discussion about what’s broken in our libraries and how it degrades the quality of the user experience.

And it left an impression. Staff decided to organize a “What’s Broken Team”. It led to a list of issues that needed our attention. Some were equipment or furniture related, others targeted patron processes that were just as broken as a restroom toilet that doesn’t flush. Did we fix everything? No. Did we get better at paying attention to stuff that breaks? Yes. It sounds simple enough, but for many library staffs paying attention to what’s broken, and doing something about it, can be the start of a journey on the road to a library that offers, by design, a better user experience.

My hope is that more of us will establish or adhere to some set of “community member quality of life” principles that establish the value of intolerance for broken things – be they water fountains that have no water, photocopiers that don’t give copies, or staff workflows that work for staff but create hassles for community members.

I don’t know if the folks who work at my supermarket have ever watched the Godin video, but my guess is they haven’t – and doing so would be a great learning experience. I just may mention that to the store manager.

Designing For a Happiness Experience

We make a few assumptions about what it means to have a good user experience. It should be memorable (or at least enable us to have what we think is a good memory). It should be unique and inspire loyalty. We’d also like our best experiences to leave us with a feeling of delight – that something special has happened. Call it happiness.

In an prior article I contemplated whether libraries could provide a happiness experience. Examining the happiness research and results of Pew Research on how libraries contribute to overall positive feelings among community members, I concluded that it’s likely that library users are more productive, engaged and fulfilled members of their communities. Given that the happiness research points to life’s more mundane, everyday experiences as our most satisfying ones, that also suggests the library can be a contributor to the happiness of its users.

In the non-library world of design there is less conversation about designing for happiness. To gain some perspective on what it means to design for happiness several corporate designers came together at the 2016 SXSW to explain how their organizations design for happiness – and what the involves. The organizer of the event Designing Happiness, Mark Wilson (a contributor for Fast Company), wrote about the program and the speakers who shared their approach to designing for happiness.

Here are a few of the insights the panelists shared:

* These experts all believe their brands are based on designing for happiness as a starting point – not an afterthought.
* Design the happiness experience around three parts: anticipation; experience; memory
* Create a “high” moment and an “end” moment into the experience – that’s what is most likely to be remembered
* Offer a portal into the experience as a transition from other routine experiences (a “crossover”)
* Avoid bureaucracy at all costs; empower staff to intervene as needed to deliver the happiness
* We are cognitively pre-disposed to appreciate and remember surprises; design in good surprises and make sure bad ones don’t happen
* People are happiest in environments designed for their needs
* Put effort into the optimal way to leave people with a “kiss goodnight”; a happy ending turns a mediocre experience into a memorable one
* Let people hug a puppy – no one can cuddle a puppy and feel anything other than happiness (great idea but seriously impractical)

I do think that our libraries can replicate the type of experience that delivers happiness. Granted, it’s not the same as the experience at a vacation resort or upscale gym. It could depend on the library experience. A research librarian could design a consultation experience around anticipation, experience and memory. Start with an email exchange that builds up the anticipation. Use personalization to provide a research-challenged student with a unique experience. Make sure there is a strong ending to the interaction that may lead to a relationship and future consultations. Offer a surprise – what’s all that library swag for anyway.

Libraries will never be Disneyland, but perhaps we can be the one place in the community that delivers the happiness experience on multiple levels by altering someone’s perception about the library as a dull, painful experience. With some design thinking, we can make that happen. Puppies would certainly help – but we’ll have to manage with therapy dog days.

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.